Results tagged ‘ Johnny Cueto ’
Over the last nine games of the season, the Cincinnati Reds were 2-7, including their National League Wild Card loss in Pittsburgh, which would be their fifth loss against the Pirates in the nine game span. Needless to say, after a disappointing collapse in the 2012 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, the collapse at the end of the 2013 season wasn’t pleasing to the fans, or the front office. Dusty Baker was canned shortly thereafter, replaced by pitching coach Bryan Price, who, in his first year as manager, has been dealt with the task of rebuilding a roster with a lot of question marks into a perennial power, all the while continuing to look up at the St. Louis Cardinals, who have built a system of winning from within.
Now, the Reds must replace their lead-off hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, who only managed a .423 on-base percentage and 107 runs scored while reaching base 305 times by hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch, after watching Choo run to the Texas Rangers in free agency for seven-years, $130 million.
Certainly, it wasn’t within the budget to re-up with Choo at $18.7 million per year, not with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips combining to make $33 million in 2014, $38 million in 2015, and $45.5 million in 2016, that is, of course, if one of them isn’t traded. The Reds have long had a payroll between $80 and $100 million under current owner Bob Castellini, but is it time to start questioning what the long-term goal of the franchise is, after sputtering around the free agent market while trying to replace their best lead-off hitter since Joe Morgan and Pete Rose were flapping and flopping around Riverfront Stadium. Whether television contracts and Major League Baseball Advanced Media revenue will allow the “small-market” Reds to increase their payroll further is a valid question, but with Matt Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake under team-control through 2015, and Homer Bailey headed towards free agency after the 2014 season, how else can the team remain contenders, especially with St. Louis constantly reloading and the Chicago Cubs reaching their contention window, just as the Reds is becoming questionable?
This offseason was difficult, clearly. The Reds couldn’t be in on Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, or any other big-name free agent, but with very little money to spend, GM Walt Jocketty could have been more active in the trade market, or at least the minor league free agent route. Dick Williams, the VP of Baseball Operations, told me during the Reds’ caravan that the club lost out on Grady Sizemore due to his relationship with one of Boston’s trainers, who had been with Cleveland during his time there. While Sizemore wasn’t a lock to produce, or stay healthy, he fit the bill as a low-cost centerfield option. He wasn’t a leadoff hitter, though, at least he hadn’t shown those skills since his last somewhat healthy season, 2009. Which left the club with little choice but to give their in-house candidate, Billy Hamilton, the job.
The issue with Hamilton, though, is that, though he has otherworldly speed, is he capable of thriving long-term in center, a position that he has been playing since the start of the 2012 season. His experience in Triple-A left a lot to be desired, as he posted a .256/.308/.343 triple-slash, stealing 75 bases and scoring 75 runs in 123 games for Louisville. We all know about his brief September audition, when Dusty Baker allowed him to receive all of 22 plate appearances, while Baker pinch-ran him often to allow the speedy Mississippian to accumulate 13 stolen bases in 14 tries.
In addition to plugging Hamilton into center, here is the laundry list of exciting moves that the Reds have made this winter:
November: Signed LHP Manny Parra, 2B Skip Schumaker, and C Brayan Pena to major league contracts; Signed OF Mike Wilson, LHP Nick Schmidt, and RHP Ross Ismail to minor league contracts; Signed C Max Ramirez, LHP Lee Hyde, and 3B Rey Navarro to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;
December: Signed 3B Ruben Gotay and RHP Trevor Bell to minor league contracts; Invited non-roster RHP Jose Diaz and 2B Kristopher Negron to Spring Training; Signed RHP Chien-Ming Wang, C Corky Miller, and SS Argenis Diaz to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training; Acquired LHP David Holmberg from Arizona for Ryan Hanigan;
Well, Choo’s production won’t be replaced by Hamilton, speed or no speed. Even if Hamilton increases his on-base percentage to .340 over 600 plate appearances, he doesn’t have the patient approach that Choo had, and, while he can move himself from base to base with his wheels, he just won’t be on as often. If Choo’s production is a clear downgrade, where are they upgrading?
Is Devin Mesoraco set for a breakout season, replacing the putrid production that Ryan Hanigan provided in 2013? Is Todd Frazier going to post an .829 OPS, as he did in 2012, or something similar to his .721 OPS from 2013? Is Zack Cozart even worth starting anymore, given his career .680 OPS over 1,256 plate appearances? Ryan Ludwick had a nice 2012 and his 2013 was ruined due to his Opening Day shoulder injury, but was he ever worth a two-year, $15 million extension, especially when you consider it was back-loaded with an option for 2015, making him guaranteed $13 million, including his 2015 buyout? Brandon Phillips, 103 RBI or not, saw his OPS fall to .705 in 2013. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce seem like locks for success, but Bruce continues to be one of the streakiest players in all of baseball, while Votto’s patience seems to have overtaken his ability to actually produce at his 2010 MVP level ever again.
As far as the rotation, it remains pretty deep, but once you get past the top five, there are question marks. While that wouldn’t be a huge deal for most clubs, you have to remember that Johnny Cueto only had one full season and he immediately got hurt in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. Bailey, Latos, and Leake are very good options, and Tony Cingrani was impressive, even with just one good pitch, but having Wang, Francis, and nothing else as fallback options is rough, which may lead to the club rushing top prospect Robert Stephenson if there was an injury in 2014, not to mention how the rotation is going to function if Bailey leaves via free agency or Cueto’s 2015 option isn’t picked up. Who will be starting games and why don’t the Reds have options waiting like the Cardinals?
