It feels like the Cincinnati Reds have been a good team for quite a while. Boasting an impressive core – Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto — fuels that impression. Odd, then, that their 97-win season in 2012 represents not only their highest win total since 1976 but but just the second winning season since 2000. Walt Jocketty and his front office have done an excellent job of turning a perennial loser into a team bursting with high-end talent. The team’s core is locked up for several seasons and every year they seem to add more pieces to improve.
This winter is was the addition of Shin-Soo Choo along with some savvy depth pickups. Choo playing centerfield could end up being a calamity, but either way the Reds will once again trot out an awfully impressive lineup chock-full of stars. They have some serious depth in the pitching staff as well and they have to be considered one of the best teams in the NL—at least on paper.
By all accounts, the Reds were one of the best teams in the NL at preventing runs in 2012, which is made all the more amazing by the fact that they play in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league. One of the reasons they were so good was that all five of their starting pitchers made at least 30 starts and only one—Mike Leake—failed to pitch 200 innings.
The biggest question mark for the Reds in 2013 will be how—or if—Aroldis Chapman makes the transition to the starting rotation. He was the dominant lefty-reliever in baseball last season posting a 1.51 ERA and an unfathomably good 5.30 K/BB ratio. Those sublime rate-stats will likely regress when he’s asked to throw more innings, but if he can even pitch at a fraction of that level for close to 200 innings, he’ll be a top-of-the-rotation force. If the Reds decide he’s more valuable out of the bullpen, there’s no shortage of depth in the organization.
Johnny Cueto threw more than 200 innings for the first time last year and had easily his best season as a professional. He’s turned into the legitimate number-one pitcher that he’s been on the verge of becoming for a few years. Joining Cueto at the top will be Mat Latos whose move from the safe confines of PETCO to Great American Ballpark didn’t seem to affect his performance.
The rest of the rotation will consist of Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey—neither of whom is great, but both are dependable. Leake is also still around if Chapman can’t make the transition to starting.
The Reds spent an awful lot of money to bring back closer Jonathan Broxton after a nice rebound year between KC and Cincy last season. He’ll be paired with dominating lefty Sean Marshall at the back of the bullpen and if Chapman ends up being moved back there with them, the Reds could field the best relief corps in baseball.
Incumbent right-handers Jose Arredondo, Logan Ondrusek and Alfredo Simon are also expected to retain their spots and the Reds also acquired left-hander Manny Parra who struggled last season in Milwaukee, but can be dominant when he puts it all together. Long-man Sam LeCure will round out of the ‘pen.
The Reds had an atrocious .254 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot last year so the front office made it a priority to make sure they brought someone in who could get on base in front of the likes of Votto, Bruce and Phillips. Their solution was Shin-Soo Choo and his career .381 on-base percentage. They’ll try to shoehorn him into center field — a position he’s most likely to be awful at — but his bat should more than outweigh his defensive liability.
Phillips struggled last year by his standards hitting just .281/.321/.429, but still posted a 4.0 WAR according to FanGraphs and he should hit second unless manager Dusty Baker does Dusty Bakerish things and decides shortstop Zack Cozart and his .288 on-base percentage belong there.
The middle-of-the-order will consists of Votto at first, Ryan Ludwick in left and Jay Bruce in right. The three combined for a 142 wRC+ last season and if Votto’s healthy, he should be an MVP-candidate. He still hasn’t hit an infield flyball in years.
Scott Rolen has finally ended his terrific, although injury-prone career and Todd Frazier is expected to be his replacement at third base this year. Frazier, who was officially a rookie last season, posted a .274/.365/.498 slash line with 19 home runs (including a one-handed home run) and should do an admirable job at replacing Rolen.
Ryan Hanigan and former top prospect Devin Mesoraco will handle the catching duties and although Mesoraco clearly has more upside, he’s yet to show it consistently at the Major League level. Hanigan isn’t a great hitter, but considering the value he brings defensively, he’s a more than adequate everyday player.
The Reds defense was decent last year, but will certainly take a hit this season with the replacing of Drew Stubbs in centerfield with Choo. Great American Ballpark has one of the smallest outfields in the league by surface area, but it’s hard to imagine Ludwick, Choo and Bruce being anything more than awful out there. Bruce is probably the best athlete of the three and could end up playing more in center than Choo.
Cozart and Phillips are excellent up the middle in the infield and Hanigan is excellent behind the plate. That will probably stop them from being the worst defensive team in the NL, but expect them to be somewhere in the bottom half.
The addition of Choo and the incredible depth of the pitching staff should insure that the Reds will again be among the NL’s best in 2013. Their lineup is excellent and well-suited for the park they play in and Jocketty is adept at making savvy mid-season pickups in case injuries hit. If there’s a model for how a mid-market team should be run, it’s the Reds.
2013 Prediction: 93-69, 1st NL Central