Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"What Would the Outsider Do" - Cincinnati Reds

With a handful of promising Major League ready youngsters, the Reds are poised to build their roster into a contender in the near future. However, 2009 will not be that season and the Reds should simply be content with development and health.

The Reds are stocked with a lot of very nice prospects. However, many of the prospects are getting old for their level of competition which could lead to some misleading numbers.

Even with that in mind, the Reds have had some solid drafts in the last couple of seasons. Thus, despite being 'old', the club has a fine minor league system with a lot of major league ready depth. Not only that, but they also have a surplus of players that could be utilized in trades.

Interestingly, this is one of the first seasons in recent memory where the Reds are looking as if pitching may be their strength. With the era of Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. in the clubs rear view mirror, the Reds have more financial flexibility then they may know what to do with. Hopefully that doesn't send them off on an unfounded spending spree as it did during the 2004-05 off season en route to signing Eric Milton.

What the Reds don't need:

Surprisingly, starting pitching. The Reds have a capable core of Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, and Micah Owings. Let us also not forget that Homer Bailey is still too young to be labelled a 'bust'. Additionally, the club has Ramon Ramirez, Daryl Thompson, and Matt Maloney who are all Major League ready and are fine options for the #5 slot in the pitching rotation.

In fact, because of this pitching depth, the Reds should find themselves testing the trade market with Harang and/or Arroyo. I'll get to that in a moment.

Relief pitching is another area the Reds can afford to hold off on. Not because I buy into the fact that the team's relievers had one of the 10 best ERA's in all of baseball, rather, because the Reds shouldn't have too many meaningful games that they need to win. It would also be beneficial of the club to use the 2009 season as an open tryout for 2010 and beyond.

Any big contracts. There really isn't a player available that the Reds need. Therefore, the Reds shouldn't be looking to overspend, as so often happens on the free agent market. Instead, the Reds should be looking to unload big contracts (as mentioned with Harang and Arroyo) giving them financial flexibility going forward.

What the Reds need:

The club enters this offseason with some enormous financial flexibility. They should be looking to create more while keeping their ears to the ground regarding any available young studs. I'm thinking Matt Holliday or Prince Fielder here. Players that fit the Miguel Cabrera mold as a player approaching a price point which their current clubs cannot afford.

Despite Jay Bruce being the obvious face of the franchise for the foreseeable future, the Reds are in a spot where they can afford the financial commitment that Holliday or Fielder would require. The acquisition of Fielder would move Joey Votto to left field, a position he has played, although it is not the most desirable location for the kid.

Keep in mind, the acquisitions of Holliday or Fielder are only worthwhile ideas if the Reds can get them at a discount. This is most likely improbable, so I won't account for that.

The next move the Reds should make is to lose either Arroyo or Harang. At this point, I would imagine Arroyo would bring the greater return and thus be a more sought after pitcher. One team that jumps out as an interested suitor would be the Milwaukee Brewers. With CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets ready to jump ship, the Brewers could be looking to acquire a dependable veteran starter. There are a few ideal chips within the Brewers roster, but I would aim for shortstop JJ Hardy, who is said to be available due to the emergence of youngster Alcides Escobar. The Brewers may get into desperation mode and accept a trade like this if they feel their rotation is not coming together.

As I mentioned, the Reds have quite the stable of 'old-for-their-level' prospects. Each of whom had a nice 2008 season and could be valued trade chips. As it stands, the Reds have four young outfielders, only one of whom has a truly high ceiling (Jay Bruce). Chris Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, and Danny Dorn all have potential, but none truly profile as franchise player and could easily be expendable if the right offer came about. The Angels, for example, could use some youth in their outfield-maybe a straight up swap of Dorn for Jeff Mathis?

A final move WWOD would look into is the acquisition of Willy Taveras. Willy T has had a pitiful season en route to essentially losing his job in Colorado. This, the year in which Taveras posted the highest K/BB rate of his career, as well as his highest line drive rate. At 27 years old, Taveras still has some room to grow and sounds as if he will be available for pennies on the dollar.

