Skip to content

Springtime Storylines: Have the Reds built themselves a World Series contender?

Apr 2, 2012, 10:47 PM EST

Dusty Baker, Scott Rolen AP

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Cincinnati Redlegs.

The Big Question: Do the Reds have the pieces to compete for the 2012 World Series title?

Before closer Ryan Madson underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery, the answer would have been “definitely.” Now? Well … it’s still “definitely.”

Madson looked like the steal of the offseason at one-year, $8.5 million and would have been excellent in Cincinnati’s ninth-inning role. But a reliever can only do so much. In his best season with the Phillies — 2011, when he registered a 2.37 ERA, 9.2 K/9 and 32 saves in 34 chances — he was only worth 1.7 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) according to FanGraphs.

For comparison’s sake Miguel Cairo, a light-hitting utility infielder, was worth 1.9 fWAR last year.

The Reds will survive the loss of Madson. And if Sean Marshall continues to shut down hitters like he did during his last couple seasons with the Cubs, they might even forget about the former Phillly right-hander.

Cincinnati has one of the best first basemen in the sport in Joey Votto, one of the best second basemen in Brandon Phillips and one of the best right fielders in Jay Bruce. Mixed together with developing contributors like center fielder Drew Stubbs, shortstop Zack Cozart and catcher Devin Mesoraco, the Reds undoubtedly have a winning recipe. And if their starting rotation can be somewhat steady, they should be right near the top of the National League Central standings when it comes time to award postseason bids.

What Else Is Going On?

  • The Reds posted a 20th-ranked 4.16 staff ERA in 2011. So they decided to do something about that this winter, trading first base prospect Yonder Alonso, right-handed prospect Brad Boxberger, catching prospect Yasmani Grandal and right-handed starter Edinson Volquez to San Diego for Padres ace Mat Latos. A 24-year-old right-hander, Latos registered a sparkling 3.47 ERA and 185/62 K/BB ratio in 194 1/3 innings last season and a 2.92 ERA and 189/50 K/BB ratio in 184 2/3 innings the year before.
  • Votto was signed to a 10-year, $225 million contract extension on Monday. It’s a crazy amount of money, especially for a small-market team like the Reds. And it’s safe to wonder whether a farm system that was decimated by the Latos trade will produce enough cost-controlled talent over the long term to support continued winning. But the Reds have locked up their star first baseman, and that’s something that neither the Cardinals nor Brewers — the Reds’ primary National League Central foes — can boast.
  • Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman was stretched out like a starter this spring and responded with excellent results, posting a 2.12 ERA and 18/2 K/BB ratio in 17 Cactus League innings. And yet he’s being pushed back into a setup role for the duration of the 2012 season. The 24-year-old flamethrower was signed to a five-year, $25.5 million contract in January of 2010 and was expected to grow into an ace. But the Reds have stunted that growth. And it’s awfully hard to understand why.

How Are They Gonna Do?

The Reds’ lineup is loaded with big-time run producers and the Latos upgrade should be massive. Bruce and Votto are capable of MVP-type years and Phillips seems destined to shine brightly in what is likely to be his farewell season in Cincy. This team will come within a win of the National League Central title — falling just short of the first-place Cardinals — before settling for Bud Selig’s new “second” Wild Card.

  1. illadelphiasphinest - Apr 2, 2012 at 10:57 PM

    As long as Dusty Baker is there to mismanage the pitching staff, the answer is no.

  2. spudchukar - Apr 2, 2012 at 11:22 PM

    As long as Dusty doesn’t have any better options than he is presently presented with the answer is a resounding no.

  3. metalhead65 - Apr 2, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    as long as dusty plays matchup with the othe teams lineup every night the answer will be no. as long as dusty continues to mismanage the pitching staff the answer is no.

  4. farvefromover - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:06 AM

    the answer is yes

  5. mianfr - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:21 AM

    As long as Dusty Baker is there to shake Mark Prior’s severed arm at Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto, thus inflicting severe psychological damage, the answer is no.

    • ezthinking - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:34 AM

      Funny how Dusty is blamed for Prior burning out when maybe, just maybe, he was destined to burn out anyway. Funny how people applaud Nolan Ryan when his whole theory for the Rangers is to have the starters pitch more.

      Like most things, the theory of Dusty being hard on pitchers isn’t borne out by the facts. If the Cubs would have won the WS in ’03 instead of the Marlins, Dusty would still be in Chicago and headed for the Hall of Fame. Too bad Alex Gonzales couldn’t catch a routine grounder and Farnsworth, the much heralded closer for the Rays, couldn’t get anyone out.

