Cincinnati Reds: 5 Reasons Why the Reds Are Right on Track
I'm just like you. I stayed up all night to watch the Reds lose in the final game of the 1999 season at Milwaukee County Stadium and be forced to play again on that same day for a berth into the NL Wild Card. Despite falling 5-0 to Al Leiter and the Mets in front of a gorgeous crowd at Riverfront, I felt that the Reds were poised for a decade of greatness.
Just like you, I watched Jim Bowden sacrifice organizational depth for mediocre talent and convinced myself that guys like Alex Ochoa and Michael Tucker could guide a ship armed with guns like Pete Harnisch and Paul Wilson. I marveled in 2003 at the new Great American Ball Park and then struggled for direction after Barry Larkin and Sean Casey no longer donned the wishbone "C".
Just like you, I fought back tears as I watched Jay Bruce smash a Tim Byrdak fastball onto the berm in center field to clinch the 2010 NL Central title. I stopped fighting off the tears and just flat out cried when he greeted his teammates at home plate (I got the chills just now while typing this sentence). I giggled along with you as Jonny Gomes strapped on his ski goggles and shot streams of champagne into the late summer air.
And just like you, I entered the 2011 season with a firm and justified belief that the Cincinnati Reds have something legitimate to showcase to us, the paying customers. I believe that for at least the next six years, the Reds can compete for the NL Central title and here are five reasons that they are right on track.
Reason No. 1: Joey Votto
NL MVP. In Cincinnati? Yes!
After an incredible 2010 campaign, Joey Votto finally gained some much earned credibility. As he lifted the Kennesaw Mountain Landis Trophy over his head earlier this season, Reds fans should have soaked that moment in for all it was worth. It was gorgeous, yet intimidating. All season in 2011, Joey Votto will face the opposing pitcher as the reigning NL MVP. Why is this great for Cincinnati, you ask? Let me tell you.
1. The city has been searching to build the legend of a player since Pete Rose. If Votto decides to be a Reds lifer, expect Rose-like reverence after his retirement (Maybe a maple leaf on the pitcher's stripe instead of a long-stemmed rose).
2. In the short term, he solidifies a lineup crammed full of talented, but still developing, young hitters. Guys like Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Jonny Gomes get better pitches to hit because of the fear of facing Votto with runners in scoring position.
3. It gives the Reds a one-up on Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, at least for 2011 (This might be the greatest reason of them all. Scratch that, it is the greatest reason of them all).
Reason No. 2: Front Office Competence
Many fans like to sing the praises of Walt Jocketty and his incredible ability to wave the magic wand over a franchise and watch it blossom into a perennial juggernaut. I am one of those fans, don't get me wrong. However, the majority of the credit (somewhere in the 50-60 percent range) is owed to the foundation that was constructed by previous GMs Wayne Krivsky and Dan O'Brien. These two guys were fired because of the big league ball club's lack of success, not their lack of ability to create organizational depth.
However, Jocketty's fame and subsequent fortune is based around his ability to blend a team together that reflects its geographic situation. Let's compare his most recent successes in St. Louis and Cincinnati via the Jocketty Formula (something that I just created).
The Jocketty Formula
Tony LaRussa, a no-nonsense character that represents the city of St. Louis' diehard love affair for the game. He is ruthless and shrewd, sometimes incoherent, yet always manages to put a winner on the field.
Dusty Baker, a whimsical player favorite that represents the city of Cincinnati's fun-loving and celebratory connection with the game. He is often stereotyped, yet stays consistent with his beliefs in the game. A true mid-western style.
The Serious Superstar
Albert Pujols has the most intimidating batting stance in baseball history. He looks like he is going to crush every single pitch that gets remotely close to the plate.
Joey Votto has a tireless work ethic and is often seen yelling into his helmet after he makes, by his outstanding qualifications, a stupid out by giving an at-bat away.
Serious, yet inspirational players, such as Yadier Molina and David Eckstein, paved the way for a World Series title in 2006 through a blue-collar mentality indicative of the city they play in.
Jubilant and free-spirited characteristics from players are allowed to shine, such as Brandon Phillips' Twitter account and Jonny Gomes' fo-hawk, and therefore create a positive feel that is showcased to all the fans.
Reason No. 3: Formation of a True Divisional Rivalry
Due to the comical nature of Major League Baseball's unbalanced schedule and current divisional alignment, many rivalries have been squelched because the teams don't play as often (Reds-Dodgers being the relevant case to fans of the oldest franchise in existence). When a rivalry buds in today’s game, it is a true blessing and proves that the challenger to the incumbent has finally arrived.
Some insensitive comments by Brandon Phillips made towards St. Louis Cardinals players sparked a new rivalry between the two teams that will last for the immediate future. Last year, we saw a fight between big country boys who were former teammates (Carpenter and Rolen) that was sparked by two of those "Jocketty Formula" clubhouse characters (Molina and Phillips). Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto started kicking (with his spikes in the air, a no-no) once he was pinned against the backstop and ended the career of a former Red-turned Cardinal (Jason LaRue).
Sidenote: Mercifully, Cueto will not be back and healthy for the first series of the year between the two teams. He might not have made it out of St. Louis alive. And I'm only half-joking.
