Playing Pepper 2014: Cincinnati Reds

Since 2009, one of the traditions of the spring has been the Playing Pepper series.  I ask a number of questions of blogs–some in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, some not–that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.  This year, not only is my son involved–he and I came up with the last question together–but the series is also brought to you by Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms, the United Cardinal Bloggers annual publication.  Only $2.99 at the Kindle store, so get yours today!  But first, get out the bats and gloves and let’s play some pepper.

Cincinnati Reds
90-72, third in the NL Central, lost in the Wild Card Game

The Reds did make some history last year, though perhaps not the kind they will be trumpeting from their media guide for years to come.  The first third-place team to make the MLB postseason is one of those things that’s a neat little factoid, but given that it lasted all of nine innings, not something that Reds fans are going to hang their hat on.

However, Cincinnati doesn’t necessarily look like a team that is going to fade from the scene anytime soon.  Granted, their offseason moves were, well, interesting, but the core of this squad still seems to have a couple of good runs in them, runs that the Cardinals are going to have to work hard to squash.

So let’s talk about these Redlegs and let’s do so with some great bloggers.

  • Brian from Chris Sabo’s Goggles, a blog that if nothing else is greatly named.  You can also follow his entertaining comments on Twitter @Goggles17.
  • Shawn from Cincinnati Reds Blog, our long-time Reds correspondent (I’m pretty sure he’s done everyone one of these) and the president of the Cincinnati chapter of the BBA.  He’s on Twitter @coweaver.
  • Jimmi from Redlegs Review, another member of the BBA.  Check him out on Twitter @Redlegs_Review.

Let’s take a look at those now-unDusty rivals.

C70: How would you grade the offseason?

CSG: Poor. Is “poor” a grade? The Reds needed to make some moves this offseason, not just to succeed in 2014, but beyond that as well. You didn’t ask, but this is what the Reds should’ve done. I don’t see how the Reds are going to be able to sign Homer Bailey (nor should they for what he’ll command), so they should’ve traded him for a power-hitting outfielder. Or at least some prospects, because the Reds have none. Trading Brandon Phillips for some prospects would’ve been nice, too. Instead, the Reds spent the offseason picking up Skip Schumaker and nine backup catchers. Exactly what a team who lost Shin-Soo Choo needed to do.

CRB: For player acquisition, I would grade the offseason a D-. However, it started out with the firing of Dusty Baker and hiring of Bryan Price, so overall it’s a C.

RR: It’s taking everything that I have not to give the Reds an offseason grade of an F. On paper, they have done nothing major to improve the roster. On the contrary, Shin-Soo Choo has been lost to free agency, underrated veteran Ryan Hanigan has been traded, and Bronson Arroyo appears to be gone too. It’s no secret that the Reds are financially handcuffed right now, which explains the rash of low budget signings this winter, such as Skip Schumaker, Chris Nelson, Jeff Francis, and Chien-Ming Wang, among others. But it’s frustrating as a fan to sit back and watch the club do virtually nothing this winter while rivals, like the Cardinals, continue to get better. Ownership is banking that the core players step up their game this season as opposed to going outside the organization for more help.

C70: Is Billy Hamilton going to be able to carry the load as a full time outfielder?

CSG: Hard to say. The guy didn’t get much of an opportunity to hit at the big league level last season — Dusty was too busy using him as a sideshow on the bases. There’s no question the guy is fast, and that will help him with bunting and slow-rollers on the infield, but whether he’ll be able to hit consistently enough to be a threat at the top of the order remains to be seen. There’s no way he’ll put up numbers like Choo, though.

CRB: Tough call. Hamilton can play the position, but no one knows if he will hit. One would think someone with his speed could bunt .300, but you have to have enough pop so you aren’t facing a seven-man infield. If he can do that early-career Willie Wilson thing, lofting the ball over the infielders for some short singles, then it will work.

RR: I sure hope so. However, I’m skeptical that he can hit major league pitching on an everyday basis. There is no denying the affect his blazing speed can have in the outfield and on the bases. But he can’t steal first base and his .308 OBP he posted at Triple-A Louisville last year makes me leery.

C70: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

CSG: Since the Reds didn’t do anything in the offseason, it seems like the roster is pretty much set. Maybe there will be a Battle of the Ages to determine the starting left fielder job, but it’s hardly Balboa vs. Creed. I don’t think anyone really cares who wins that fight.

CRB: The starting lineup is reasonably set. The biggest thing in the spring will be getting and keeping everyone healthy.

RR: There really isn’t a major roster battle imminent as we enter spring training. The key pieces are pretty much already in place. With that being said, it will be interesting to see which players round out the bench spots, and which players are sent packing to the minors to start the campaign.

C70: What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

CSG: Billy Hamilton. If he figures out a way to get on base (and that’s a huge if), we could see him put up some pretty ridiculous stolen-base numbers.

CRB: The only rookie with a real chance for 2014 playing time is Sliding Billy Hamilton. Robert Stephenson might make a September appearance if he has a good year.

RR: It would have to be Hamilton. Good or bad, the switch-hitter is going to have some sort of impact. The only other rookie who could possibly outdo Hamilton is top prospect Robert Stephenson. But it’s highly unlikely we see him in the big leagues until late summer, barring an injury to a current starter.

C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

CSG: 86-76, 3rd place (behind St. Louis and Pittsburgh)

CRB: I think this is a 90-win team, and that should be good enough for 2nd in the Central and a wild card spot. I think the Cardinals and Pirates got the bounces their way last year, and the Reds did not, in a reversal of 2012. Things should swing back somewhat in 2014.

RR: Considering the way the roster is constructed as of Jan. 31, and taking into account the perceived strength of the division, I would say the Reds finish with 84-86 wins, which may be good enough to finish second behind St. Louis. I’m not sure the Pirates will enjoy the same level of success in 2014 as they had in 2013, but I still expect them to be a plus-.500 team. As for the Cubs and Brewers, it wouldn’t surprise me if both wound up with 90 or more losses.

C70: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

CSG: When he’s on, Aroldis Chapman is a lot of fun to watch. You know from the first few pitches whether he’s going to make the opposing lineup look stupid or if it’s going to be a nail-biter until the end. Either way, I enjoy watching him.

CRB: Any real baseball fan loves to watch Joey Votto hit. The man is such a pro.

RR: This one is a close tie between Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. I find Votto’s dedicated approach to hitting absolutely fascinating to watch. But Phillips’ knack for flair and flamboyant playing style make him the most entertaining player on the field more times than not, in my opinion. Or it could just be that I’m biased because I got to spend a whole weekend with Phillips in Denver back in 2011. You can’t go wrong with watching either of them, though.

My thanks to all of these guys for chiming in about the team from the Queen City.  Given my familial ties (most of you know the father-in-law is a big Reds fan), Cincinnati’s a squad I usually like to keep an eye on.  We’ll likely have a number of reasons to do just that in 2014!

  • Buddhasillegitimatechild38

    A lot of things could happen in single seasons that aren’t necessarily sustainable but effect W-L greatly. Breakout or flukey seasons, BABIP, RISP numbers, head to head records with division opponents, 1 run game records, that could very easily make a team win a division and Cincinnati is good enough to be said team. That said they and the Pirates both took a big step back in the offseason (though canning Dusty was helpful) and probably battle for 2nd and 3rd. Choo had a career year that he wouldn’t repeat if he had stayed, but he is a very good player and switching him for Schumacher and Hamilton, eesh.

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