In 2011, the Cincinnati Reds followed their division title with a disappointing 79-83 record. Most of the blame can be put on an underachieving pitching staff. 2012 seems to be their target year, with Brandon Phillips in a walk year and Joey Votto in his last cheap year. If the Reds do not make the playoffs, it is likely that both stars will be gone, which will send them into rebuilding mode.
Votto is the key to the offense with his consistent 160 wRC+ bat and good defense at first base. He will make only $9.5M this year, but that jumps to $17M in 2013. Extension talks have not gone well, so the Reds may try to trade his next winter for an Adrian Gonzalez-type package. Brandon Phillips is the next-best player, and he will be a free agent after the season. A low-walk, low-K guy, he started hitting line drives last year, increasing his BABIP to .322 and batting average to .300. If he can keep the line drives to go along with his very good defense at second base, he should be a 5 WAR player.
Scott Rolen is looking to rebound from an injury-riddled 2011, where his walks plummeted and BABIP was low. At age 36, he maintained his great defense, so if the Reds can get 120 games of above average offense out of him, he should provide about 3 WAR. Zack Cosart looks to be the direction Cincinnati wants to go at shortstop, despite having only 38 major-league PA last year before injuries ended his season. He should provide average offense and above average defense, coming out to be a 3 WAR player. Miguel Cairo and Wilson Valdez are likely bench players, with Juan Francisco, Todd Frazier, Chris Valaika, and Paul Janish also likely to be on the 25-man roster throughout the year.
Jay Bruce put together his second straight good season, easing the doubts from 2009. While he strikes out too much to hit for a high average, his good walk rate and great power make him a 120 wRC+ bat. That and his good right field defense make him a 4 WAR player. Drew Stubbs had a disappointing 2011, losing power and his K rate kept rising. He maintained an above-average walk rate and still stole 40 bases, so if he rebounds a bit, he should surpass 3 WAR in center field. Chris Heisey has the inside track to the left field starting spot. A flyball hitter, Heisey will never sparkle with his batting average and OBP, but he has good power and speed, making him a 2.5-3 WAR player. Ryan Ludwick will provide competition for Heisey, but his skills have been declining, even when adjusting for playing in San Diego.
The playing time behind the plate will likely be split between the veteran Ryan Hanigan and rookie Devin Mesoraco. Hanigan has never had more than 300 PA in a season, but he has a career .371 OBP and has thrown out 35% of base stealers. Mesoraco has put up very good numbers, combining an above-average walk rate and good power. He should be a bit above average offensively, about equal value to Hanigan.
Johnny Cueto was the lone bright spot for a struggling rotation. He posted a 2.31 ERA in 24 starts, but his 3.45 FIP and 3.93 SIERA show a lot of regression is in store for him. One good sign is the 12% jump in GB%, up to 54%. On the other hand, Bronson Arroyo had a horrible year, allowing 46 home runs and a 5.07 ERA. The HR rate is sure to come down, but his overall production should not change much. The Reds’ big move of the offseason, Mat Latos was acquired from San Diego. They gave up a large haul of prospects, but received a power pitcher who should provide about 3-4 WAR for the rotation. Mike Leake had a decent year, not walking many but had trouble keeping the ball in the park. Homer Bailey should get the last spot in the rotation, after greatly improving his walk rate for the second consecutive year. His 4.43 ERA should come down, since he posted a 4.06 FIP and 3.78 SIERA. Non-roster invitee Jeff Francis may get a chance if a starter gets hurt during Spring Training. He is also a good option, being the only lefty of the bunch.
The Reds’ bullpen sees a change at closer, with Ryan Madson replacing Francisco Cordero. This is an upgrade for the Reds, after Cordero lost his ability to miss bats last year. Sean Marshall is another new face, the return from the Travis Wood trade. He has developed into a elite reliever, posting a 2.26 ERA and 1.86 FIP last year. It looks like Aroldis Chapman will keep his 105 MPH fastball in the bullpen another year. Jose Arredondo, Nick Masset, and Logan Ondrusek all return as well.
2012 is a big year for Cincinnati. If they can overtake the Cardinals and Brewers to win the division, they may have a chance to keep Joey Votto long-term. If not, they have given up a lot of talent for Latos and Marshall, leaving them bare for the post-Votto and Phillips era. I think they will finish ahead of the Brewers, but it may take some luck to finish first.
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