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2014 Preview: Cincinnati Reds

Mar 30, 2014, 11:28 AM EDT

billy hamilton getty Getty Images

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 2014 season. Next up: The Cincinnati Reds.

The Big Question: Is this still a playoff team?

The Reds won 90 games last year to snag one of the two National League Wild Card slots, but Shin-Soo Choo and his .423 on-base percentage signed a seven-year, $130 million contract with the Rangers in December and Bronson Arroyo took his 200-inning reliability to the Diamondbacks in February for a two-year, $23.5 million pact. Those are two big losses, and the 2014 Reds incurred another huge blow in mid-March when shutdown closer Aroldis Chapman was struck in the face by a comebacker.

But there is still quite a bit to be excited about up and down Cincinnati’s 25-man roster.

Billy Hamilton brought his game-changing speed to the majors at the end of 2013, stealing 13 bases in 13 games. He’ll take over for Choo in center field and at leadoff, and the Reds will hope that his struggles last year at Triple-A turn out to be a minor blip on a special playing career. Joey Votto, perhaps the most polished hitter in the sport, has led the National League in on-base percentage four years running and carries the promise of more power potential. Jay Bruce is good for an OPS above .800 and 30-plus homers, Brandon Phillips isn’t quite the offensive threat that he used to be but can still pick it at second base, and Ryan Ludwick is back to full health after appearing in only 38 games last season due to a shoulder injury.

This team should score runs, and the pitching staff is better than most people probably think.

Mat Latos was a legitimate ace throughout 2013 and is expected to be recovered from knee surgery by mid-April. Tony Cingrani, 24, owns a 2.87 ERA (134 ERA+) and 10.6 K/9 through his first 109 2/3 innings at the major league level. Homer Bailey has thrown no-hitters in each of the last two seasons and landed a six-year, $105 million extension in February. Johnny Cueto, the Reds’ Opening Day starter, can claim an outstanding 2.61 ERA (154 ERA+) in 433 2/3 frames since the beginning of 2011.

What else is going on?

  • Chapman underwent successful surgery on March 20 to repair the fractures around his nose and left eye, but he’s not going to throw a baseball for another couple weeks and could miss the first two months of the regular season. JJ Hoover, Jonathan Broxton, and Sean Marshall will make a decent fill-in committee at closer, but completely replacing Chapman is flat-out impossible. The fire-balling Cuban left-hander boasts a 2.40 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 14.7 K/9 in 205 career appearances in the bigs.
  • The Reds traded catcher Ryan Hanigan to the Rays in early December as part of a three-team swap to finally clear the path for Devin Mesoraco, one of Baseball America‘s Top 20 prospects in 2012. Mesoraco is going to open the 2014 regular season on the 15-day disabled list due to an unfortunate late-spring oblique strain, but he will be a breakout candidate once he is cleared for activation. The 25-year-old former first-round pick was a very productive hitter at Double-A and Triple-A.
  • Reds third baseman Todd Frazier will be an interesting player to watch this summer. He finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2012 after posting an .829 OPS and 19 home runs in 128 games, but his OPS fell to .721 in his sophomore 2013 season and he had the same amount of homers despite appearing in 22 more games. The 28-year-old native of New Jersey needs a bounceback.
  • The Reds fired manager Dusty Baker three days after losing the 2013 National League Wild Card Game to the Pirates and replaced him by promoting pitching coach Bryan Price. It’s foolish to attempt genuine analysis of a manager before he’s been at the helm for a meaningful game, so we won’t even try. Some newer-school strategies would be nice, and Price has hinted that he’s open-minded to such things.

Prediction: The Reds pitch and hit their way to 89 wins and a second consecutive draw for the National League Wild Card Game. They finish in second place in the National League Central.

  1. chill1184 - Mar 30, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    Hamilton will be an interesting player to watch

    • renaado - Mar 30, 2014 at 11:50 AM

      He’s speed is definitely the must see for this guy.

    • ptfu - Mar 30, 2014 at 11:56 AM

      He sure will. I tried to watch him but all I saw was a blur.

