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September 20, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Cincinnati Reds

by Steven Goldman, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fadewhether in September (or before), the league division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm-system overview.

Today we bid farewell to the Cincinnati Reds, a team many thought would repeat as National League Central champs.

Baseball Prospectus' Take
Signs of hope:
Reigning MVP Joey Votto suffered little drop-off from his career season, once again ranking among the best hitters in the league, while Jay Bruce, still just 24, set a career high in home runs, mostly by dint of a torrid .342/.402/.739 May. Likely free agent Brandon Phillips, one of only two regulars over age 30 (the other being the catching tandem), had his best offensive season. Despite injuries that truncated his season at both ends, right-hander Johnny Cueto maintained an ERA below 2.00 into late August, and Mike Leake had a solid if unspectacular sophomore season. Despite instability at several positions, particularly shortstop, the Reds had one of the tightest defensive units in baseball.

Signs of disaster: The Reds are a team in transition, but it's not clear what their plan is or where they are heading. They lead the National League in runs scored, but that is more a function of generous Great American Ball Park than it is a measure of a great offense. Veteran-loving manager Dusty Baker did not seem to realize this and stuck with underperforming players for far too long before turning to some of his younger alternatives, including shortstop Zack Cozart, who was quickly lost to injury after finally making his debut in July. Similarly, catcher Devin Mesoraco could have come up far earlier if the Reds had dealt Ramon Hernandez, whose contract is up, at the trading deadline. Meanwhile, even though Cueto led the league in ERA for much of the season, the staff never came together. The rotation, exemplified by Bronson Arroyo's 44 home runs allowed, ranked last in the league with a 4.95 fair run average.

Signs you can ignore: Aroldis Chapman's 4.00 ERA. The Reds have turned the potential starter or closer into the world's hardest-throwing irrelevant spot. The potential is still there for him to dominate, if the Reds can get their heads around an expanded role. Yes, Chapman has walked 7.8 batters per nine innings, but fireballing young lefties almost inevitably struggle with command—it's just something the Reds have to let Chapman work through. When batters haven't walked or struck out (he's K'd 13.2 per nine), they've found it darned near impossible to make hard contact, hitting just .151 with two home runs. The Reds are wasting Chapman's time and theirs by keeping him in a very limited relief role. —Steven Goldman, Baseball Prospectus

Bowden's Bold Move
The Reds should begin their offseason by not picking up the $12 million club option on Francisco Cordero, instead giving the closer job to Chapman. They should let catcher Ramon Hernandez and shortstop Edgar Renteria also leave via free agency, and hand those jobs to Mesoraco and Cozart, respectively.

Their minor league system is loaded with prospects and general manager Walt Jocketty is in a good position to upgrade his big league roster. The biggest trade piece he has is Yonder Alonso, the Reds' No. 1 draft choice in 2008 out of Miami. Alonso is blocked at first base by Votto, so his greatest value to Cincy is on the trade market.

The bold move the Reds should make is a blockbuster with the Oakland Athletics, giving up Alonso along with Brad Boxberger, Travis Wood, and Dave Sappelt for Gio Gonzalez. The 25-year-old lefty has proved the past two years that he's not only a 15-game winner but also a 200-inning workhorse with one of the game's best curves.

Gonzalez would fit nicely at the top of the Reds' rotation behind Johnny Cueto, and the A's—a team with plenty of pitching depth—need to rebuild their lineup. —Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 92-70

The 2011 season will ultimately go down as a disappointment, but the Reds are going to finish near .500 with a team that has a lot of holes that shouldn't be present next season. Cueto isn't a 2.31 ERA pitcher, but the rest of the rotation drastically underperformed, especially relative to 2010. Bronson Arroyo doesn't have an ace season in him, but he should at least be a serviceable innings-eater in 2012, and ZiPS still sees the odds of Travis Wood bouncing back or even breaking out in 2012. The Reds still have Votto and Bruce and will almost certainly pick up Phillips' $12 million option. Add in Cozart, who is much better at short than either Paul Janish or Renteria, and the recipe for another divisional title does exist in Cincy.

