Winter report card: Cincinnati Reds
With just a few days before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2012, and I’ll revisit and adjust their grades to account for late-winter deals as spring training begins.
For all previously published report cards, click here.
2012 Results: 97-65, 1st place in NL Central (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: LHP Bill Bray, IF Miguel Cairo, SS Didi Gregorius, RHP Ryan Madson, C Dioner Navarro, 3B Scott Rolen, OF Drew Stubbs, IF Wilson Valdez
Key arrivals: C Miguel Olivo, OF Shin-Soo Choo, IF Jason Donald, 3B Jack Hannahan, IF Cesar Izturis, LHP Manny Parra
On the heels of the franchise’s highest win total since the 1976 Big Red Machine, general manager Walt Jocketty hasn’t had a particularly busy winter, but that doesn’t mean his team won’t have something of a new look in 2013. The Reds’ involvement in December’s three-way blockbuster with the Indians and Diamondbacks sent away Stubbs, who hit a dismal .213/.277/.333 in 2012, and Gregorius, a light-hitting shortstop prospect who batted just .265/.324/.393 split between Double-A and Triple-A, and brought back Choo and Donald.
The 30-year-old Choo, who bounced back from a mediocre 2011 to hit .283/.373/.441 with 16 homers for the Indians in 2012, solves the Reds’ ongoing leadoff problem, which generally owes to manager Dusty Baker’s faith that putting his fastest guys in the spot will work wonders, on-base percentage be damned. Last year, Cincinnati got just a .208/.254/.327 line there via Zack Cozart, Brandon Phillips and Stubbs, a performance even worse than the years when Baker would just put his fastest player in the top spot, regardless of their OBP, and hope for the best (see 2008-2010).
The more questionable aspect of the blockbuster is the plan to use Choo in centerfield despite his having just 10 major league starts at the position, only one since 2006. Flanked by the re-signed Ludwick and Jay Bruce (who played 35 games in center in 2008), that outfield won’t yield any Gold Glove winners, but with one year to go before free agency, Choo (who’s making $4.9 million, $3.5 million of which will be paid by Cleveland) can hopefully bridge the gap to speedster Billy Hamilton, who began a conversion from shortstop to centerfield in the Arizona Fall League after stealing a record 155 bases in 2012.
Jocketty had already re-signed Ludwick to a two-year, $15 million deal less than a week before the big trade went down; after two subpar years, the 34-year-old capitalized on his 2012 rebound (.275/.346/.531 with 26 homers). One can argue that once he was signed, it may have made more sense for the Reds to sign free agent Michael Bourn to play center, but with the team’s payroll edging toward $100 million, one can’t fault them for avoiding a long-term entanglement.
As for Donald, the 28-year-old is a backup infielder who showed promise in 2010 and 2011 (.273/.328/.386 in 468 PA) but stunk up the joint in 2012 (.202/.246/.282 in 135 PA); even so, that latter line was better than that produced by Cairo and Valdez, though not Izturis, who signed a minor league deal after batting .241/.254/.343 in 173 PA for the Brewers and Nationals. More likely to stick around is the 32-year-old Hannahan, whom the Reds signed to a two-year, $4 million deal. Though he hit just .244/.312/.341 for the Indians last year, he’s an above-average defender who can back up Todd Frazier at third base. His presence would seem to make a return engagement from Rolen unnecessary, but after looking as though he were on the verge of retirement upon the Reds’ eliminatoin last October, the 37-year-old seven-time All-Star has wavered on those plans.
The longest contract Cincinnati has given out this winter is the three-year, $21 million deal for the 28-year-old Broxton, who returned to health if not dominance after missing most of 2011 with elbow problems. He pitched 58 innings with a 2.82 ERA for the Royals and Reds, and though he struck out just 7.0 per nine — well off the 11.7 he averaged for the Dodgers from 2005-2010 — he introduced an effective new cutter that could be the key to sustaining his success.
Broxton will serve as the closer, which allows Aroldis Chapman to take another shot at cracking the rotation. After an impressive bid to start last spring, he was sent back to the bullpen once Ryan Madson went down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and required Tommy John surgery. The 24-year old Cuban won’t deliver a 1.51 ERA or 15.3 strikeouts per nine via 105 mph fastballs if he makes the move, which some of his teammates have publicly questioned, but he does have the stuff to start, and if he’s ever going to fully unlock his potential and maximize the Reds’ return on his six-year, $30.25 million deal, it will be via that route.
Chapman would move into a rotation that hummed along on all cylinders last year, with four starters reaching 200 innings, just one start coming from beyond the top five, and the unit as a whole delivering a 3.64 ERA, fourth in the league. With Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo all established, Chapman doesn’t have to be the ace, he just has to stay healthy, and he’s got an obvious destination if the team wants to cap his innings late in the year. The odd man out from last year’s starting five is Mike Leake, who was basically league-average from the fifth spot once you account for his outstanding hitting. He could wind up in the bullpen or on the trading block.
The bullpen could have another new addition in Parra, a 30-year-old southpaw signed to a one-year, $1 million deal. Parra has the stuff to miss bats (9.4 strikeouts per nine in 58 2/3 innings last year, 8.4 career) but he was lit for a 5.06 ERA with the Brewers last year via a .345 BABIP and an unsightly 5.4 walks per nine. Unfortunately, his career marks are .342 and 4.6, so manager Dusty Baker will need to stock up on toothpicks if he makes the roster.
Unfinished business: Squatters’ rights Starting catcher Ryan Hanigan may not have much pop (.274/.365/.338 last year), but thanks to his plate discipline and strong defense (48 percent caught stealing, an NL-low 0.2 missed pitches — wild pitches plus passed balls — per nine), he withstood a job challenge from prospect Devin Mesoraco, that after the team traded away fellow prospect Yasmani Grandal to the Padres in the Latos deal. The now 24-year-old Mesoraco came into the year ranked 16th on Baseball America‘s Top 100 Prospects list, but hit just .212/.288/.352 in 184 PA, threw out just 20 percent of opposing stolen base attempts, and played just eight games in August and September, none after Sept. 10. Many assumed that meant the rookie was in Baker’s doghouse, but in fact, the team was particularly protective of him after he suffered a concussion in a July 31 home plate collision, and content to go with Dioner Navarro as the backup down the stretch.
Even so, the organization’s commitment to Mesoraco is now in further question given the signing of Olivo to a minor league deal. The 34-year-old is basically the anti-Hanigan, coming off a year in which he hit .222/.239/.381 with an appalling 85/7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 323 PA, and 0.49 missed pitches per nine, the ninth-highest rate of any catcher with at least 400 innings. Yes, he’s lousy, and yes, it’s only a minor league deal, but given the extent to which so many other teams are desperate for catching — tops among them the Yankees and Mariners (Olivo’s old team) — and the fact that Hanigan still has one more year of arbitration eligibility, it may make sense to see what kind of haul Mesoraco can fetch in return given his minimal service time.
Preliminary grade: B. The Reds didn’t give up all that much in their bold move to acquire Choo, and even if they created one problem with their outfield defense, they shored up a more glaring one with their leadoff spot; more baserunners in front of Joey Votto is never a bad idea. They may still have another move in them — the dealing of a back-end starter — if Chapman’s move to the rotation takes hold. At worst, they go into the season as co-favorites in the NL Central.