The bullpen is still built to dominate, as Aroldis Chapman is as shutdown as it gets. A full season of Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, a former closer in his own right, serving as a setup man, and J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Manny Parra, and Alfredo Simon rounding out the group helps the Reds bullpen look tremendous for another season…but a bullpen doesn’t have a lot of value if they aren’t protecting more leads than deficits.
The Reds haven’t been active enough. The Reds haven’t drafted enough high-ceiling talent. The Reds haven’t had enough success on the international market.
The Reds are a lot like the Milwaukee Brewers, locking up talent for just a little while, and then watching that talent and the contention window fly way in the breeze. You see, the Brewers were a competitive team until Prince Fielder left. They traded a lot of good, young talent to acquire Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia to help them contend. They bought in to that window and went for it. It is hard for a small-market to commit a lot of money to talent like Greinke and Sabathia, only to watch them leave for big-markets once they hit free agency, but the revenue that comes with a playoff run or a World Series title would alleviate a lot of those dollars. The Brewers, then, went into quite a funk the last several seasons, and they have yet to recover, but the worst part is that their farm system is terrible. If Ryan Braun doesn’t rebound, the club still has Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, but the rest of the organization is quite barren.
The Reds are a lot like the Brewers because they haven’t had many successful recent drafts. While a lot of the key names on the major league roster are homegrown, there isn’t a whole lot of depth currently in the minor league system. The Reds did trade a couple of solid young players (Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Brad Boxberger) to acquire Mat Latos and Choo (Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs), but outside of Stephenson and Hamilton, much of the high-level talent was in Low-A or the Rookie levels last season, specifically Phillip Ervin, Jesse Winker, and Nick Travieso.
So, what will happen when 2015 rolls around without an Oscar Taveras waiting to take over left field for Ludwick? Who fills the rotation without a Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon ready to step in for A.J. Burnett? Who will push Todd Frazier at third base without a Kris Bryant or Javier Baez?
While the Reds and Brewers have weaker farm systems and question marks at several spots, the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates have done it right. They have managed to stay active and have taken risks with draft picks to make sure that they are getting the talent necessary to maintain solid depth within their organization. Sure, the Pirates and Cubs have had higher picks due to their lack of success over the years, but the Cardinals have a lot of talent and they haven’t had a season below .500 since 2007, while making the playoffs in 11 of the last 18 seasons, including four World Series and two titles.
The conservative nature of the current regime in Cincinnati may not look awful as the Reds compete in 2014, but when Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis have their high-level minor league talent stepping in within the next two to three seasons, Reds fans will forget about the nightmares that Albert Pujols used to bring, and will instead be kept awake by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Gregory Polanco, Oscar Taveras, and others who will make their names in the depths of the thriving systems in the rest of the National League Central. Meanwhile, the Brewers and Reds will continue to cry small-market when they have, instead, chosen to be smarter at the right times.
There are still names on the free agent market that can help the Reds contend, but none of them will make them as good as they were last season, in 2012, or in 2010, when Cincinnati has reached the playoffs. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point to scrap what has been built. Instead, run out there with what you have and hope for the best, which, apparently, was Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini’s plan all offseason.
Too small, too fat, too slow, too skinny. These are just a few of the labels that players are given to create an industry-wide opinion as to who will, won’t, can, or can’t achieve success in Major League Baseball. However, when you consider that Chicago Cubs’ scout Duffy Dyer said that Greg Maddux wasn’t “strong enough to be a starter” in his scouting report in 1985, it would become quite easy to question those so-called brilliant minds within baseball’s organizations. We all know now that Maddux would go on to win 355 games in his career, becoming a first-ballot Hall of Fame member in the Baseball Writers Association of America’s vote from earlier this month.
After spending some time collecting easily attainable data, it became evident that scouts are still on a warpath when it comes to the ideal body of a major league pitcher, thinking that the strong, 6’4″, 205 to 235 pound frame that came along with Roger Clemens, is the “norm” for all starting pitchers. How soon scouts forget the apparent aid that Clemens was receiving to maintain his large trunk-like legs and tremendous fastball into his 40’s, while assuming that there aren’t pitchers hovering around the 6′, 170 pounds that Maddux took to the mound during his career. Pitchers continue to look more like small forwards and shooting guards in the NBA, possessing enough size to make Spud Webb run in fear, while going eye-to-eye with LeBron James.
But, why does the philosophy of monster starting pitchers continue to be such an industry-wide ideal when you consider the data that is out there and the names who have proven that bigger isn’t always better?
When taking a look at the most valuable starting pitchers in the history of baseball (based on Baseball Reference WAR), you can see, below, that the average height and weight of the top 25 pitchers in baseball history is 72.68 inches (6’0″) and 186.96 pounds.
Comparatively, the top 25 starting pitchers from 2011 through the 2013 season look like this:
Certainly, the philosophies that have big, strong pitchers has driven the average height and weight of starting pitchers from the long-term success, Hall of Fame caliber 6′, 187 pounds to the nearly 6’4″, 218 pound forces who toe the rubber today.
The innings, number of pitches, and dominant strikeout totals are clearly different today, but the dominant, powerful arms weren’t just limited to today, and certainly not to those who stand approximately 76 inches tall. Year round training, supplements (legal and illegal), and the millions made playing baseball allow today’s athlete the opportunity to focus on their bodies and their long-term success and care, but are they truly better off than those who came before them?
