Better Red than Dead

For the baseball junkie, it feels like the 2010 baseball season ended approximately 100 lifetimes ago. So much time has passed since the….San Francisco Giants won the World Series (?!) that you surely forgot the Cincinnati Reds won the National League Central title. Crazy, I know.

In response to this unprecedented event, division rivals like the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals re-tooled and geared up for a run at the division title. The Brewers, most famously, solidified their awful starting pitching by acquiring both Zack Grienke and Shaun Marcum. The Cardinals bowed to the whims of a bitter old man sought savvy veterans and professional hitters like Lance Berkman, and Ryan Theriot.

Both teams attempted (feebly, in the Cardinals case. Lance Berkman???) addressing areas of concern without trading away from their strengths. The Reds played the role of title-holders to a tee, locking up their valuable core long term instead of making a big free agent or trade splash.

This week the Reds signed number 2 starter Johnny Cueto to a reasonable 4 year deal, following the extensions signed by NL MVP Joey Votto and defense-first outfielder Jay Bruce. All good bits of business for the future. But what of 2011?

The Reds only real additions this offseason are 4th outfielder Fred Lewis and utility infielder/erstwhile corpse/hitter of World Series home runs Edgar Renteria. Solid depth moves but hardly blockbusters. Locking up the future is vital, but what if Joey Votto and Jay Bruce both return to Earth after such standout seasons?

Luckily, the Reds play in a sufficiently dreadful division. Meaning one “stay-the-course” offseason won’t render them screwed or require a blow-up. The Redlegs can still beat up on the Pirates and Astros and Cubs while the Cardinals ripen on the vine before our very eyes.

The Brewers are more difficult to project: Prince Fielder enters a walk year with a huge paycheck waiting in the offseason. Ryan Braun must bounce back from his worst (though still very good) professional season while Corey Hart must stave off pumpkinhood. Rickie Weeks is a stud for which there is no cure. Watch out Utley, there is a new sheriff in Second Base Town.

Despite the lack of flashy moves this offseason, the Reds are in good shape for 2011 and beyond. Their most important players (Votto, Chapman, Bruce) are locked up for years while other young players like Edinson Volquez and Drew Stubbs are still relatively low on service time.

Proven performers like Brandon Philips and Scott Rolen just need to stay healthy for the Reds to make another run at the post season. Easier said than done, of course. Avoiding large albatross free agent signings should prove wise for a team requiring all the financial freedom it can muster.