  2. stoutfiles - Mar 30, 2014 at 11:48 AM

    Huge Reds fan but I sadly predict 80-82. I can’t see any area where we improved the team, we need everyone to have career years again. Here’s hoping you’re right though!

    • baberuthslegs - Mar 30, 2014 at 12:31 PM

      Maybe they improved the manager.

      • thomas844 - Mar 30, 2014 at 12:42 PM

        I like Price’s new approach and I hope he sticks with it. Like he said, Cozart stole 30 bases in one minor league season, but had zero attempts to steal last year. They don’t have any big-time speedsters outside of Hamilton, but Cozart, Frazier, and Phillips are all capable of swiping a base here and there. One stolen base can change the course of an entire game, as Hamilton proved in September last year.

      • spudchukar - Mar 30, 2014 at 1:08 PM

        Cardinal fans hope the Reds run too.

      • thomas844 - Mar 30, 2014 at 1:13 PM

        Well, Hamilton was 2-2 stealing off Molina last year 😉 but I don’t think anyone else on the Reds would even try to run on him

      • jm91rs - Mar 30, 2014 at 1:20 PM

        SpudChukr, last year you told me Cardinals fans were happy to see Choo instead of Stubbs. I’m guessing you don’t actually speak for all Cardinals fans?
        And I’m sure you realize that running and smart running are different things. Obviously a guy that doesn’t steal much is unlikely to attempt anything on Molina, thankfully there are about 130 games for the Reds that don’t involve the Cardinals.

      • jm91rs - Mar 30, 2014 at 1:21 PM

        I’m sure the Reds have massive respect for Molina’s abilities. Watching Hamilton steal off of him last year was a real treat, he definitely caused Molina to rush his throws. Should be fun to watch again this year.

      • spudchukar - Mar 30, 2014 at 1:25 PM

        Mostly that is BS. What I said was I and many Cardinal fans were glad to see Choo in center when the Reds were in the field.

      • spudchukar - Mar 30, 2014 at 1:28 PM

        Choo was also rated as one of the worst center fielders in the game in 2013, and won’t play there in 2014. No doubt Choo had a fine offensive season in 2013, and his offense may have meant more than his lousy defense, but he wasn’t a center fielder in 2013 and won’t be one again.

      • spudchukar - Mar 30, 2014 at 1:30 PM

        As you indicate, Hamilton was 2 for 2 in steals against Molina in 2013, and he rushed one of his 2 throws. I am certain he cannot wait to rectify those paltry 2 attempts.

      • jm91rs - Mar 30, 2014 at 1:47 PM

        Yeah, that offensive output “may have” meant a little more. Just a little. /s

        I don’t know Molina’s numbers throwing runners out. I have no doubt it’s the best in the game, and I have no doubt he will get the best of Hamilton more than any other catcher. Facing the best base stealer in the game will make those matchups a lot of fun. I was surprised he even attempted 2 off of Molina last year, but I’m guessing he pretty much has a green light whenever he wants it.

    • cincinata - Mar 30, 2014 at 5:47 PM

      Agree with you Stout. They may end up with 85 wins, but that don’t get 2nd place in the central. It is possible that 89-90 games will not be good enough for second, if Pgh and the Birds play as expected. If the birds fail as I expect, then Pgh will move in with the talent they have. We will have hope, but I think it is way too optimistic to expect Chapman to be on the mound before July. Also, Latos is not going to be as effective as last year until maybe the second half. One has to be realistic because of the injuries and re-hab can take more time than one thinks. I think the biggest loss was Choo, as Bronson was really only a .500 pitcher lifetime. But, we can not count on rookies. As I have stated many times, rookies will not win a championship for you. That was bourn out by the cards rookie pitchers last year. The rookies brought in for relief failed in two games at home which they should have won both, but lost them. So, I am not counting too much on Hamilton although he will win a few games for the Reds.

  3. thomas844 - Mar 30, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    This sounds like a great analysis to me. I can also see them winning around 89 games or so. The pitching staff should be their main strength once again and, though their offense isn’t explosive, it is definitely sufficient. The key will be their bullpen, as they blew a lot of saves last year. Broxton and Hoover really have to step up and Marshall has to be healthy. Chapman can’t do it on his own.