Bob Feller was 6′, 185 pounds and possessed an impressive fastball, posting a Fifty Foot Equivalent of 107.6 miles per hour, the second fastest fastball ever. Having missed three seasons due to serving in World War II, Feller still accumulated 266 wins and over 2,500 strikeouts while missing his age-23 through age-25 seasons. If you take away the nine starts that Feller had in 1945, upon his return from war, and the three seasons that he missed while fighting, from 1938 through 1951, ten full seasons, Feller posted a 211-118 record, pitched in 403 games, logged 2,896 innings, and tossed 224 complete games for the Cleveland Indians. Feller’s career derailed shortly thereafter, as he never reached 200 innings after his age-32 season (1951), and he retired in 1956 at the age of 37.
One could argue that with today’s monitoring of pitcher workloads, Feller may have held onto his stuff, strikeout rates, and career a bit longer. But another argument is that Feller never would have been in the majors at the age of 17, as he was in 1936, and that he may have been a bullpen arm due to his small stature.
After all, when pitchers have electric stuff, like an Aroldis Chapman‘s fastball, isn’t it presumed that it is quite unlikely that said pitcher’s stuff could hold up over 100 pitches and 200 innings, which is why Aroldis Chapman is pitching in relief still? Chapman, after all, is 6’4″, 205 pounds, nearly the epitome of an ideally built staff ace.
But I digress.
For so long, labels have been slapped on pitchers to say that they are bullpen bound, not durable enough to start, or unable to repeat mechanics due to unorthodox deliveries or release points. With Whitey Ford (5’10”, 236 wins, 1974 Hall of Fame) and Pedro Martinez (5’11”, 219 wins, on the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot) leading the ranks of “tiny”, dominant arms, there will be others following current shorties like Tim Lincecum (5’11”, two-time Cy Young winner), Craig Kimbrel (5’11”, 138 saves and 341 strikeouts over his last 206.2 innings), Kris Medlen (5’10”, 30-13, 2.96 ERA in 61 starts), and Johnny Cueto (5’11”, 33-16, 2.61 ERA over his last 68 starts and 433.2 innings).
Here are some short future stars to keep an eye on in coming seasons:
Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals: 5’11”, 180 pounds
Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays: 5’9″, 185 pounds
Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers: 5’11”, 160 pounds (he’s only 17)
Rafael Montero, RHP, New York Mets: 6’0″, 170 pounds
Jose Berrios, RHP, Minnesota Twins: 6’0″, 187 pounds
J.R. Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves: 5’10”, 190 pounds
Victor Sanchez, RHP, Seattle Mariners: 6’0″, 255 pounds
C.J. Edwards, RHP, Chicago Cubs: 6’2″, 155 pounds (already has the too skinny label, but he can blow it by everyone in the minors)
For more information on short starting pitchers and their tall impact on baseball, visit these links:
It is time for the Cincinnati Reds to a make a change. Dusty Baker needs to go.
On the heels of another postseason defeat, one in which Baker’s decision-making was quite questionable, this is the time to make a change.
Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty said that “He’s signed for another year,” but he also said, “we’ll sit down in the next couple of weeks and evaluate and try to see what we can do to improve things.” What seems like a vote of confidence is sort of a broad, vague, we’ll have to see type of statement.
Certainly, the Dusty Baker-era in Cincinnati hasn’t been terrible. The team has made the postseason three of the last four seasons, winning 90 or more games in those three seasons; however, in three of Baker’s six seasons, the Reds have had losing seasons. Does Baker have what it takes to get this club over the hump?
The issue with Baker is that he can’t separate himself from his players. He seems to enjoy being the cool dad figure in the clubhouse, focusing so much on the relationships that he overlooks the obvious. Like this:
“If you know Johnny Cueto like I know Johnny Cueto, he thrives in this type of environment.” — Dusty Baker on tonight’s starter
— Reds (@Reds) October 1, 2013
The problem with this statement is that Baker can’t get into Johnny Cueto’s head. Does Cueto really thrive in playoff environments? I guess this is Baker’s proof: Cueto had started two games in the playoffs in his career prior to last night and he had a 1.69 ERA. The only problem is that he lasted all of 1/3 of an inning before he was removed from last season’s NLDS start against the San Francisco Giants with an injury, and his only other start was a five inning loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010. Was Cueto the answer as the starter in the one-game playoff? Nevermind the 130 days that Cueto spent on the DL this season. Nevermind that Mike Leake was available and he didn’t pitch on Tuesday, despite being 3-0 with a 3.28 ERA over four starts against the Pirates in 2013. Baker went with his horse, Cueto, who had pitched all of 12 inning since June 28. It isn’t as if Dusty Baker is very aware of the use of statistics, instead flying by the seat of his pants to make decisions. “All I know is that my eyes see plays and see things that save games,” this was a quote from Baker when discussing Darwin Barney and Brandon Phillips as Gold Glove worthy second basemen from the Chicago Sun Times; however, his eyes didn’t seem to save him on Tuesday night.
Just presenting this: Dusty Baker has managed for 20 years, almost all in WC era. He’s won two postseason series (2-6).
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) October 2, 2013
Baker may be respected across the game for his leadership, but he has only led one team to a World Series, and that was in 2002, in his 20 years as a Major League manager. One could even question whether Baker actually makes any decisions that have led to success. After all:
- Baker’s San Francisco Giants’ teams were loaded with Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds
- Baker’s one successful season in Chicago featured Carlos Zambrano, Kerry Wood, and Mark Prior combining to go 45-28 with a 2.91 ERA over 94 starts
- Baker’s successful seasons in Cincinnati have been assisted by Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips
Great players don’t always make great teams, but it certainly helps. Does anyone out there think that the Oakland A’s would have won the AL West this season with Baker at the helm?