      • cur68 - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:16 AM

        Don’t try logic on the ani-Baker crowd, man. They just tune it out. Then they chase you down rows of corn and feast on your partially cooked carcass…probably. So be careful. Meanwhile, observe as I put them off my scent:

        Baker’s put the bad touch on Chapman! I saw him! He’s evil! Pure evil!!!
        -*runs away leaving the much slower ezthinking to the inbred mob*

      • illadelphiasphinest - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:53 AM

        Take a look at 2003. The Cubs had Prior, Wood, and Zambrano. All three of them threw over 210 innings. Baker allowed Prior and Wood to throw 130+ pitches in seven different starts. Then there was time where he sent out Kerry Wood for a seven inning outing in which he threw 141 pitches. In 14 out of 16 years, pitchers on Baker’s teams have thrown more pitches per start than the average for National League pitchers. Remember when he had Livan Hernandez? Would you be surprised to know in 110 total starts for Hernandez under Baker, he had three outings with 140+ pitches, 13 outings with 130+ pitches, and a ridiculous 43 outings with 120+ pitches? How bout Russ Ortiz? In 144 starts under Baker, he threw 120+ pitches 33 different starts, including six starts with 130+ pitches and two starts with 140+ pitches. Aaron Harang, in 2008 when Harang threw 63 pitches in relief then made his next start certainly seems like poor judgement in retrospect. Edinson Volquez went from a guy with Cy Young votes to Tommy John surgery. Ryan Madson didnt even make it out of spring training this season. Beware Chapman, Homer Bailey, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and who ever else is on that staff your career is in the hands of man who has no clue, or care to what he is doung to your arm and career!

  6. redguy12588 - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:23 AM

    Signing a 29 year old NL first baseman to a 10 year contract paying him $35m a year when he’s 39? What could possibly go wrong?

    • Gonzo - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:54 AM

      And the contract affects this season how?

      • redguy12588 - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:42 AM

        Did I say it affected this season? I fail to see how this makes the Reds any better in the short term.

  7. mendenhallfumblemachine - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:35 AM

    No. Not right now.

  8. brewcrewfan54 - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:56 AM

    I don’t exactly see how the Brewers and Cardinals losing their first basemen is really even an issue. Players are replaceable. The Cards won the Series without wainwright. Everybody is picking them to win the Central without Pujols. Sometimes you bloggers just write stuff just to write stuff.

  9. crusty14 - Apr 3, 2012 at 2:41 AM

    Please tell me you didn’t come up with those pitching stats off the top of your head! If you did, that’s mighty impressive and you should be using your brain power to stop world hunger!

    • stlouis1baseball - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:56 PM

      Crusty: Off course he did so off the top of his head. That’s why we call him “Rain Man.”
      You should see him in Vegas. After about an hour each casino throws him for winning so much.

  10. paperlions - Apr 3, 2012 at 7:24 AM

    This team won 79 games last year. They added Latos, which is nice, but the rotation still has some major question marks. The offense is not deep….Votto, Phillips (who if great for a 2B, but not a real force), Bruce, and not much else. Have they added 10 wins to their roster? I don’t see it.

    They had 1 year where everything went right and they won 91 games, they were pretty much the same team the year before that and the year after, when they won 78 and 79 games, respectively. It is baseball, anything can happen, but right now they look like an 84-86 win team.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 3, 2012 at 7:55 AM

      Yeah but it’s the NL C, is there really a team that’s going to run away with the division? Last year they went 79-83 but had a +15 run differential. So by pyth, they should have had a 83-79 record. Add half those expected 10 wins and suddenly they are an 88/89 win team. That could easily win the NL C, if not put them in play for the second WC.

      • Jonny 5 - Apr 3, 2012 at 8:33 AM

        I’d say they must win the division to make it to the playoffs. I don’t see them topping the Braves, Dodgers, Nats, Brewers, Giants, D- backs. It seems to me they aren’t as good as the other divisions first-second best teams. I predict the Reds to be golfing during the playoffs myself.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 3, 2012 at 8:54 AM

        Not sure, I just don’t see a powerhouse in the NL like there are in the AL. It’s entirely possible that a 90-92 win season is enough for the division lead, if not a WC berth.

      • paperlions - Apr 3, 2012 at 9:10 AM

        I would be surprised to see the Braves, Dodgers, Giants or Nats be much better than .500 teams….they will be okay, but each of those teams has major problems and/or depth issues.

