Another season gone, another disappointment for 29 teams as one is immortalized forever. Let’s take a look back at 2011 and forward in Eye on Baseball’s R.I.P. series...Team name: Cincinnati Reds
Record: 79-83, 3rd place, 17 games back
Manager: Dusty Baker
Best hitter: Joey Votto -- .309/.416/.531 with 29 HR, 103 RBI
Best pitcher:Johnny Cueto -- 9-5, 24 GS, 156 IP, 2.31 ERA, 104 K, 47 BB
Coming off the 2010 National League Central title with pretty much the same team intact, the Reds were expected to challenge for the title again. However, the team could never quite get consistent starting pitching and were on the outside looking in by the All-Star break, close enough not to become sellers at the deadline and ultimately irrelevant for the last two months of the season.
2011 SEASON RECAP
Cueto took a step forward in his development and Votto showed he was anything but a one-hit wonder, while Brandon Phillips played at an All-Star level. Other than that, most every other Cincinnati Red took a step back from their 2010 performance. Bronson Arroyo and Drew Stubbs set dubious marks -- Arroyo allowing 46 homers and Stubbs striking out 205 times. Opening-day starter Edinson Volquez was twice demoted to the minors and third baseman Scott Rolen was limited to just 65 games. Lefty Travis Wood struggled in his second year and right-hander Homer Bailey has yet to find consistency. The team's gaping holes at shortstop and left field were magnified and its rotation wasn't as deep as promised in the spring. In all, disappointment was all around in 2011 as Cincinnati was unable to defend its crown.
The Reds need to follow the lead of the Brewers, who decided to go for it in 2011 instead of worrying what would happen when Prince Fielder left. The Reds still have two more years of Votto, they need to take advantage of that and try to win before Votto goes to greener pastures, not fret about what's going to happen in two years. The Reds still need some help at the top of their rotation, a right-handed power bat for the middle of the lineup and to make a decision about left field and shortstop.
FREE AGENTSCL Francisco Cordero (team holds a $12 million option for 2012)
2B Brandon Phillips (team holds a $12 million option for 2012)
C Ramon Hernandez
SS Edgar Renteria
LHP Dontrelle Willis
- Sell high on first baseman Yonder Alonso. In his first extensive big-league action, the 2008 first-rounder was impressive, hitting .330/.398/.545, displaying a keen understanding of the strike zone. That said, the Reds struggled to find places to play him, considering he's a first baseman and the guy they have there is one of the game's best players. Alonso played 16 games in left field, and aside from a rough weekend in Wrigley Field, didn't embarrass himself. He also played a game at third base without a single ball coming his way. In the end, he's a first baseman. That's where he'll thrive and that's where some team could certainly use him -- just not the Reds. See what you can get for Alonso in a package or straight up. At 24, he's young for a major leaguer, but old for a prospect. His highest value is this offseason.
- Make a play for a true ace. Yes, Cueto has the potential to be an ace and he looked at times to be an ace this season. However, the Brewers could have said the same thing about Yovani Gallardo after last season. Be bold and bolster the top of the rotation. The Reds were second in the National League in runs scored and fifth in OPS -- there's enough offense to win if the pitching is sound. Sure up the rotation and by default you sure up the bullpen. The Brewers thought bold and they didn't have half the farm system the Reds have. You can send some combination Alonso, Billy Hamilton and one of the two catchers -- Devin Mesoraco or Yasmani Grandal -- away in a deal or two for true front-of-the-rotation help.
- Pick up Phillips' option, but don't sign him to the long-term deal he's seeking. Phillips will win his third Gold Glove this year and is as good as anyone defensively. He also hit .300/.353/.457. However, he'll be looking for a Dan Uggla-like deal (five years, $62 million), and that's just not something the Reds can afford, especially at non-premium position like second base. He adjusted well to the leadoff role late in the season, hitting .350/.417/.573 in 39 games (38 starts) at the top of the order, but he's still a career .322 OBP guy and his .353 on-base percentage this season was a career-best by .021, aided by a career-best .322 BABIP. Bottom line is he's the best second baseman in the National League, but that comes at a price -- and a price the Reds won't be able to afford past this season.
- Speaking of not overpaying a specific position, the team vastly overpaid for closer Cordero after the 2007 season, giving him a four-year, $46 million deal plus a $12 million club option for 2012. There's no reason to pick that option up, even though the team has reportedly been talking about an extension with Cordero. Any extension would likely be two years for more than the $12 million he'd make by just picking up the option for next year, but would include a yearly pay cut. Again, that's a move big market teams can afford, but the Reds cannot. Even with likely deferred payments (much like last season's Arroyo extension), Cordero is too costly. He's done his job well in his time in Cincinnati, solidifying a bullpen that had been in tatters before his arrival, but it's too much to pay for a closer. Follow the lead of the Rays and Diamondbacks who were able to rebuild bullpens for less than $12 million based on scrap parts. It's risky, but no more risky (and less expensive) than paying inflated prices for relievers.
- The team held on to Hernandez even when other teams were desperate for catching. That means either nobody was that desperate for catching, or Hernandez and his agents already told the team he would not accept arbitration -- or both. If the Reds can offer Hernandez arbitration without danger of him accepting it, they'd likely receive two draft picks if Hernandez qualifies as a Type A free agent. With Ryan Hanigan signed through 2013 at a team-friendly rate and Mesoraco left with nothing left to prove in the minors, it's time to move on from Hernandez, who has been productive in his time in Cincinnati. They also have Grandal waiting in the wings, plus Tucker Barnhart, who won the Minor League Gold Glove at catcher.
- If the Reds are going to go young at shortstop with Zack Cozart and in left field with Chris Heisey, they need to commit to it -- no messing around with another veteran shortstop that will just take up playing time, like Edgar Renteria or Orlando Cabrera. In left, Heisey needs to play and play more, even against left-hander, even though he struggled against them. Juan Francisco has improved at third base and should be the first choice if Rolen isn't healthy.