    They are certainly not a better team than the Cardinals or the Dodgers, but as long as they make the playoffs, anything can happen from there.

    • cincinata - Mar 30, 2014 at 5:55 PM

      Thomas, too many IF’S. We can hope, however that may not happen. Don’t expect too much from Chapman or Latos until much later in the season. But you have the right attitude. Broxton, Marshall, Hoover, all too much to hope for.

  4. twinfan24 - Mar 30, 2014 at 1:28 PM

    By my count, you’ve done a total of 28 team previews. Are we going to get the last two? I know the Twins are going to stink, but I would still like to see the preview of how bad you think they might be.

  5. metalhead65 - Mar 30, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    the reds will do great with the new manager and not just because of the metric b.s. they have a manager now who is not stuck to his book of dusty and will have a set lineup that puts guys in the best position for success. phillips will be the #2 this year and you should see his average pick up this year since he will not be in the cleanup spot trying to drive in runs which is what he did last year. he was batting .300 until the pirates decided to hit him for no reason and he played the rest of the year with a wrist injury but still drove in over a 100 runs. wait I forgot RBI’S don’t mean anything now . but he had surgery on it after the season so he should be fine this year. and cozart will not be batting second which he only did because he was fast and god knows dusty loves his fast guys at the top whether than can hit there or not. as soon as he put him back to the 8th spot he took off. and most important he he is batting votto and bruce back to back which should make bruce a more consistent hitter. but even if he is not are you going to walk votto to get to a hot hitting bruce? even if hamilton only duplicates his minor league numbers that will still mean a bunch of runs for the reds. votto has already said he saw the best pitches to hit when hamilton got called up and got on base last year remember they won the division with stubbs batting .232 and striking out 200 times and batting leadoff. but again the most important move was getting rid of dusty and his stubborn way of doing things.

    • spudchukar - Mar 30, 2014 at 5:52 PM

      Here’s to hoping Hamilton matches his AAA numbers and his .307 OBP.

      Cards are getting fortunate playing the Reds now, they will definitely be tougher in a month. With Latos, Chapman, and Mesoraco on the DL, not to mention the Shu, and Bailey without a lot of ST under his belt, the Cards would behoove themselves to take advantage of the unhealthy Reds early.

  6. musketmaniac - Mar 30, 2014 at 4:23 PM

    89 wins won’t get 2cd in the central

  7. navyeoddavee9 - Mar 30, 2014 at 4:58 PM

    1. Cardinals 2. Pirates 3. Reds

    • cincinata - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:43 AM

      You Hope, no doubt.

  8. savvybynature - Mar 30, 2014 at 5:12 PM

    Love all these Cardinals fans talking smack. They are always so intimidated by the Reds they troll every Reds article or game conversation thread, haha. Only a matter of time before the Reds take over the division and they know it!

  9. ohiobears - Mar 30, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    I’d say prediction is pretty legit. Yeah we lost Bronson but he’s only reliable to be on the mound, as far as his outing, he’s either no hitting or getting destroyed. Choo is going to hurt but his defense was terrible and Hamilton should be better on the defensive side. Of he can get on base I think we will be alright. Frazier had a down year and we may as well have lost ludwick the entire season and still fared well. They didn’t do a lot to improve roster but I think that if we can stay healthy we can be a force. I’m really only concerned w the depth behind mesoraco as oblique inquiries can be quite nagging…

  10. sportsfan69 - Mar 30, 2014 at 6:01 PM

    Pitching wins ball games. With a good combination of hitting and defense, the Reds will be fine this year. Like all teams, injuries will play key part to the team’s success. The Cincinnati Reds have slighnly a better hitting ball club than the St. Louis Cardinals. Let’s forget the Cardinal lose Carlos Beltran, a key left handed batter, with above defensive skills in right field. Also, the Cardinals will NOT repeat their batting average of over .280-.300 through the year with runners in scoring position. Which was the highest since the big Red Machine in 1975-1976 seasons.

    Plus, let’s forget the Cardinals have a couple young pitchers that will be entering their first FULL season. Last year, ALL the breaks fell perfectly their way. As for Relief pitchers for the St. Louis Cardinals, they lost their key closer over the off-season.