        That is one problem for Cinci…no depth. The Cardinals have Craig on the bench, and now (finally) Matt Carpenter, who can play corner IF and OF positions and is every bit the hitter Craig is…with better plate discipline. If Carpenter is healthy most of the year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cardinals win the division by 7+ games….they still have by far the best offense in the NL.

      • Jonny 5 - Apr 3, 2012 at 9:45 AM

        Anything is possible over a long season, What I’m trying to say, but I think it came out wrong was that they have a better chance of winning the division than the WC spot imo. I don’t have faith in them winning that either. These guys were 17 games behind the Brewers and in third place last season.

      • stoutfiles - Apr 3, 2012 at 11:24 AM

        @jonny

        You’ve got the Nats and the Brewers above the Reds? Braun just lost his protection in Fielder and his ‘roids, and the Nats have never lived up to potential.

      • brewcrewfan54 - Apr 3, 2012 at 11:36 AM

        The Nats have never lived up to potential because thos is the first uear they’ve ever had any since the move to DC.

  11. stoutfiles - Apr 3, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    Did anyone think the Giants would win the World Series a few years ago? Did anyone think the Cardinals were going to win the World Series last year?

    If you have a team good enough to make the playoffs, anything can happen. They’ve got a shot.

  12. brucewaynewins - Apr 3, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    I wouldn’t be a fan if I didn’t believe in my own team this early in the season.

    We may be a bit over hyped but with that said we are an improved team. How much improved? Well it lies within the new members Latos and Marshall.
    Questions like:

    “How will Homer Bailey do and where will he pitch?”

    “Where will Aroldis Chapman end up?”

    “Will Jay Bruce live up to the hype?”

    “Can Rolen play 100 games? If not will Frazier perform well as a backup?”

    “Can Drew Stubbs and several other plays cut down on the strike outs?” *** Easily one of the three most important issues

    And the not the biggest question but the biggest one hardly anybody is talking about….

    “How will two rookies in the starting line up perform? (Zack Cozart/Devin Mesoraco)”

    I believe this one of the Red’s best chances to win and look forward to the up and down ride a long baseball season presents. I trust in Walt to do what needs to be done.

    • stlouis1baseball - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:54 PM

      Batman: All valid points/questions. If I were a Redlegs fan…I would be happy if Rolen played in half the games this year. Personally, I think Cozart is the real deal. Last year really stunk as a result of his injuries. But I have seen him play several times and I think the kid is going to be a stud. Stubbs needs to be taught how to bunt so he can take advantage of some of that speed. When he gets on base Pitchers start pulling their hair out. Hard to do when you Strikeout as much as Stubbs does though. He needs to start consistently putting wood on the ball. Regardless if thats swinging away or dropping down the occassional bunt.

  13. Francisco (FC) - Apr 3, 2012 at 9:03 AM

    The Chapman saga is certainly weird, they should stick him in the Rotation, it is much easier to replace relievers than starters. I know they auditioned Mike Gonzalez, so it’s not like they didn’t look.

    • contraryguy - Apr 3, 2012 at 10:14 AM

      They don’t really have to put Chapman in the rotation yet; if they need a 5th starter (and they will, given the history of guys like Bailey), they have Jeff Francis, who did well enough in spring to warrant keeping him in the system at AAA Louisville. Eventually one of these guys will get in if for no other reason than right now all 5 Reds starters are righties, and I doubt Dusty is going to like that for very long.

      As for the Cards not feeling the effect of Pujols leaving, cmon, the most dangerous hitter in the game takes a hike, and nothing happens? Riiiiiight…

      • stlouis1baseball - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:59 PM

        Oh…that will feel it Contraryguy. Just not at the level some of the haters think they will. It’s going to be production by committe. With Waino back this year (I assume I don’t have to point out that he missed all of last year)…I don’t look for the offense to have to be the best in the NL again this year (or one of the best in MLB) like last year. But yeah…they will feel his absence. Primarily in the form of his lineup protection not being their.

  14. johnnyb1976 - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:29 PM

    Jealous cub fans just need to go away just like the cubs will have done by June.

  15. eastcoastblows - Apr 3, 2012 at 8:42 PM

    Dusty poops gold nuggets

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Featured video

Cubs shore up rotation with Jon Lester
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. J. Kang (2735)
  2. W. Myers (2490)
  3. D. Ross (2106)
  4. C. McGehee (2094)
  5. W. Middlebrooks (1939)
  1. J. Shields (1836)
  2. T. Tulowitzki (1816)
  3. J. Upton (1806)
  4. D. Haren (1791)
  5. M. Scutaro (1724)