Cincinnati Reds: Concerns Heading Into the 2011 Season
Coming off of a division title, and with much of the core still young, and with the capabilities of improving, there is a lot to be excited about for Reds fans.
On the flip side, however, they are now the "target" in the NL Central. Unlike last year, they won't sneak up on anybody, and they will have to deal with expectations, something that hasn't been an issue for a number of years.
Presented are a list of situations which could be problematic for this 2011 Reds team. I won't back down from my own thoughts that they can repeat as division champs, but if they don't, there will be numerous reasons as to why.
An Improved Division
It was fun watching the Cardinals struggle against the bottom feeders, but even with the Albert Pujols situation, which could be a potential distraction, does anyone foresee those struggles happening again?
That team is too good. They have four of the best players in the National League, with the aforementioned Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright.
Plus, despite those issues in what turned out to be a terribly disappointing season by their standards, they owned the Reds, who will eventually need to figure out a way to beat these guys.
In moving through the rest of the NL Central, the Brewers know that they are probably going to lose Prince Fielder this offseason, so they are giving it one last shot with this core, and even added to it with the addition of Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum.
Plus, Ryan Braun is one of the best young hitters in the game, and had a down year by his standards. There is no reason why he can't bounce back.
A few hours down the road in Chicago, the Cubs added Carlos Pena and Matt Garza to the mix. Combined with Aramis Ramirez entering a contract year, they are perhaps a darkhorse.
Down south in Texas, the Astros probably will struggle, but they have solid starting pitching, with Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez leading the charge.
As for the Pirates, they may become a factor in a few years, if they can get some pitching to go with the young bats they have assembled. For this year, though, they are out of the conversation.
It appeared as if Scott Rolen's age caught up with him in the second half of the season, as he only hit two home runs post all star break and looked like a tired ballplayer at times.
Also, Rolen turns 36 on the opening week of the season, and is no longer the type of player who can give you 150-plus games. He will need regular rest to stay fresh for the stretch run, so it will be up to Juan Francisco, and perhaps Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cairo, to pick up the slack on days where Rolen is out of the lineup.
Looking back on the trade with Toronto, it was a slam dunk victory for the Reds, as his winning attitude and experience played a large role in their transformation, but at this stage, they have to hope for reasonable health, and how he produces in the cleanup spot will largely determine how teams will pitch to Joey Votto, who bats third.
The man entrusted to close games for the Reds in 2011 had a difficult year, blowing numerous saves and looking quite shaky at times.
With Aroldis Chapman in the mix, Cordero's job may eventually be on the line if he can't produce.
His contract is awful, so the conventional thinking is that the Reds will continue to try hard to give him as many opportunities as possible in an attempt to earn that money, but if he has similar struggles this year, the pressure will be on Dusty Baker to make a move.
Who Will Replace Arthur Rhodes?
This is a big loss for the Reds, as Arthur Rhodes dominated much of the year. His heart, and pure effort, are aspects of the 2010 season that Reds fans will never forget.
The Reds, however, have a deep bullpen, and Aroldis Chapman will take over the set up role.
On paper, this looks like a good deal, but Rhodes did things out there that perhaps the Chapman, or none of the other younger guys, have the intestinal fortitude to do yet.
It's not a knock on Chapman, as he needs more experience, but this loss, not only on the field, but also in the clubhouse, could perhaps be felt at times in 2011.
Just WHO Is The Staff Ace?
This is a team built for the regular season. The depth is there in the rotation to navigate the waters of the 162 game schedule.
However, come October, should the Reds get back to the postseason, who will be able to match up against the aces of the Giants and Phillies?
Outside of Bronson Arroyo, who is an established vet, but not nearly on the level of a Roy Halladay or Tim Lincecum, there is no reason to think that the rest of the staff won't continue to get better. Until they do, though, they may be a step shy of being an elite team.
Jonny Gomes is extremely likeable, and few players on the team give more effort, but outside of a hot month of May, he was a fairly mediocre ballplayer in 2010
The Reds have to hope for league average play out of him in left field, and hope his bad routes to the ball won't cost the team as a whole.
People were really hoping for an upgrade, but it didn't happen, and some combination of Gomes/Fred Lewis will have to man a position that many people consider to be the weakest on the entire team.
Essentially, for the second year in a row, Paul Janish has been told that the Reds don't trust him as the everyday shortstop, after he spent the entire winter thinking he was going to be the guy.
Noone will ever question his glove, but can he hit enough to be a big league regular?
We have been assured that the job is still his, but Edgar Renteria was brought in spell him, or perhaps even take his job, if Janish can't produce at the dish.
Generally speaking, the shortstop position is usually not the position where you get a great deal of offensive contributions from, and while Janish had a nice season by his standards last year, it came in somewhat limited time, and he will have to assume a greater role with Orlando Cabrera out of the picture.
Will Good Health Continue?
Whenever you win a division, there is some luck involved.
The Reds, for the most part, were an incredibly healthy team in 2010. Of the regulars, only Orlando Cabrera and Ramon Hernandez missed any extended time, and the depth of the team handled those adverse situations with great ease.
Brandon Phillips had a nagging wrist injury for part of the season that affected his overall numbers somewhat, but it wasn't a situation that overwhelmed the team as a whole.
In the final month of the season, there were injuries to Laynce Nix and Jim Edmonds, but by that point, the Reds were well on their way to winning the division, so they weren't costly.
In the rotation, Arroyo made his usual 30-plus starts. Cueto's smallish frame endured the season, and once Travis Wood was called up to the majors, he was like clockwork.
Mike Leake had to be shut down, and Edinson Volquez didn't make his debut until later on in the season, but the Reds had already prepared for his absense before the season even began.
In conclusion, every team is a bad hop or line drive away from a total disaster. What will the Reds do if a significant contributor has to miss a good chunk of time?
Did They Do Enough This Offseason?
The Reds are banking on young talent to shine, for Joey Votto to continue his MVP play, for Brandon Phillips to fully recover and post his prototypical numbers, and for the older veterans to have another run in them.
The only moves made were acquiring Fred Lewis, Edgar Renteria, Dontrelle Willis, and Jeremy Hermida. This could improve their depth, but is it enough?
I feel like they did enough, and while they can certainly expect for the young core to improve, the reality is, in this baseball market, the resources are somewhat limited.
it doesn't stop the Minnesota Twins for being consistent winners, and the Oakland Athletics won a lot in the early part of the decade, but for the Reds and these other franchises, the challenges for general managers are perhaps greater.