Cincinnati Reds: 5 Keys to Winning in 2012
Things have been funky in the Domer-Shank household lately.
See, this summer was supposed to be similar to last, where my special lady-friend and I would watch anxiously every night as the upstart Redlegs from Cincy kept pace with the division’s big spenders.
Like last summer, we fully intended to crack open a bottle of champagne sometime in late September, a reprisal of last season’s glorious Jay Bruce-led weeknight celebration.
Instead, of course, weeknights at the D-S crib are somber. Guys like Bill Compton, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, and Marvin Lewis’ pre-season Bungles (NOOOOOO!!!) have claimed the airwaves, pushing Dusty, Walt and Co. to the backest of burners.
The Reds, one-time Kings of the summer, are an afterthought.
At first blush, it seems deplorable to turn ones back on a team that, not long ago, captivated us. Yet, to be fair, we (that is, ALL Reds fans) would do well to take a long look in the mirror.
Who exactly did we think we were kidding with these lofty expectations and delusions of sustained success?
Was it wise to just ignore the fact that Jonny Gomes, Scott Rolen and our one-two catching punch had abnormally excellent 2010 campaigns? Was it fair to assume that Drew Stubbs, Jay Bruce and every other Tom, Dick and Harry on the team would take steps forward instead of back?
Did we REALLY think Edinson Volquez was somehow cured of Godawfulitis?
No, no and hayyyylll no.
Yet still we spent the first three months of this season just kind of waiting around for the Reds to get good again. And, when it never happened, we all looked around as if someone had told us the other teams got four outs per inning and we only got two.
At some point, our vision of yearly division championships has been dashed to pieces, we just didn’t know why.
I’ll assume though, for the purposes of the following column, that we are all now back where we belong (that being…to EARTH). As the few of us that can actually still stand it sit through Tuesday night snoozers versus teams like the Marlins and Pirates, we’re reminded that it’s the Reds we’re watching.
The team that for the last 20 years or so has seemingly NEVER pulled the right strings, NEVER made the right moves and NEVER had much hope.
Last year was an aberration. And we all know that now.
Yet, through the all the dark, morbid cynicism, there is a light.
For the first time in eons, the Reds have some semblance of a farm system. For the first time in my life, they’ve got the best hitter in the league. And, for the first time probably ever, they have what looks like (but maybe sometimes doesn’t act like) pitching depth.
Indeed, all is not lost. However, for the Reds to REALLY have a chance at going somewhere special in 2012 (because, let’s face it, that 3-0 series mauling last October wasn’t exactly Disneyworld) a few key things need to happen.
1. Chapman to Start
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Short of going out and trading for Felix Hernandez or a close equivalent, I don’t see any other option for the Reds on the starting pitching front.
The facts here say it better than I ever could. San Francisco has Lincecum and Cain. Atlanta has Jurrjens and Hudson. St. Louis has Carpenter, Garcia and Wainwright (assumedly, next year). And Philadelphia has, well, everyone.
The Reds? Cueto.
Without two top-notch starting pitchers, any club will be hard-pressed to make hay in the National League, and the Reds are just barely starting to believe they have one.
The 2012 season has to be Aroldis Chapman’s coming out party. He is way, way, WAY too talented to pitch 80 innings a year, and the Reds need him now more than ever.
2. Mez Is the Man
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If you’re like me, you see disappointing seasons like this one as reasons to immediately start planning for next year.
I’ve written out possible 2012 Opening Day lineups countless times, and there’s one thing that is always missing: a big right-handed bat.
Brandon Phillips has filled in admirably over the last several seasons, but you don’t have to be a Reds fanatic to know he isn’t your prototype cleanup hitter.
Yes, he hits for power…sometimes. However, if the last few days have proved anything it’s that he is definitely comfortable hitting leadoff, and that he is WAY more effective in that position than Drew Stubbs or Dave Sappelt (right now, anyway).
I’m not saying Devin Mesoraco should be the 2012 Opening Day cleanup hitter. He shouldn’t.
However, he is exactly the type of hitter the Reds need in the lineup to break up the big lefties (Votto, Bruce, Alonso).
