BY RYAN MILOWICKI
2013 Record: 90-72 (3rd Place NL Central, 7 GB)
If you consider 90 wins and a playoff berth a disappointing season, then you might be a Reds fan. Even though they held their own in what proved to be baseball’s toughest division last year, they chose the wrong time to fade, getting swept by the Pirates to end the regular season and then getting skunked (“CUE-TO, CUE-TO“) at PNC Park in the Wildcard Game. As such, Dusty Baker finds himself out of a job after six seasons with the Reds. It’s not every day that leading a team to the playoffs results in a firing.
But Baker had humongous trouble helping the Reds win significant games during his tenure. They reached the playoffs three times in the past four seasons, but registered only two wins (including getting no-hit by Roy Halladay in 2010), advancing no further than the Division Series. Despite their perennially strong rotation and reasonable offensive prowess (3rd in NL runs scored, 5th in OPS) led by some monster seasons by Joey Votto, the team seems to find ways to fall apart right when their moment of opportunity arrives. New manager Bryan Price will have to find a way to keep his team competitive in the clutch if they want to remain firmly in the NL playoff picture.
UT Skip Schumaker (2yr/$5 mil)
SP Chien-Ming Wang (minor league deal)
Furthering the common Reds agenda of on-base primacy, Schumaker looks to be a solid veteran presence on the team as well as a run-scoring threat. In his first season away from the Cardinals in 2013, he had a respectable .332 OBP. He probably won’t start, but he’s a very solid option as a 4th outfielder and should see a lot of plate appearances in crunch-time pinch hit scenarios.
Remember when Chien-Ming Wang won 19 games two seasons in a row? Pepperidge Farm remembers. But in all seriousness, it’s been a full seven seasons since Wang was in his prime, so time is running short for the 34 year old. That being said, the Reds have one open slot in their rotation, so they gave Wang a one-year minor league deal and a spring training invite to see if he can potentially win the spot and show some hints of his former dominance.
Shin-Soo Choo: In his only season with the Reds, Choo proved to be a nearly unstoppable force as a leadoff man. He finished second in the NL in OBP (behind Joey Votto, of course), knocked out 162 hits, led the majors in Hit By Pitch, and scored 107 runs. This kind of production is extremely tough to replace at the leadoff position, but the Reds were unable to come anywhere near the 9-figure deal the Rangers offered him.
Bronson Arroyo: He was never a dominant pitcher, but the laidback right-hander was a presence in the middle of the Reds rotation for the last eight seasons. In those years with the Reds, Arroyo started at least 32 games every time, and won 10 games or more six times. Bryan Price will have to hope that Tony Cingrani will be able to eat up innings as well as the World’s Most Interesting Leg Kick.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Billy Hamilton. Hamilton was brought up to the majors in September as a speed threat only, similar to the A’s using sprinter Herb Washington exclusively as a pinch runner en route to the 1974 World Series. However, he was unbelievably successful in this role, stealing a whopping 13 bases in only nine times on base. His role will be much increased in 2014 however, with Shin-Soo Choo’s departure leaving vacancies in center field and the leadoff position. Look for the 23-year-old to be an instant factor in the lineup, setting the table for the big bats of Phillips, Bruce, and Votto. Extrapolation is always a dangerous thing to do, but just food for thought: if Hamilton matches his pace from his 13 appearances in 2013, a full season will yield him roughly 110 runs scored and 156 stolen bases. Alright, so the stolen bases total is a wee bit exaggerated, but if he can match that run-scoring total, then he will be the best possible replacement for Choo.
The extremely strong rotation also includes Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Tony Cingrani. Don’t forget about flamethrower Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen either.
Despite losing two big names, the Reds experienced little attrition during the offseason. The team has great pitching and several offensive weapons, so were it not for the Pirates’ sudden presence in the NL Central, the Reds would be an easy pick for 2nd place and one of the Wild Card spots. That being said, Cincinnati had some serious problems last year handling Pittsburgh, so their 2014 result hinges entirely on their ability to play well in August and September. The NL Central is shaping up to be the most competitive once again, so three playoff representatives from the division again is not out of the question.