Regardless of where Baker could or should have been, he doesn’t belong in Cincinnati going forward.
The Reds have a window with their current club, the 2015 season (after which Mat Latos, Cueto, Ryan Ludwick, Sean Marshall, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon are free agents) likely it, and after the club lost the final six games of the season, including the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh, while showing very little effort in losing twice to the New York Mets before being swept in a three-game series at home against the Pirates to end the regular season, it is fair to wonder if Baker has the leadership skills necessary to motivate the Reds to play hard and get over the hump.
When Ryan Ludwick questioned the fans and their effort last week as a way to spin the Reds’ apparent lack of motivation, saying:
“I might be be calling (fans) out. But I’m calling them out in a positive way. We want loud and energetic. It’s like a natural Red Bull. We need every positive aspect we can to keep this thing going.’’
You’re telling me that in the middle of a playoff race, men playing a game and making millions of dollars can’t motivate themselves? There was no one stepping up and saying anything to fire the group of men up within the clubhouse?
This isn’t just a one-time call as a Cincinnati native, overreacting to the failure of another lost season. This is a continuation of failures that continue to go unnoticed by so many. All of the times that Ryan Hanigan started over Devin Mesoraco. All of the times that the No.2 spot and No.4 spots were juggled. All of the times that Jay Bruce and Joey Votto were split up in the lineup because they’re both left-handed, instead of utilizing their skills back-to-back in the middle of the order. All of the times that Aroldis Chapman would pitch three or four days in a row and then not pitch for a week. It has been apparent for some time that this wasn’t working.
The Cincinnati Reds lack leadership and it all starts with the manager. Look how far the Cleveland Indians have gone this season with Terry Francona taking the reigns. Ignoring numbers and flying by the seat of your pants in decision-making leads to tremendous failure, and that is the way that 95-percent of teams have finished their seasons when Dusty Baker has managed them. While intelligent managers like Joe Maddon adapt to the changing game, Dusty Baker allows his teams to fade, he loses leads, and he has no true way of defining how he can make a difference as a leader. If you throw enough crap at a wall, eventually some of it will stick.
It’s time for the crap to leave Cincinnati. It’s time for an intelligent leader. Fire Dusty Baker.
While I write about as much of baseball as I can, I always come back to my hometown Cincinnati Reds, a team that I grew up watching that I continue to root for. I’m fairly certain that the 2013 season will end in some sort of playoff appearance, likely a one-game playoff with the St. Louis Cardinals or Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, but I am also not too confident in the club reaching the World Series this season, either. You can say that I am a “doubting Thomas” if you want, but with the talent in St. Louis, Atlanta, and Los Angeles this season, I just don’t see the Reds going very far. For that reason, I wanted to take a look ahead to the 2014 season to see what the club could look like.
The club has a lot of money invested in Joey Votto going forward, but the $20-25 million annual salaries won’t start until 2016. Below is the payroll breakdown for 2014, featuring expected arbitration figures (courtesy Baseball Reference):
|Shin-Soo Choo||Shin-Soo Choo traded to/from Cleveland Indians||-$3.5M|
|Ryan Madson||Ryan Madson buyout||$2.5M|
|Signed||Players With Guaranteed Contracts (does not include players with options)||*27||11|
|Dollars Committed||Value of Guaranteed Contracts (no options are exercised and includes buyouts)||*$104.1M||$76.6M|
|Contract Options||Players with any type of option|
|Option Values||Maximum value of options if all are exercised|
|Arb Eligible||Number of arbitration eligible players (1st-2nd-3rd-4th, “Arb” players = 3rds)||2-3-2-0|
|Arb Costs||Rough estimated value of all arbitration cases (uses 3-year averages for 1st yr, 2nd,..)||$19.3M|
|Other Players||Additional Players Needed to Fill 25-man (no options exercised)||7|
|Other Costs||Estimate of Remaining Players Costs (based on 1-year avg of all pre-arb players)||$3.5M|
|Payroll (no options)||Est. Total Payroll w/o Options (Guaranteed + Arb + Other)||$99.4M|
|Payroll (options)||Est. Total Payroll w/ Options (Guaranteed + Options + Arb + Other)||$99.4M|
With the depth that the club has in starting pitching, barring another lost season from supposed ace Johnny Cueto, the Reds can afford to let Bronson Arroyo walk via free agency, unless, of course, he is willing to take a dramatic pay-cut in his age-37 season. How does the club look as far as depth overall?
Based on the current 40-man roster:
Relief Pitchers – (13) – Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, Nick Christiani, Justin Freeman, JJ Hoover, Sam LeCure, Kyle Lotzkar, Logan Ondrusek, Curtis Partch, Josh Ravin, Alfredo Simon, and Pedro Villareal (has been pitching in relief recently).