With those moves in mind, here is how the Reds should shake out offensively:

CF - Willy Taveras
RF - Jay Bruce
1B - Joey Votto
3B - Edwin Encarnacion
2B - Brandon Phillips
SS - JJ Hardy
C - Jeff Mathis
LF - Chris Dickerson

One of the major transitions the Reds are encountering is that of a team lacking plate discipline and patience. Encarnacion and Phillips are excellent hitters, but are allergic to free passes. This will be a powerful bunch, that will score a majority of their runs utilizing Great American Ballpark's cozy dimensions.

The club does, however, have the benefit of a fairly sound bench, starting with Ryan Freel and Jeff Keppinger, with Norris Hopper, Ryan Hanigan, Alex Gonzalez, and a player whom I can see being an excellent bench option Tonys Gutierrez.

Gutierrez is a 25 year old left handed infielder with limited power but an outstanding eye. Since 2006, Gutierrez has had a walk rate hovering around 15%, albeit, playing at a level well below his age.

Additionally, I wouldn't hesitate to platoon Freel with Dickerson as well as utilizing Freel as a super-utility player.

Keep in mind, the Reds have Yonder Alonso who was considered one of the most major league ready hitters in the 2008 first-year player draft. His 6-game performance in high-A only furthered his reputation, and despite a relatively low ceiling, should be close to the majors by the end of the 2009 season.

The rotation would be measured based on their ability to stay healthy. With up to four starters at 26 or younger, the club is poised for a long run as one of the league most promising rotations. Here's how I see them shaking out:

Aaron Harang
Johnny Cueto
Edinson Volquez
Micah Owings
Daryl Thompson

It may come off as an interesting move that Thompson makes the rotation over Homer Bailey, and I can understand any justification for an opposite approach. However, hear me out. Bailey has been thumped in his short tenure as a Major Leaguer, there is no way the kid can be taking the bump with any confidence. To build it, I try him out in the bullpen for a couple of months, letting him reer back and get things done in an inning or two of work.

Thompson on the other hand should not have those same confidence issues and can be a dependable #5 starter for this club.

The Reds bullpen has been impressive throughout the 2008 season and looks to build on that success in 2009. Here's how the core looks for 2009:

CL - F. Cordero
SU - J. Burton
RP - B. Bray
RP - H. Bailey
RP - C. Fisher
LR - R. Ramirez

Carlos Fisher is certainly a 'wildcard'. The 25 year old has done an excellent job as a minor league reliever, and it would be nice for the Reds to give him an opportunity to show what he's got in the bullpen this year. Aside from that, the bullpen looks much the same as how it completed this season.

The Reds have a handful of other arms that appear destined for the bullpen. Similar to the outfield depth, many of the arms are getting old for their level and are rather replaceable with one another. One arm to watch, it 2008 draft pick Zach Stewart. The 22 year old right hander had zero issues transitioning to the pro game and pitched 32 successful innings between A and high A ball. Somewhat of a worry, although in a small sample size, is the fact that while Stewart's strikeout rate rose considerably in his stint of high A ball, so too did his walk rate. This saw Stewart's K/BB rate drop from an impressive 4.33 in A ball down to 2.09 in high A.

Considered as an arm that should fly through the system, Stewart should find himself as a September call-up in 2009 strengthening an already deep bullpen.

The Reds are built around power and pitching. With the current depth they appear to have in their minor league system, the club is poised to be a buyer at the trade deadline, possibly going after a Bobby Abreu-2006 type with the extra cash at hand. Their pitching depth also presumably has the Reds regretting the Josh Hamilton for Edinson Volquez trade of last off season.

Despite being young, this club cannot be counted out for the 2009 season. While there are holes to fill, WWOD would sit out of The 2008-09 Hot Stove League to discover what it is the club has, and what they do not have. Consider the 2009 season as an open tryout, albeit a very exciting one given the roster that I have assembled.

BallHype: hype it up!

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