    Defensively, the Cincinnati Reds kicks the St. Louis Cardinals ass easily. Let’s analyze by positions,
    Catcher – Advantage St. Louis
    First Base- Advantage Reds
    Second Base- Advantage Reds
    SS- slight advantage Reds
    Third Base- slight advantage Reds
    Left Field- even
    Center field- Advantage Reds
    Right Field- Advantage Reds

    Ok, St. Louis trolls dispute those FACTS.

    Starting Pitching
    A healthy Cueto beats Wainright, 8 out of 10 times. That’s a fact, Jack!
    Latos and Wacha are even.
    Homer beats Miller, 7 out of 10 times.
    Cirgrani and Lynn, not enough information.
    Leake and Kelly, even.

    Reds have better overall starting along with a better relief pitchers.

    St.Louis may actually take 4-6 games against the Reds in April, but that will be their only advantage the rest of the year with the Reds.

    Enjoy your early season success with the Reds if you’re lucky. But, count out the Reds to possibly play even with the Cardinals or beat them. It’s baseball, anything can happen. That’s why they play the game.

    Ball play!!!!

    • cincinata - Mar 30, 2014 at 6:11 PM

      Hey sportsfan, where in the hell do you get your stats? How can Cueto beat Wainwright 8 out of 10 times, when he doesn’t beat the Cardinals 8 of 10? You have to be stupid to think that Latos coming off of injury is going to match Wacha. How can Homer beat anyone 7 of 10? He has a losing record against the Cards as a team. Look it up dummy. You sound like the idiots in Pgh last year when they mocked Wacha before he beat them. Lets not get ahead of ourselves. If we can grab game one, we will be doing good. Then go on from there.

    • stlouis1baseball - Mar 31, 2014 at 2:29 PM

      Hahaha! That’s some funny stuff “Sportsfan.” I mean really…it made me laugh out loud.
      Not sure where to start. From “The Cincinnati Reds have a slightly better hitting ball club than the St. Louis Cardinals” to your defensive comparisons…to little Joanie being Waino 8 of of 10 times…to Homer beating Shelby 7 out of 10 times. Then…you some how top everything by this…”Reds have better overall starting along with a better relief pitchers.”

      If fact, after re-reading your post and replying…I am come to realize you have to be joking.
      It simply isn’t possible that you are being sincere. Impossible.

    • stlouis1baseball - Apr 1, 2014 at 5:42 PM

      “The Cincinnati Reds have slightly a better hitting ball club than the St. Louis Cardinals.”

      Runners on 1st and 3rd with no outs in the bottom of the 8th.
      You need 1 run to tie the ball game.
      If this isn’t enuogh…you are actually given FIVE OUTS to do it.

      Yeah…how about that vaunted offense?
      Better yet…how about lil’ Joanie beating Waino 8 out of 10 times?

      It’s people like you who make the season really, really long for the actual baseball fan.

  11. cincinata - Mar 30, 2014 at 6:01 PM

    Savvy, what you been smoking? Sounds like you had a little too much smack before writing this. There is no question that the redbirds have the talent the Reds do not. I think however, it is time for a massive failure at Bush, because of the poor pitching performance of their second line pitchers who will be called on sometime this year. But to say that the Reds have the better team is foolish. It is Dodgers, Cards, Pirates and Red Sox who have the talented teams. Reds will have to overachieve.

    • savvybynature - Mar 31, 2014 at 6:28 PM

      I said it’s a matter of time, I didn’t say the Reds were better now. Molina won’t last forever, and neither will Wainwright or Holiday. They’ll still be a good team when those guys hang it up, because they have a great organization, but those 3 won’t be easily replaced either. So, to answer your question, I’m not smoking anything, you just need to work on your reading comprehension.
      Also, I accidentally clicked report comment when I meant to click reply. So, mods, please ignore. Other than insinuating I’m smoking heroin (kind of a crazy accusation, but nothing notable for the Internet I suppose, sigh), his comment is pedestrian.

  12. djandujar - Mar 31, 2014 at 1:34 PM

    Am I the lone member of the Brandon Phillips Fan Club?

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