The loss of Shin-Soo Choo is pretty dramatic considering the skills that he has provided as the leadoff hitter for the Reds, as he is 2nd to Votto in on-base percentage in the National League. His production will have to be replaced, but who can provide the same skills. The Reds were likely hoping for another excellent season from Billy Hamilton, one of the team’s top prospects, in Triple-A Louisville this season, but, while he has stolen 73 bases, he is hitting just .259/.311/.347 after stealing 155 bases and hitting .311/.410/.420 in 2012 over two levels. If the Reds aren’t going to be in on Choo in free agency due to costs, it is also unlikely that they would make a play for Jacoby Ellsbury or Curtis Granderson. However, the club could look to a reclamation project in center to pair with Hamilton, such as: Chris Young (who has an $11 million option with a $1.5 million buyout, coming off of an unspectacular season but still possessing plenty of skills), Franklin Gutierrez ($7.5 million option with a $500,000 buyout, coming off of another injury-filled season but still a solid defender with occasional right-handed pop), or, my wife’s favorite, Grady Sizemore (a player well on his way to a Hall of Fame career before knee injuries stole his ability to stay on the field). Certainly, the club has had decent production, at times, out of Paul, Heisey, and Robinson this season, as they platooned in left field and kept the Reds in contention when Ludwick was out for several months, but they would need to upgrade from that group in center to come close to replacing Choo’s production.
Due to the recent elbow surgery that Jonathan Broxton had to undergo and Sean Marshall‘s inability to pitch for most of the 2013 season, the Reds may need a couple of back-end bullpen arms to pave the way to their shutdown closer, Aroldis Chapman. Bullpens are tough to predict and it wouldn’t be a good idea to invest in another large, multi-year deal (as they did with Broxton) this offseason. Some relievers who will become available may include: Javier Lopez, Rich Hill, J.P. Howell, Jamey Wright, LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Frasor, and Joe Smith.
Additional items the Reds may want to address this coming offseason:
- Lock up Mat Latos to an extension. Latos is due $7.25 million in 2014 and will be arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2015 prior to reaching free agency prior to the 2016 season. Would the Reds be willing to commit to Latos at five-years, $65 million and is that enough to keep Latos in Cincinnati?
- Due to Tony Cingrani relying so heavily on his fastball, what can the club do to enhance his secondary pitches so that he can have extended success as a starter? Is he a relief pitcher long-term? With Broxton and Marshall coming off of injury, would it be wise to commit to Cingrani in a set-up role?
- Should the club re-sign Bronson Arroyo to a one-year deal to keep a rotation spot warm for Robert Stephenson or should they gamble on Cingrani, Carlos Contreras, or Daniel Corcino next season as the No.5 starter? If they look elsewhere in free agency, are pitchers like Colby Lewis, Jason Hammel, Phil Hughes, Josh Johnson, or Ubaldo Jimenez (if he voids his $8 million option) better options than Arroyo?
- Who is the catcher? Should the Reds truly commit to the offensive potential within the bat of Devin Mesoraco or continue to share the duties between Mesoraco and Hanigan at nearly 50-50?
Cincinnati has a pretty bright future, having locked up Votto, one of the top 15 players in baseball, to be the cornerstone of the franchise, while having solid pieces within the rotation and plenty more talent on the way. Hamilton, Stephenson, Jesse Winker, Phil Ervin, and Michael Lorenzen are going to rise quickly through the organization, just in time for the Reds current 2015 championship window.
In 2012, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, and Mike Leake combined to start 161 of the Cincinnati Reds 162 games, with Todd Redmond starting the second game of a double-header against the Chicago Cubs on August 18. In 2013, the Reds haven’t been quite so lucky with pitching health, as Johnny Cueto lasted just three starts before a strained lat shelved him on April 13.
While losing a pitcher who has managed to go 29-14 with a 2.58 ERA over his last 390 innings would probably leave most teams in a panic, the Cincinnati Reds had the luxury of calling up Tony Cingrani.
Cingrani was dominant in the minor leagues in 2012 and the beginning of the 2013 season, posting an overall 11-4 record, 1.57 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 198:54 K:BB in 160.1 innings. While he managed to get by with his fastball, which he varies the speed on from 88 to 96 miles per hour, it appears to be enough.
After just three starts in Cincinnati, Cingrani is going to make life very, very difficult on Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker. After posting a 28:4 K:BB over his first 18 innings (three starts) with a 1.50 ERA and 0.89 WHIP, who will have to leave the Reds’ rotation to allow the flame-throwing left-hander to continue to occupy a spot in the rotation?
Cueto will be welcomed back with open arms, Homer Bailey has finally become the dominant arm that the Reds hoped he would become when they drafted him, and Mat Latos is basically the 1(b) to Cueto’s 1(a) status as duel aces. That would leave Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake.
Arroyo hasn’t been awful this season. While his 4.24 ERA is a little high, the 1.09 WHIP shows that he is limiting damage by not allowing many base runners. He is averaging just under seven innings per start, as well, and he seems to have a rubber arm, having made 32 or more starts each season dating back to 2005, the poster-boy for reliability.
Leake had a rough 2012, posting a 4.58 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, but he hasn’t really rebounded to this point; his ERA is 4.34 and his WHIP is up to 1.52. At just 25, Leake still has a very bright future, but he needs to figure out a way to keep the opposition off of the base paths. His BB/9 is at a career high this season (3.4) and his hits per nine innings is 10.2, the highest since his rookie season.
While sending Leake to Triple-A Louisville would allow the Reds to keep their starting pitching depth fresh, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that whoever gets bumped from the rotation will end up in the bullpen. Sean Marshall just returned from an early season disabled list visit, which will greatly assist a pretty brutal group in the bullpen, which was so dominant last year. Outside of Aroldis Chapman (0.73 ERA, 0.65 WHIP) and Sam LeCure (1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP), the Reds’ bullpen has combined to go 1-5 with a 5.24 ERA in 55 innings this season.