And, while Ryan Hanigan will prove to be the best backup catcher in the league (we’re assuming free agent Ramon Hernandez is history at season’s end), the time has come for the best catching prospect in baseball to make his entrance.
Mesoraco should play every day, as his bat will immediately pay dividends.
3. Find a Closer
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Would anyone NOT be shocked if the Reds somehow re-signed Co-co Cordero?
I mean…call me crazy…but that guy is GONE after this season. He just is.
That being said, someone is going to have to close games next year.
The Reds have several groomable options (Nick Masset, Logan Ondrusek, Jose Arredondo, or even farmhand Brad Boxberger) but most of them have had trouble handling the seventh and eighth innings, so I’d hate to see what happens when the pressure really mounts.
Just like they did in 2007 (when they surprised everyone and brought in Co-co), it looks like Cincinnati will need to shop for a closer in the offseason.
Maybe they look at an up-and-comer like Ryan Madsen. Maybe they bargain shop for a proven older guy like Jose Valverde or Kyle Farnsworth. Or maybe they sign a setup guy like Rafael Betancourt and hand him the ball.
Either way, until an in-house guy like Boxberger is ready, they’ll need back-end bullpen help, especially since Chapman will be busy winning a Cy Young every fifth day.
4. Career Year for a No. 3
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“Pitching depth” means different things for different people.
To some, it’s a solid rotation, No. 1 through 5, that a team can depend on. To others, it means that no matter the quality, the organization has multiple arms that can step in and take a spot start.
Either way, it’s safe to say Cincinnati, as an organization, has it.
From veterans like Bronson Arroyo and Dontrelle Willis, to a slew of youngsters (Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Travis Wood, Johnny Cueto, etc.) , the Reds will have no trouble filling their rotation toward the end of next March.
Yet depth and quality are mutually exclusive.
When he’s been healthy, Cueto has shown this season that he is a top of the rotation type guy. And, even though a lot of us are probably apprehensive about fitting him with the “ace” crown just yet, I think we can all agree he is at least a bona fide No. 2.
Beyond Cueto, a lot of questions remain.
Earlier, we said the Reds would have a shot IF Chapman joined the rotation. We’ll work under that assumption here too. With he and Cueto as your No. 1 and 2 (or your 2 and 1), that leaves three open slots.
I firmly believe Bronson Arroyo has given us his last 15-win season. However, I am just as confident that this season’s horror show was an anomaly. Bronson is signed through the next couple years, and I say he’ll soon settle comfortably into the 5-hole.
I also see Mike Leake as a consistent, if unspectacular contributor to this equation. I don’t see him putting up any 20 win seasons. He won’t be winning any Cy Youngs.
However, he’s going to give you six or seven innings usually, keep you in the ballgame, and as he gets by already on location and guile, he will probably only improve as he matures.
He’s your No. 4.
That leaves the triumvirate of Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, and Edinson Volquez left to battle it out for what I see as a PIVOTAL third spot in the rotation. Each of these guys has the stuff to dominate the opposition. Each of them has strikeout nastiness in their arsenal.
However, each has been WILDLY inconsistent, so if the Reds are to challenge the Brewers and Cardinals next year (or, let’s face it, maybe even the Pirates), one of these guys will need to have his best year.
5. Maximize Alonso
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Finally, the Reds have to get as much as they POSSIBLY CAN out of Yonder Alonso.
There are a few things this does not mean.
This does not mean using him as a lefty pinch-hitter. That would be an abysmal decision.
This does not mean platooning him with someone else. The kid can flat out HIT (.448 BA through 29 at-bats) and needs to play.
And this does not mean getting corn-holed in a deal with another team, just because we have two studs who happen to play first base.
The Reds main goals for the offseason should be getting Chapman ready to start and getting Alonso ready to play SOMEWHERE.
If that means grooming him for the third base job, fine. Scott Rolen can’t have much time left. That writing’s been on the wall since July 2010.
If it means turning over the left field keys, get him working every day out there and just hope he gets as “good” as Adam “the Big Donkey” Dunn was. It was cringe-worthy at times, but he at least improved.
Or if it means shipping Alonso to another city, do it if you must. But if you do, make sure you get an All-Star or a future All-Star in return. Because Alonso is most definitely that.