Cincinnati Reds. You are over 125 years old. You are forty years older than the Pittsburgh Steelers. You are eighty years older than the Chicago Bulls and the New Orleans Saints. You've been around 10 times longer than the Jacksonville Jaguars. You are an old franchise. You've been around the block. You were once the Big Red Machine. You've endured the Marge Schott era, the Black Sox scandal and the scourge that is Dusty Baker. One of the best players of all time donned your uniform, and MLB pretends like he doesn't even exist. In my day, you've meant Ken Griffey Jr, Rob Dibble, Barry Larkin and Luis Sojo. I've never hated you, and that's saying something. Will this year be your year, Cincinnati? Probably not. But you never know, and I think you have greater potential to surprise than a lot of teams realize.
2009 Record: 78-84, 13 GB the overrated St. Louis Cardinals. -50 Run Differential.
Key Departures: Jeremy Affeldt, Paul Bako, Josh Fogg.
Key Additions: Orlando Cabrera ($3M/1), Jose Arredondo, Miguel Cairo and some dude named Aroldis Chapman ($30M/6).
Talent En Route: I'd be remiss not to start with Aroldis Chapman.
You don't need me to rehearse the details on Chapman. He was the international FA signing of the offseason, a raw lefty with the ability to hit 100 mph on the gun. He has talent. No one knows what to expect from him, but BP ranks him a 5-star prospect, and says that he's bound for Double-A Carolina soon. Where he goes from there is anyone's guess. His fastball is a superb pitch; whether he has the secondary pitches necessary to become a frontline starter remains to be seen.
BP ranks Mike Leake, RHP and Todd Frazier, INF, as the Reds 4-Star Prospects. Leake is a polished, undersized righty from Arizona State and was the Reds' first round pick in 2009. He figures to shoot up the organizational ladder this year and will probably begin in High-A or Double-A. Frazier is a solid bat with no defensive home. He has spent time at second and third base, but is blocked by Phillips and Rolen in the bigs. His bat is almost major-league ready, so Goldstein notes that he may spend time the OF this year, "in order to get his bat in the big leagues as soon as possible."
The Reds also have Yonder Alonso due to start the year in Double-A. Alonso was the Reds top-2008 pick, and is friends with Alex Rodriguez, interestingly. He had an injury-filled 2009 campaign, and should develop into a solid 1B bat. The Reds already have a solid 1B bat, so Alonso may become trade bait if he is able to put together a good showing in 2010.
2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook: The Reds are due to go into the 2010 year with a 75M payroll. They have 40M committed already for 2011. Of that 40M, 34 of it is tied up in 4 players: Rolen (8M), Cordero (12M), Phillips (11M) and Chapman (3.7M). Aaron Harang has a club option of 12.75M in 2011, with a 2M buyout, and Arroyo has an 11M club option in 2011 with a 2M buyout. Additionally, Cueto, Volquez and Votto will become arbitration-eligible for the first time.
Are there any obvious targets for the Reds going into 2011 Free Agency? Honestly, it all depends on how the team performs in 2010.
The Future of the Reds: The Reds are one of the most intriguing teams going into 2010, and I won't be surprised to see them get pre-season hype as a sleeper. Let's break down why:
Rotation: Their rotation has decent depth with Harang, Arroyo, Cueto and Bailey. Harang and Arroyo are going to provide quality innings, and both Cueto and Bailey have decent upside. It's also possible that the Reds could get decent mid-season boosts from either Edinson Volquez, who is recovering from TJ surgery, or Aroldis Chapman, or both. Best case scenario: Harang and Arroyo do what they've always done, Cueto has a bounceback year and pitches to his talent, and one of Volquez, Bailey or Chapman is able to give Cincy decent innings. If that happens, the Reds could have the best rotation in the NL Central, save maybe St. Louis. Realistic? No. But there is tons of upside in Cincy's rotation.
Infield: The signing of Orlando Cabrera to play SS provides them with decent pop in what has been a black hole for Cincinnati. The Reds will also be looking for solid contribution from Rolen, Votto and Phillips. PECOTA loves Votto this year; not so much Rolen. Best case scenario: Rolen stays healthy and combines with Cabrera to provide above-replacement-level offense and decent defense, and Phillips and Votto mash as usual. Realistic? Maybe not so much on Rolen, but there's reason to be optimistic on the other three.
Outfield: The Reds will be looking at an OF of Dickerson, Stubbs and Jay Bruce. I thought the Reds might make a play for Johnny Damon to play LF, but apparently they weren't interested. I'm not sold on Dickerson, and the Reds are betting heavily on Jay Bruce to bounce back in 2010. Best case scenario: Bruce bounces back, Stubbs and Dickerson give tolerable offensive output. Realistic? Maybe. Bruce was the victim of a very low BABIP before getting injured, and he was the best prospect in baseball not long ago.
There are enough pieces in Cincinnati for me to designate them my 2010 sleeper. Of course, virtually everything has to go right - Harang, Arroyo and Cueto must stay healthy, Bailey and Bruce have to take another step forward, Volquez needs to regain 2008 form, and it would be nice if Chapman was ready for the Bigs by September. The Reds might still be a year away, though. If they fall out of contention by the trade deadline, I wonder if they might try to move Cordero, Harang or Arroyo, or even Phillips to make room for Frazier. If they could get another cheap OF bat, or clear salary in preparation for a FA signing, they might be better prepared for 2011.
Cincinnati Reds. Don't sleep on them.