Would the Reds even consider sending Cingrani to the bullpen at this point? Because of his reliance on his fastball, it would limit his innings while shoring up the back-end of the bullpen, where Jonathan Broxton has been very unimpressive in setting up Chapman. The Reds could then handle Cingrani much like the Atlanta Braves handled Kris Medlen in 2012, allowing him to start from mid-June or early-July until the end of the season, getting valuable innings during a potential playoff run.
While the Los Angeles Dodgers looked to be loaded with starting pitching as spring training broke, only Clayton Kershaw has been worth the price of admission. With Zack Greinke out with a broken collarbone, Chad Billingsley tearing his already torn elbow ligament further, and Aaron Harang traded away, the Cincinnati Reds look to have the most starting pitching depth right now. While the St. Louis Cardinals have plenty of young arms (Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Michael Wacha, to name a few), the Reds have it all ready to go and ready to contribute.
Now…what do they do when Cueto returns?
If you’re like me, you may as well give up right about now. Sure, we’re only in the third week of the Major League Baseball 2013 season, but injuries are destroying my fake hopes and dreams for my fake teams right now. I play in a dynasty league at Ultimate Fantasy Sports (ultimatefs.com, still teams available if you want a challenge), where you have a 25-man roster and 7 minor league spots. You can also have up to 10 players on your disabled list, which is nice for stashing players coming off of surgeries. Regardless, this is where I am right now for my two teams that matter the most to me:
Relief pitcher (start one, make it a closer): Aroldis Chapman;
Utility (start one as a DH and one backup DH), where I have Dunn at DH and Johnson as my backup DH right now.
With this club, Weaver could be out for two months, Cueto just left his start Saturday with tricep soreness, Ramos pulled his hamstring and will miss a couple of weeks, Beckham broke his hamate bone and is out for two months, Kubel is out with a strained left quadricep, and Saunders is out with a sprained right shoulder. Add in Halladay’s ineffectiveness, Bautista and Crawford coming back from serious injuries, and Jimenez and Hernandez being terrible options, and you have a looming disaster.
Relief pitcher (start one, make it a closer): Jim Johnson;
Harrison is out with a back issue and the Ludwick injury was about as big for my team as it was to the Reds, as my LF options were so weak. I knew Ortiz and his heels would be an issue this season, while I hoped that Garcia would win a spot on the Tigers opening day roster after a solid showing late in 2012 before he had heel issues, as well. This is my first year with this team and I was focused on getting some solid young players. During the spring, Belt looked like a steal, and I feel like Machado could become a superstar. I gambled on Fowler in both leagues and it has paid off to this point, and I traded for Votto in this league because of the homer in me (Go Reds!).
Needless to say, injuries have been absolutely awful for a lot of fantasy baseball teams this season. While you can draft depth, it is nearly impossible to overcome significant injuries in any fantasy sport format. Dynasty leagues make those injuries hurt a bit longer because someone out there is the proud owner of Alex Rodriguez, rather than just waiting to draft him late in a one-year league draft; however, the list of injuries seems to be getting out of control right now. Look at the players on each team’s disabled list (as of Saturday, 4/13):
Colorado Rockies: Edwar Cabrera;
Detroit Tigers: Avisail Garcia;
Philadelphia Phillies: Delmon Young;
Seattle Mariners: Michael Saunders, Josh Kinney;
Washington Nationals: Christian Garcia;
That would be 122 players currently on the disabled list, which is nearly five teams worth of shelved talent. Outside of all of the injured players, you have to add in the struggling players to the frustrations of current fantasy baseball owners. Matt Kemp, Allen Craig, Victor Martinez, Nick Swisher, Pedro Alvarez, Jason Kipnis, Ichiro Suzuki, Giancarlo Stanton, and how about all of those proud Mike Trout owners, not the start you were seeking, out of him or any of the others named, right?
It has truly been a strange start to the 2013 MLB season. Injuries and struggles have a lot to do with thatin the early going, and while it’s easy to wave the white flag, remember that there are only 151 games remaining this year. Suck it up and deal with it…like a Cubs fan does every year.
Aroldis Chapman has impressed many this spring with his 2.25 ERA and 1.13 WHIP over 8 innings, as he continues to be stretched out for the purpose of becoming a starting pitcher. Or is he? Who really knows at this point, the Cincinnati Reds certainly don’t have any idea what they are doing. Certainly, prior to giving three-years and $21 million to Jonathan Broxton to become their closer this winter, they should have had an idea of where they were going to put “The Cuban Missile”, the rotation or the bullpen.
Chapman was absolutely dominant in 2012, posting a 15.3 K/9 with a 1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and a 122:23 K:BB over 71.2 innings. A one-time starter for the Cuban National Team, the Reds have flirted with the idea of returning him to the rotation a couple of times, falling in love with his fastball and brilliance out of the bullpen, instead, while basking in the glory of having all of their starters healthy (Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake) for the entire 2012 season.
With those same five guys back for the 2013 season and Tony Cingrani and Daniel Corcino reaching the upper levels of the Cincinnati Reds minor league system, the Reds are still debating as to how to handle their flame-throwing lefty, with less than two weeks remaining before Opening Day at Great American Ballpark.
For the Cincinnati Reds, the potential that Aroldis Chapman has as a starter seems to be the enticing factor in the thoughts and decision-m aking of the upper management, while the dominance that he has shown as a relief pitcher is overlooked.