Worst-case scenario: 73-89
The team has enough talent to make a truly terrible season unlikely in 2012, but there are still a lot of question marks to make another disappointing season very possible. After Cueto and Mike Leake in the rotation, there's a great deal of uncertainty. Players like Edinson Volquez, Wood, and Bailey all have a great deal of talent, but injuries and ineffectiveness make it really hard to rely on any of them to get the rotation back to 2010 levels. Scott Rolen was a big part of the 2010 team, but at 37 next year there's a lot of downside risk with him. The Reds could reduce their floor by simply figuring out what to do with Alonso, using him on the team or trading him are a lot more helpful to the 2012 team than letting him start next season in Louisville. —Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
The Reds will find out a lot about their future in 2012. With two of the top catching prospects in the game, they'll learn if Devin Mesoraco is the answer at the big league level, and if so, learn what the trade market is for Yasmani Grandal. They'll learn if Yonder Alonso can be a full-time player in the big leagues, or if he'll always need a platoon partner because of his struggles against southpaws. Down on the farm, they'll learn if first baseman Neftali Soto is for real or just an all-power/no-approach player in the mold of Juan Francisco and if shortstop Billy Hamilton's second-half adjustments with the bat this year can allow him to become the type of blinding-speed leadoff man we haven't seen since the 1980s. Next season will not be one in which the young talent brings the Reds back to the top of the National League Central, but that's when we'll figure out whether it can. Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Johnny Cueto,  Baseball Prospectus 2012,  Reds

29 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

roarke

Why would Oakland want to trade for a first baseman when they have Chris Carter (who they can't seem to find any playing time for)?

Sep 20, 2011 06:11 AM
rating: 1
 
timber

And Daric Barton. And Brandon Allen. Bowden simply does not think through these suggestions; he simply says things like "Oh! The Reds could use Gio Gonzalez! Send them anybody!"

Sep 20, 2011 08:25 AM
rating: 3
 
Nickus

They could always put Alonso at DH, a position his glove could handle. Were the A's trying out Carter in the outfield this year? Then Carter could play LF, Allen 1B and Alonso DH. Or something. I don't see why they would trade Gonzalez now when he is under team control for a few more years.

Sep 20, 2011 09:00 AM
rating: 0
 
Jason Wojciechowski

My sense is that the A's don't think Chris Carter can handle anything. They tried him in the outfield a little, but that experiment seems over, and they haven't given him much shot at the plate, either -- his contact issues have really gotten in the way.

I think the comparison point for a Gio Gonzalez trade is Dan Haren -- he wasn't an expiring contract and they got a bounty for him because of that. The question is whether the division in 2012 and 2013 is in reach.

Sep 20, 2011 09:49 AM
rating: 0
 
marjinwalker

Brandon Allen also sends his regards.

Sep 20, 2011 06:52 AM
rating: 0
 
69wildcat

If I were running the Reds I would try to find a replacement for Rolen. He is at the stage of his career where injuries make it unlikely he will be able to play anything close to a full season.

Sep 20, 2011 07:08 AM
rating: 0
 
Cromulent

I think that's what they're doing by playing Todd Frazier this month. Probably worth the time to figure out if he can be a passable MLB 3B before trading for or signing an alternative.

Sep 20, 2011 09:57 AM
rating: 0
 
Bradley Ankrom

I still don't understand why the Reds insist on keeping Chapman in the bullpen when he hasn't yet proven he can't make it as a starter.

Sep 20, 2011 07:16 AM
rating: 0
 
ddufourlogger

Wow, Bowden has made some pretty irrelevant/impossible/downright silly recommendations for many of these teams, but this one is hard to argue with. Granted, Oakland may NOT want Alonso, but he has proven he can hit, and can have a starting 1B job somewhere and be an upgrade over many incumbents. Watching him this year, I think it's a stretch that he will ever be a ML regular at any other position, so dealing him this winter might be the Reds best ticket to get a needed young true OF bat, or Gio-level SP. Yasmani Grandal is also a prime trade chip. Really almost no reason they couldn't mimic the Brewers from this year, trying for a true ace via trade (a la Zack Greinke) by using those two guys as chips. They can upgrade a few spots for a run next year, if they handle it right. Go to work, Walt!

Sep 20, 2011 07:34 AM
rating: 0
 
timber

As a matter of fact, there are a fair number of people who were wondering last winter why it was that the Reds didn't get in on Greinke. There were no signs that they showed any interest.

Sep 20, 2011 08:38 AM
rating: 1
 
ddufourlogger

Good point. They certainly had prospects as good as Cain, Escobar, and the pitchers they gave up to get Zack. I didn't think it would work back in the winter; thought the Brewer bullpen would still be the Achilles heel, but they're going to win it.

Sep 20, 2011 08:41 AM
rating: 0
 
timber

Well, the Royals wouldn't probably have gone for Alonso, and Grandal couldn't be traded...would have had to start with Mesoraco and some pitching.

Sep 20, 2011 09:09 AM
rating: 0
 
Davidsilverwood
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Okay you should get all the facts the Reds could produce a book on poor play,poor mangement and the lack of knowing the way to trade to improve yourself. They need to fire Jocketty who was liing on what Obrein and Krivsky did and the farm system they built and get rid of the guys playing only for themselves, ask Vottoif he would rather be a Blue-Jay or sign a longer deal also deal Stubbs or have the guts to tell him to choke up and bunt somemore---also Castellini should return to a partnership with the Cardinals and sell to someone who will bring back Reds baseball.

