Manager Dusty Baker isn’t ready to say this year’s edition of the Reds is better than the team that won the National League Central last year. That is understandable, considering that ace pitcher Johnny Cueto, cleanup hitter and left fielder Ryan Ludwick, and top left-handed set-up reliever Sean Marshall are on the disabled list.
However, others are willing to say the 2013 Reds could outshine the 2012 Reds, a team that won 97 games and had a 2-0 lead on the Giants in the best-of-five National League Division Series before losing three straight games at home for a heartbreaking finish to the season.
“They’ll miss Cueto, no doubt,” said a scout who has watched the Reds in the early portion of the season. “If they can weather the storm until he gets back, they’ll be fine, and I think they will. They have a really good team. You look at them and they really don’t have a real weakness. They have good players at every position, their rotation is deep, and they have a good bullpen. I’ll match them up against anybody in the National League. I know they aren’t off to a great start, but they’re going to be fine and they’ll win a lot of games.”
The Reds have been so-so out of the gate, as they are 8-7. That start and the injuries have Baker being a little cautious in assessing his team’s long-term outlook.
“We’re beat up right now,” Baker said. “This wasn’t the way we were looking to start the season. I like our club a lot, but when the injuries start piling up like they have been, it’s tough. We need to get healthy. Once we have our team together, I’ll feel better about things.”
Ludwick won’t be coming back anytime soon; he will likely be sidelined until at least the All-Star break after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder on Opening Day and undergoing surgery. Chris Heisey has stepped into the lineup in Ludwick’s stead. Cueto should only miss three or four starts with a strained right lat muscle. How long Marshall will be sidelined with shoulder tendinitis remains to be seen.
The reason so many scouts and front-office types believe the Reds will be better this season is the addition of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who was acquired from the Indians in an offseason three-team trade that also included the Diamondbacks. Choo has hit .333/.463/.556 with seven hit by pitches in his first 67 plate appearances. Shortstop Zack Cozart was the Reds’ primary leadoff man last year and had a .288 on-base percentage.
“The one thing they didn’t have last year was a good leadoff man,” said a front-office type. “Choo was the perfect add for them. They need an OBP guy in the worst way. Choo is one of the most underrated players in the league. He gets on base and he has some pop in his bat. He’s already been a difference-maker for them.”
Most talent evaluators also like the Reds’ pitching depth and feel that it separates them from a lot of other clubs. Even with Cueto out, the Reds have a formidable rotation that includes Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake. The Reds will call up left-handed prospect Tony Cingrani to take Cueto’s place in the rotation. Cingrani opened the season with Triple-A Louisville by pitching six no-hit innings and striking out 14 of the 19 batters he faced in his first start. While lefty Aroldis Chapman is a dominating closer, Marshall and right-hander Jonathan Broxton are also capable of closing games.
“I think it’s the pitching that could set us apart,” Baker said. “But we’ve got to stay healthy, though. We’ve already lost some guys. We can’t afford to keep getting guys hurt. If we stay healthy, we’ll be tough, but we’ve got to stay healthy. I guess you can call me a worrier, but I don’t like it when I’m missing this many guys.”
The Red Sox, at least through the first 2 ½ weeks of the season, are looking like they might be a lot better than many experts thought they would be. Their 10-4 record leads the American League East and is the third-best mark in the major leagues behind the Braves (12-2) and Athletics (12-4).
“I like their team a lot, and I think it’s going to be one of those teams where the whole is going to end up being more than the sum of the parts,” one scout said. “(General manager) Ben Cherington has done a really good job of reshaping that roster, and hiring a guy like John Farrell was the perfect move after the whole Bobby Valentine fiasco last year. They just look like a club that’s having a lot of fun and enjoying playing baseball.”
One front-office type believes right-hander John Lackey holds the key to the Red Sox’ season. Lackey went on the disabled list with a strained biceps following his first start of the season, and he missed last season while recovering from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.
“I think the days of Lackey being a No. 1 are over now because of age and injury,” the FOT said. “But if he can just get back to being a No. 3 or No. 4, then that’s going to be big for them because it gives them a fourth quality starter to go with (Jon) Lester, (Clay) Buchholz, and (Ryan) Dempster.”
Remember when Ubaldo Jimenez was 15-1 at the All-Star break and the talk of baseball? That was less than three years ago—2010—when he pitched for the Rockies. Yet, with the way Jimenez has struggled since the July 2011 trade that sent him to Cleveland, it seems like the success came a lifetime ago.
“First and foremost, his stuff isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t think it’s ever coming back,” one scout said. “What makes it worse is that the guy looks like he doesn’t even care when he’s on the mound. He’s throwing the ball with no rhyme or reason. He just looks totally disinterested.”
Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo told police he’d had “a couple of beers” when he was arrested for driving under the influence in Milwaukee. Those beers must have been pretty strong, because Gallardo’s .22 blood alcohol level was nearly three times the Wisconsin legal limit of .08. That left one front-office type incredulous.
“I will never understand why any player would put himself in that situation,” the FOT said. “Get someone to give you a ride. Call a car service. You’re putting your life and career at risk and you’re putting other people’s lives at risks. I understand players think they’re bulletproof and nothing will ever happen to them, but so many of them just don’t seem to understand that drunken driving can alter their lives forever.”
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been trying to make a trade all week in light of shortstop Jose Reyes suffering a severely sprained ankle last Friday. The injury will likely keep Reyes out of action until at least the All-Star break.
Anthopoulos would like to find a stopgap shortstop but has found the asking prices too high. However, Anthopoulous has the flexibility to trade for a position player in general because of his roster construction. Third baseman Brett Lawrie was a second baseman until coming to the Blue Jays from the Brewers, right fielder Jose Bautista broke into the major leagues as a third baseman, super utility players Emilio Bonifacio and Mark DeRosa can play all over the field, and infielder Maicer Izturis is capable of handling second, third, and shortstop.
“The one thing I don’t think you’ll see Alex do is rush into a deal just to make a deal,” one FOT said. “That’s not Alex’s M.O. He knows he is short a bat now, but I guarantee you he won’t make a bad trade. Other teams don’t have as much leverage as they think because Alex has built a little bit of depth on that roster.”