That way of thinking isn’t terrible, it has happened many times in recent seasons…
Daniel Bard went from a dominant Boston Red Sox relief arm (2.62 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and a 150:54 K:BB over 147.2 innings in 2010 and 2011, combined) to an afterthought in a devastatingly disappointing 2012 season for the Saux. Bard was moved to the rotation, where his potential was greater, getting 54 innings over 10 starts and posting a 5.33 ERA, 1.62 WHIP and a 32:36 K:BB. After going to Triple-A Pawtucket to work on his release point, he posted an even worse 18.71 ERA, 3.23 WHIP and a 4:6 K:BB over just 4.1 innings. Needless to say, Bard won’t be starting any games for Boston in 2013, and he may not have a spot in a very deep Boston bullpen to start the season.
Neftali Feliz was one of the top relief pitchers in baseball from 2009 through 2011, posting a 2.54 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and a 164:56 K:BB over 162.2 innings, while saving 74 games for the Texas Rangers. With those fantastic numbers, how great would he look pitching every fifth day, providing the Rangers with 200-plus innings instead of the 60 to 75 that he was giving as their closer? In 2012, Feliz went to the rotation and did pretty well. For whatever reason, he was brought out of the bullpen for one outing on April 25 against the New York Yankees, four days after tossing 119 pitches in a complete game loss to Detroit, and then the wheels came off. Not right away, though, as he did manage four starts with a 3.32 ERA and 1.38 WHIP before being shut down due to Tommy John surgery, which he didn’t even undergo until August, which will cost him the entire 2013 season, as well. When he returns in 2014, the Rangers will have other starters coming up through their impressive minor league system, which may allow Feliz to move back to the bullpen, taking over the closer role for the aging Joe Nathan.
Joba Chamberlain…what might have been for the one-time dominant reliever for the New York Yankees. After coming up in 2007 and posting a 0.38 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and 34:6 K:BB in just 24 innings in 2007, the Yankees moved the powerful right-hander from the bullpen to the rotation on June 3, 2008, before moving him back to the bullpen September 2, when he came back from a stint on the DL due to shoulder tendinitis. He was solid over 12 starts, posting a 2.76 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 65.1 innings with a 74:25 K:BB. After returning from his shoulder injury, though, Chamberlain posted a 2.38 ERA over 11.1 innings with a 14:3 K:BB. That didn’t stop the club from trying him in the rotation again in 2009, this time making 31 starts and amassing 157.1 innings while posting a pedestrian 4.75 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. Chamberlain was moved back to the bullpen in 2010 and wasn’t nearly as dominant as his first go-round there, posting a 4.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 77:22 K:BB in 71.2 innings. However, since the start of 2011, it has all been downhill for the big righty. He had Tommy John surgery in June of 2011, he broke his ankle while recovering from that and missed most of the 2012 season, and now, heading into his contract walk year, Joba Chamberlain wants to start, but seems to be on the outside looking in to the Yankees rotation.
The reason that teams will want to move young, successful, dominant relief pitchers to their rotations lies in the results of those like Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. After dominating out of the bullpen in 2010 and 2011 (a combined 2.58 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and a 111:37 K:BB in 94.1 innings), the White Sox moved Sale to the rotation in 2012. He didn’t disappoint even the harshest observers, posting a 3.05 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a 192:51 K:BB over 192 innings. The issue now is whether or not Sale’s elbow can handle the rotation, as jumped from 71 innings in 2011 to the whopping 192 in 2012, while missing a couple of starts with “shoulder fatigue” in late-July and early-August, and he was rail thin, standing 6’6″, 168 pounds last season. Chicago seems to have faith in him, though, as Robin Ventura named him the Opening Day starter and the team extended him for five-years, $32.5 million already this spring.
Some other converts from the bullpen to the rotation (or even flip-flopping during their careers) include: C.J. Wilson, Ryan Dempster, John Smoltz, Derek Lowe, Adam Wainwright, Pedro Martinez, Mark Buehrle, and Brett Myers. While some of those names aren’t very…attractive…they did have some success in the rotation during their careers and there are a couple of Hall of Fame pitchers there.
Potential is a scary thing in sports. It is why players get several opportunities before finally being shipped off to become Triple-A depth. It is why roster spots are wasted on Rule 5 draft picks. It is why teams go over slot recommendations to land their draft picks. It is why teams risk injuries to their superstars to see if they can get a little more out of them. You don’t see the Atlanta Braves trying to get more out of Craig Kimbrel, do you? Why should the Cincinnati Reds try to get more potential out of Aroldis Chapman when they know what they have: the second best reliever in baseball (next to Kimbrel), who is nearly a lock to close out the game when you have the lead in the 9th inning.
For every Chris Sale, there is a frayed elbow ligament and a Joba Chamberlain or Neftali Feliz story…and Chris Sale is no sure thing to repeat. Pete Schourek won 18 games for the Cincinnati Reds in 1995 at the age of 26, throwing 109 more innings than he did in the 1994 season, and he followed that up with elbow and shoulder injuries before being out of baseball at the age of 32.
Which do you prefer: Domination or Potential?
Spring training is an exciting time for baseball nerds. We get to hear stories about how so many players are in the greatest shape of their lives, while we count down the days until meaningful games begin. The position battles are the most interesting things to watch over the next several weeks, and while it seems like there aren’t a lot of battles to grasp onto, here are a handful that I know that I am going to monitor.