This season's first matchup is in St. Louis this upcoming weekend. For any baseball fan, regardless of affiliation, this series is a must-watch. When was the last time the Reds were a "must-watch" in anything? It would take something outlandish, like a player committing a crime (Oh wait, that happened. Thanks Mike Leake!) or the team advancing to the World Series. The creation of a rivalry between Jocketty's former and current franchise will land the Reds a position on the first half of programming on ESPN's Sportscenter! How great!
Reason No. 4: A Weak NL Central
Here is the "future state of the NL Central" with a special guest appearance by Reds Hall of Fame radio play-by-play man Marty Brennaman. Marty will tackle his favorite team in the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs.
(Disclaimer: Obviously, these are not Brennaman’s words. They are based on his previous comments about the Chicago Cubs.)
Chicago Cubs: "The Chicago Cubs franchise is the most worthless franchise in all of baseball. Their fans have a limited knowledge of the game and are both ignorant and obnoxious. Seriously, how stupid must you be as a fan to keep coming to the ball park for a team that has no shot at ever winning a World Series title? Wrigley Field is an aging dump that leaves all in attendance wondering whether they will make out without a piece of concrete lodged in their brains. They brought in a free agent that hit .190 last season and they think he can be the savior! Who is running this operation anyways? Whoever it is, they need to package it up and throw it into Lake Michigan. It's not even worth trying to sell, because in all of my years of baseball, I haven't met one single person who would be remotely interested in being affiliated with this franchise. Now, let me turn it back over to the multi-talented and eternally gifted Matt Wells for the rest of the program."
Milwaukee Brewers: "Thanks Marty. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this Milwaukee Brewers ball club is in for a "titanic struggle" once their “Titanic”, Prince Fielder, sinks into the ever-depressing world known as free-agency. The Brewers have no money to retain their players and made it apparent to their entire fan base that they were going to go for it all in 2011. By going for it all, they emptied their already pitiful farm system and are left to stumble for the foreseeable future, while teams like the Reds, Astros, and Pirates continue to stockpile on young talent."
Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros: "Both of these franchises are making incredible strides towards being more successful in the immediate future. The Astros are developing a ton of young pitching and are starting to get consistent contributions out of guys like Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn. After this past week's debacle against Pittsburgh, the Reds saw first-hand how close the Pirates are getting to becoming relevant again. They have Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutcheon, and Garrett Jones all showing promise on the offensive side of the ball. However, the question in Pittsburgh will be whether or not they can find some pitching to matchup against the rest of the league."
St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds: "The Cardinals are entering a very troublesome time period for their franchise. If they are unable to negotiate a new deal with Albert Pujols, they instantly become the third or fourth best team in the Central for 2012. On the other hand, the Reds have reached deals with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Johnny Cueto for an extended period of time. Furthermore, the Reds have many young stars coming up through the ranks and are still waiting on the development of Aroldis Chapman to come to full fruition. The one thing the Cardinals have on their side is their “stick-around” ability. It seems that no matter the team’s talent, they always hang around in the top half of the division. Despite the potential of losing Pujols, the Cardinals will always be a factor.”
Overall, this division has many teams that could be right around .500, but no teams that are going to push the high-90s mark. Expect heated, yet mediocre, competition from this division over the next three years or so. The Reds are well positioned to win several division titles if their young studs continue to develop and they find a true staff ace within the organization, or outside of it.
Reason No. 5: Future Stars and Trade Bait
Yorman Rodriguez. Billy Hamilton. Yasmani Grandal. Devin Mesoraco. Zack Cozart. Yonder Alonso. Chris Valaika. Chris Heisey. Dave Sappelt.
The list goes on and on. The Reds are full of young talent. Yorman Rodriguez is an 18-year-old that is moving his way up through the organization. Billy Hamilton believes he can steal 96 bases at Single-A Dayton this season (He already has 14 in 12 games after stealing 48 in 69 games with Rookie Ball Billings last year). Yasmani Grandal is hitting .313 at High-A Bakersfield. Devin Mesoraco has an OPS of 1.065 through 10 games with AAA Louisville. Zack Cozart projects as the next shortstop. Yonder Alonso is stuck behind Joey Votto. Chris Heisey is too good to be a platoon outfielder. Dave Sappelt hit over .500 in spring training and is hitting .320 with three bombs in 12 games with AAA Louisville.
All of this stockpiled talent can mean one of two things:
1. The Reds are in great shape to contend throughout the next decade.
2. The Reds are in great shape to contend for the World Series right now if they are willing to part with a couple of young players.
A small-market team like the Reds must decide what course to follow. They could choose to follow the Twins’ model and compete every year, reach the playoffs, but never have the proverbial “oomph” needed to win the World Series. They could choose to follow in the Rays’ footsteps and acquire talent through some big trades, gamble with Lady Luck, and potentially reach the World Series.
This decision is the most crucial decision that Walt Jocketty and his staff will have to make. It will rock the franchise one way or the other and that decision is often dependent on so many minuscule factors that are uncontrollable. The scary part for Reds fans is that decision could be made as early as July 2011. If the Reds keep putting 12,000 people in the seats on Monday nights, Jocketty is going to feel pressure from the Castellini Boys to put a World Series-caliber product on the field right now. They are one or two pieces away from reaching that plateau and the organization has plenty of movable parts to address those needs.
What a great problem to have! It is either win big now or still win consistently later. These baseball front office decisions are what is so exciting about Major League Baseball. Thankfully, the Redlegs are in position to do something special, whatever it may be, right now.