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October 13, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Cincinnati Reds

by John Perrotto, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward a potential 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Cincinnati Reds—the second playoff team to exit—goodbye.

The overview

The Reds, a team with a lot of young players, ran into the National League's buzzsaw in the first round. The Philadelphi Phillies were locked and loaded as the NLDS began, and in the span of four days, the Reds became the second team in history to be no-hit in a postseason game—at the hand of Roy Halladay—before being completely dominated by Cole Hamels. Cincinnati simply didn't have the pitching to match up with the Phillies.

Still, the Reds constructed a solid group of pitchers that proved to be the backbone of a team that surprised others in the NL Central, with Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Travis Wood and Mike Leake supporting Bronson Arroyo. The Reds scored more runs than team in the National League, led by likely MVP Joey Votto, and they fielded an excellent defensive team, with Gold Glove candidates at third base (Scott Rolen), first base (Votto), second base (Brandon Phillips) and right field (Jay Bruce). The Reds also indoctrinated the most electric left-handed talent, with the ascension of Aroldis Chapman, whose fastball was clocked as high as 105 mph. The Reds do not have the look of a one-year wonder.

Volquez improved dramatically as he came back from Tommy John surgery, and if the Reds are going to repeat as division champs, they need Volquez and Cueto to continue to improve. The Reds have to decide on whether to bring back veterans at key defensive positions, catcher Ramon Hernandez and shortstop Orlando Cabrera. Cincinnati struggled to get consistent production from its left fielders; the Reds will need more from that position. This is a good team that could get better in 2011.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: The Reds broke a long cycle of losing as they won their first division title since 1995 and posted their first winning season since 1999. The hitting was reminiscent of the Big Red Machine; they won the NL team Triple Crown for the first time since 1976. Votto emerged as the likely MVP after battling depression for much of the 2009 season, posting a league-leading .350 True Average. Rolen found new life at 35 as he was six wins above a replacement player, his best season since 2004. The Reds' .704 Defensive Efficiency (number of batted balls turned into outs) was second in the NL.

What went wrong: Pitching has long been the Reds' soft spot and it was again even in a division-winning season as they were seventh in the NL in runs allowed. Cueto, Volquez, Wood, Leake and Homer Bailey all have plenty of talent but none has turned into a top-of-the-rotation starter yet. Closer Francisco Cordero was erratic and only one win above a replacement reliever. The jitters of a young team in which 19 of the 25 players on the roster were playing in the postseason for the first time showed as the Reds made seven errors in three games while being swept by the Phillies in the NLDS.

The key number: 105. The speed in mph in which Chapman's fastball topped out in Game 3 of the NLDS, further fanning the expectations that the Cuban expatriate can become the game's next great flamethrower.

What won't happen again: Aaron Harang starting for a sixth consecutive Opening Day. The Reds won't exercise the $12.75 million club option in his contract after an injury-plagued season and with some many outstanding young arms on the roster.—John Perrotto, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

Keeping it together: The Reds' young core of players is beginning to approach more expensive times, Votto, Volquez and Cueto, all of whom are arbitration eligible this winter. This could be a bit of a problem for the club, who has just over $50 million guaranteed to seven players, if Arroyo is included; GM Walt Jocketty stated last week that the veteran's 2011 option would be picked up. Unless the ownership approves a rather large increase in payroll from the $75 million range it paid in 2010—and the attendance, notwithstanding a division title, ranked No. 20 in baseball lending the organization little aid on the financial front -- the Reds may have to get creative to add impact talent and fill out their roster. We've noted at Rumor Central that Hernandez could fit into the club's plans for next season, despite his option failing to vest, otherwise creating yet another hole for the club to fill via trade or free agency, but Jocketty and company have decisions to make on Cabrera ($4 million mutual option), Hernandez, and Harang.

Sorting out the staff: With Chapman potentially joining the rotation next season, the Reds may have a surplus of starters that could make for valuable trade bait. While several teams are likely to be on the prowl for upgrades at shortstop, Cincinnati may have the trade juice to land a player such as Stephen Drew. Juan Uribe could be one free agent option Jocketty chooses to look into, and if J.J. Hardy is non-tendered by the Minnesota Twins, he could be a fit with the Reds. Much of the available payroll space may be spent on retaining and adding to the relief corps, where free agents such as Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes, J.J. Putz and Jason Frasor could team with Cordero to slam the door on opponents in high-leverage situations. Chapman's role could dictate quite a bit, however, so until the Reds make a decision, their plans may remain incomplete.—Jason A. Churchill, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

The 15th overall pick in the 2007 draft, Devin Mesoraco was already seen as a bust by many coming into the year. Injuries and a lack of conditioning had led to a career batting line of .240/.311/.368 with scouting reports that were as disappointing as the numbers. The Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania native showed up in camp this spring in the best shape of his life, and all of a sudden he's the front-line catcher the Reds thought they selected three years ago. Beginning the year at High-A and moving across three levels to Triple-A, the 22-year-old hit a whopping .302/.377/.587 with 26 home runs (his previous career high was nine) in 397 at-bats while gunning down 41 percent of runners attempting to steal. With Hernandez a possible free agent in the offseason, Mesoraco's time could come as early as mid-2011.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

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

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John 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:  Cincinnati Reds,  Reds,  Flamethrower

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