The Cleveland Indians Rotation:
With the additions of Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka on minor league deals, the healing elbow of Carlos Carrasco, and the acquisition of Trevor Bauer from the Arizona Diamondbacks, the club has gone from having very little pitching depth to a possible abundance. It would be safe to assume that new manager Terry Francona has Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Brett Myers penciled into the first three spots, while youngster Zach McAllister has a leg up on the No.4 spot, though it isn’t guaranteed. The possible battle for one spot between four solid arms is definitely an intriguing battle.
The Detroit Tiger Left Field Job:
When the Tigers signed Torii Hunter to a two-year deal, they created a logjam of corner outfielders. Andy Dirks seems to have the best shot at the every day job, but he still has Brennan Boesch, Quentin Berry, and youngster Avisail Garcia who could steal some at-bats over the course of the season, while prospect outfielder Nick Castellanos could also push for at-bats later in the season. With Victor Martinez returning from an ACL injury, the DH spot is on lockdown. The Tigers could look to make a deal for a veteran relief pitcher, as Bruce Rondon looks like the potential Opening Day closer after 52 appearances over three minor league levels in 2012. We’ll see if a club decides they could use some offensive help, especially if any PED suspensions come down from MLB from the Biogenesis case out of Florida.
The Toronto Blue Jays Second Base Job:
Gone is Kelly Johnson, who signed a minor league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, and added were Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis. The Jays are absolutely loaded this season and the club will take advantage of a Alex Rodriguez injury and a re-tooling Boston Red Sox club to make a run at the AL East title. Bonifacio is a speedster that can play several positions. He posted a .360 OBP in 2011 and stole 30 bases in just 64 games in 2012 for the Miami Marlins. Izturis can’t really play short or third well anymore and he doesn’t do any one thing incredibly well, but he is 32 years old in 2013 and the Jays could expect about 30 doubles, 6 to 8 home runs, and 10 to 15 stolen bases over 450 to 500 at-bats. The club is in a great position with this “problem”.
The Atlanta Braves Third Base Job:
Well, Chipper Jones is gone and the Braves don’t have a third baseman for the first time since 1995. Atlanta added Chris Johnson as an extra part in their mega-deal with Arizona for Justin Upton and the right-handed hitting, 28-year-old brings a little bit of power with his career .746 OPS. He could be battling Juan Francisco, a powerful, left-handed hitting, soon-to-be 26-year old who has struggled to make consistent contact in his career, posting a 121:22 K:BB in 361 career at-bats. He has a lot of potential, but he is on the weak side of a platoon and doesn’t have a track record to rely on to this point. It will be a sad day in Atlanta without Larry Jones running out there, but the club should be prepared after dealing with all of Jones’ injuries over the years.
The Washington Nationals Catching Job:
Kurt Suzuki was once a very consistent performer, averaging 14 home runs and 67 RBI per season from 2009 to 2011 before totally crashing and burning in 2012, seeing his OPS drop all the way to .605 over 405 at-bats between Oakland and Washington. With Wilson Ramos coming back from an ACL injury, Suzuki could get the every day job for the first month or two of the season, and with solid producers around him in the lineup in Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, and Jayson Werth. Ramos was outstanding in 2011, hitting 15 home runs and posting a .779 OPS at the age of 23. Can he regain his form and confidence after a leg injury? How long until Ramos is a real factor in the position battle?
The Cincinnati Reds No.5 Starter Job:
The sky is the limit for Aroldis Chapman if he is able to transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation. After posting a ridiculous 122:23 K:BB in just 71.2 innings in 2012, Chapman could, potentially, reach 200 strikeouts by averaging 13 K:9, which is still lower than his 14.1 K:9 career average. He could, legitimately, be the clubs best starter, even with Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos in front of him in the rotation. However, Mike Leake is still in the picture and the Reds could leave Chapman in the bullpen for part of the season to limit his innings before stretching him out. If that is the case, could Chapman then pull a Kris Medlen in 2013 and go on to post a 0.97 ERA while going 9-0 in 12 starts for the Braves after joining the rotation on July 31. Leake, who posted a 4.58 ERA over 30 starts in 2012 after posting a 3.86 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 2011, is very athletic and is a very good rotation filler, but with Chapman, Tony Cingrani, and Daniel Corcino coming up behind him, he could be a long-relief pitcher or trade bait as early as this spring.
The St. Louis Cardinals No.5 Starter Job:
With Chris Carpenter‘s continued neck issues, which could force him to miss the entire 2013 season, the Cardinals are suddenly lacking pitching depth, as they lost Kyle Lohse to free agency this winter, although he does remain unsigned. In their place, Lance Lynn, who was fantastic before hitting a wall last August, looks like the No.4 starter, but the Cardinals look to have an interesting battle between Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, and, postseason superstar, Trevor Rosenthal. Miller has top-of-the-rotation stuff and could be the team’s ace in the next couple of seasons, while Rosenthal’s triple-digit fastball could be dominating out of the starting rotation. If the club wants to continue to develop Miller and Rosenthal, though, Kelly was solid in 2012, posting a 3.74 ERA over 16 starts, and he doesn’t turn 25 years old until June, so it isn’t like he is a veteran option, either. With Carlos Martinez, another top-of-the-rotation type of prospect on the way, the Cardinals seem to have the depth to overcome their current “shortage” of pitching.
Certainly there are many other battles that will come about due to injuries, suspensions, or additional free agent signings, but these seven look like the biggest as spring training gets underway.
Are there any battles you’re interested in watching over the next couple of months?