Sep 20, 2011 08:05 AM
rating: -10
 
CRP13

Here is a fine article:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punctuation

Sep 20, 2011 10:16 AM
rating: 9
 
Richie

At this stage of his MLB career, saying the Reds should let Edgar Renteria "leave via free agency" is like saying the Reds should let me leave via free agency.

Sep 20, 2011 09:41 AM
rating: 6
 
FrankL

Aww, Rent-a-Wreck has been one of my favorite players for years. Where will he go? When Reyes leaves, Minaya isn't in NY anymore.

Sep 20, 2011 11:53 AM
rating: 1
 
CRP13

Formula:
1) Pick random sucky team
2) Say they should trade one of their best players for a bunch of "guys", regardless of position and need.
3) Present proposal on reputable website.

Honestly...I could have come up with a more likely, but equally useless, trade scenario.

Sep 20, 2011 10:14 AM
rating: 0
 
Bradley Ankrom

4) Profit.

Sep 20, 2011 10:52 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

Nice work if you can get it.

Sep 20, 2011 13:13 PM
rating: -1
 
rdierkers

i know different people contribute to the article, but saying Brandon Phillips is a likely free agent in the first paragraph and then saying he is likely to be retained later creates confusion.

Sep 20, 2011 11:54 AM
rating: 1
 
BurrRutledge

Hey, wait a sec. What are you trying to pull here?! What's Steven Goldman doing writing an article about something other than the Yankees?

Sep 20, 2011 14:55 PM
rating: 0
 
smallflowers

Brandon Phillips' best offensive season is 2011? 2007 would beg to differ.

Sep 20, 2011 17:31 PM
rating: -1
 
RedsManRick

Dear BP, letting Jim Bowden provide you content is like... gah, I can't think of a lame enough metaphor at this hour. Just.... stop.

Sep 20, 2011 23:17 PM
rating: 0
 
JoshC77

Agreed....but it is SO much fun to pick on him....call it retribution for those years he was Cincy's GM :)

In all seriousness, I get where he is coming from...it's just that Gio Gonzalez isn't the guy I would be targeting.

Sep 21, 2011 04:23 AM
rating: 0
 
randolph3030

It's like putting a racist on stage at the Apollo.

Sep 21, 2011 08:50 AM
rating: 0
 
JoshC77

The Reds have two major lineup holes, SS and LF. They also desperately need a lead-off guy (duh). I like Cozart well enough, but he isn't going to be a lead-off guy. That means you would need a lead-off guy in LF. With that bandbox of a home ballpark, I'd prefer a thumper in LF.

If I were to make a BOLD move; I might target Jose Reyes as a FA. He fills two major holes; SS and lead-off man. He is risky and will be expensive, but the pay-off could be worth it. You also will have insurance in Cozart and/or Janish should he miss some games.

I would then ponder a 'challenge trade'. Trade Homer Bailey (and another SP...perhaps Wood) to the Blue Jays for Travis Snider. I think both Bailey and Snider need a change of scenery to maximize their potential.

This leaves you with a hole to fill at the top of the rotation. I'd prefer Cueto as a number 2, so I would target a number one (or at least a guy with that potential). If I have to unload top prospects like Grandal or Alonso...it's ok because we are set at those positions. I don't think James Shields is the guy I'd want, but Tampa's needs match up well. Hellickson or Moore (yes, I know I'm dreaming) would be more ideal.

Sep 21, 2011 04:38 AM
rating: 1
 
ddufourlogger

I like your thinking, but other than Price I don't think the Rays have a #1. Moore might be someday, but he won't be in 2012 or 2013 most likely, and this is a team that needs to try and win in that window. And that needs an ace. I've advocated trading Homer for a long time, and I'm pretty sure they'd have loved to move him when his star was more untarnished in hindsight. Snider....hmmmm

Sep 21, 2011 07:09 AM
rating: 0
 
JoshC77

I agree with you about the Rays pitching and I know we aren't going to get Price. I also agree with your point about Moore and the Reds' window to compete. Maybe Hellickson is the guy to go after; but after reading your post, I am beginning to see now why Shields might make sense. Maybe 2010 was an aberration for Shields, but it still gives me pause.

I know, Snider....hmmm....it's a gamble I would be more than willing to take.

Sep 22, 2011 04:38 AM
rating: 0
 
BrewersTT

I know this isn't really an A's article, but:
If Chris Carter has contact issues and can't really field any position, surely the Orioles will be interested.

Sep 21, 2011 14:24 PM
rating: 2
 
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