The Cincinnati Reds, unlike in the past few years, created quite the buzz in the offseason this past year. After last year’s disappointing season, GM Walt Jocketty decided to go out and make some moves. The first was to acquire young Padres starter Mat Latos for a package of prospects and the enigmatic Edinson Volquez. It was a high price to pay, but the Reds felt they were dealing from a position of strength prospect-wise and couldn’t go any longer without trying to find an ace for their pitching staff. The story that would top the trade happened right before the season started when the Reds signed franchise cornerstone Joey Votto to a staggering 10-year, $225 million contract extension. Whether or not you agree with either move, the Reds showed they were serious about being a competitor, both this year and down the line.
With the acquisition of Latos, plus returning most of the team that won the NL Central in 2010, means that the Reds face fairly high expectations this season. While the Brewers lost Prince Fielder and the Cardinals lost Albert Pujols, both teams still figure to be worthy adversaries for the Redlegs, mostly based on the perceived advantages in their starting rotations. For Cincinnati, another good season from Johnny Cueto is extremely important, as is a bounceback year from Bronson Arroyo. Homer Bailey must also continue to improve and take advantage of his tremendous potential. Back in 2010, the young Reds were led by an explosive offense, and if they want to return to the playoffs, that will most likely need to be the case once again, despite the improvements in the pitching staff. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are the staples of the offense, but there are certainly question marks elsewhere. As usual, they are located in left field and at shortstop. Zach Cozart, after impressing in a short stint last season, will be the full time starter, which should be a net improvement, given that the SS position recently has been held by noted non-sluggers Paul Janish, Edgar Renteria, and Orlando Cabrera. Left field is not quite as clear, as some sort of platoon involving Chris Heisey and Padres/Cardinals castoff Ryan Ludwick will be used. In addition to these two positions, comeback seasons from CF Drew Stubbs and aging 3B Scott Rolen could also prove crucial to the Reds hope of playing October baseball.
On paper, it appears the Reds have a pretty good baseball team, and should be right in the thick of things this season. That being said, the first 10 games, which, to be fair is a VERY small sample size, has been difficult to watch. The pitching has actually been fairly decent, although Latos has struggled in both of his starts. That has been offset by an absolutely sensational start to the season for Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman, who is currently sporting a 18/2 K/BB ration in just 10.1 innings of work. It seems blatantly obvious that the spring training plan to put the young left-hander in the rotation needs to be put into action immediately. The offense, however, can only be described by words such as “atrocious” and “anemic”. Votto and the surprising Cozart have been the only weapons, and they have been further handicapped by an injury to Brandon Phillips, meaning “players” like Willie Harris and Wilson Valdez have been playing way too much. Either more so, the description of aging perfectly describes the way Scott Rolen has played this year, and Drew Stubbs has never looked worse at the plate than he has early this season.
As has been noted, it’s important to remember that they have played 10 games, it’s a long season, and the hits inevitably will start falling. There are worries that certainly have to be considered though. The Reds have appeared to be an extremely impatient team at the plate, and that is not usually the sign of a good offensive baseball team. When the hits aren’t dropping in, you must be able to reach base in other ways, namely through base on balls. So far, Joey Votto seems to be the only Red capable of taking a pitch. Adding this to having a manager like Dusty Baker, an old-school baseball guy who doesn’t know much about advanced statistics and the important of on-base percentage, and you have a recipe for disaster. The pitching, however, does appear improved, as Latos will surely start to throw better, and the bullpen is also improved. The Reds also feature an excellent defense. So it’s been rough so far, but it’s not quite time to stop watching and wait for football season.