Frazier and Ludwick carried the Reds without Votto. Image Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

2012 Season Review Series: Cincinnati Reds


The Reds held a two game lead with three to play at home in the NLDS before falling to the Giants. With Dusty coming back, Cincinnati is primed for another strong season. Steve Engbloom, Editor of Blog Red Machine gives us the skinny.

Author: Steve Engbloom

You can define the way the Reds 2012 season ended with one simple expression: Good grief!

Feel like Charlie Brown.

After jetting out to a 2-0 NLDS series lead against the San Francisco Giants, the Reds squandered three opportunities to close out the series at home.  That list is far too long to put here.  Needless to say, Reds players and their fans will be suffering from a horrid case of the “what ifs” over the offseason.

As we peer into the 2013 crystal ball, here’s what next year may hold in store for the residents of Great American Ball Park.

Free agents and potential free agents:

Scott Rolen (FA):  Father time has whipped on Rolen the past two and a half seasons.  He was a central figure for the first half of 2010, but multiple stints on the disabled list and issues concerning his back have some wondering if Rolen has hurt any possibility of being elected to the Hall of Fame.

No Rolen would leave a serious void within the Reds clubhouse.  He’s one of Dusty Baker’s generals (more on Baker in a bit) and is a leader by example.  Hard to replace that, but it is honestly time to move on.

I do not think the Reds will pursue Rolen with any vigor.  They have Todd Frazier to man third.

It’s a shame that the last two memories Reds fans will have of Rolen (for some) will be the Game 3 error and the strikeout to end the NLDS.  Extremely unfortunate.  Word out is that Rolen will retire.  If so, he’s had himself a fine career.

Miguel Cairo (FA): Cairo is another of Dusty’s clubhouse guys, but he struggled even more than Rolen this past season.  2012 was arguably the worst of his career.  Still, I do not think Cairo’s days in a Reds uniform are completely over.  His playing days may be, but I would not be shocked if he landed a coaching gig somewhere within the organization.

Another reason Cairo may not be in the field: Henry Rodriguez.  All this kid does is hit.  Plus, he can play third and second, two positions that Cairo plays.

Jonathan Broxton (FA): Brox was brought over in a trade deadline deal for two prospects.  While we were taking over a bit of a roller caster ride that Kansas City fans endured for the first half of the season, Broxton readily accepted he would not be the closer.  Got a little hairy at times.

Here’s where things could get a little crazy.  If the Reds make the decision to remove Aroldis Chapman from the closer’s role and honestly make him a starter, then who would be the Reds closer for next season?  Broxton would have to be at the very least considered.

Also consider this.  Nick Masset, who did not even take the mound as a Red this season, should be fully recovered from shoulder ailments.  If Chapman stays a closer, no Brox.  If Chapman moves to the starting rotation, maybe Brox…even with Masset returning.

Dioner Navarro (FA):  Interesting.  Navarro was signed to minor league deal.  Made the IL’s All-Star team.  Eventually “replaced” Devin Mesoraco behind Ryan Hanigan as the Reds #2 catcher.  Navarro was the backup on the postseason roster while Mes didn’t even receive a roster spot.

If the Reds are truly convinced Mesoraco is “the future catcher”, then Navarro could be brought back on another minor league deal.  With his performance during the latter stages of this season along with his Louisville play, hard to imagine other teams would not want Navarro to fill at least a big league backup role.  He can still swing a good bat and being a switch-hitter makes him a little more valuable.

Ryan Madson (mutual option):  Never threw a meaningful pitch as a Red. Most likely never will.  There is an $11MM mutual option, but I have little doubt the Reds will decline, meaning the Reds will part with another $2.5MM in a buyout.  With that $11MM, the team has to be ecstatic that’s not a player option.

There is one scenario that could still see Madson back…and it is a major stretch. That talk about Chapman going to the rotation (granted, it’s my talk)?  If everything checks out on Madson’s recovery from Tommy John, the Reds may do the due diligence to at least consider Madson as the 2013 closer.  A different deal would have to be made as well.  Can’t see $11MM going to a guy that hasn’t tossed a meaningful pitch in over a year.

Add that he’s a Scott Boras client into the mix.  More likely to test the waters anyway.

Again, this is all based on my sheer conjecture that the Reds may elect to move Chapman to the starting rotation, mind you.  Nothing in stone.

Ryan Ludwick (mutual option):  No question the Reds would have exercised their portion of the mutual option, but Ludwick has already declined his part of the $5 million pact.  By declining, Ludwick could be signaling that he’s wanting to see what’s out there in terms of a potential long-term deal.  I don’t mean long-term in the Joey Votto or the Brandon Phillips sense, but something about three years.  Ludwick may command that if he decided to go AL.

The Reds have said they’re interesting in bringing him back and Ludwick has indicted a preference to stay as well. It could also mean a two-year deal might be in the works.  Can’t see three. If Ludwick does stick around (and I hope he does), that will afford the Reds the luxury of a complete season of prospect Billy Hamilton adjusting to life as an outfielder.  No pressure Mr. 155. Just play ball and learn your new position.

If Ludwick does not return (He has stated he loves playing for the organization and in Cincinnati), Chris Heisey will get first crack at the position of left field.

Xavier Paul (FA):  A peculiar note here on Xavier Paul.  Not listed as a free agent.  Not listed as arbitration eligible.  He was brought in on a minor league deal, but was promoted (and had the contact purchased) only a week later and immediately became their lefty bench bat.  Ended the season as the team’s best pinch-hitter (12-for-40, .333).

Can’t see GM Walt Jocketty heading to Paul’s front door with a deal to be signed, but from an organizational standpoint, the Reds are considered a little thin in the outfield.  Also, it may come down to who you prefer as your fourth outfielder: Paul of Chris Heisey.  I would think Paul would look for an MLB deal.

Arbitration eligibles:

First year – Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Alfredo Simon, Drew Stubbs

Second year – Homer Bailey, Wilson Valdez

Third year – Bill Bray

Super 2 – Chris Heisey, Logan Ondrusek

All seem likely to be tendered.  All may not make the 25-man.

Heisey, Latos, Stubbs and Bailey are safe.  Leake is pretty close.  Bray could be as he is a lefty.

That leaves, Ondrusek, Simon and Valdez.  With his 2012 performance, Simon may be safe.

Ondrusek struggled in the latter stages of the regular season and was not on the postseason roster while Valdez was on that roster.  I believe it is Valdez that may draw the short straw because of one player: Didi Gregorius.

The team:

The only potential hole that exists is if Ludwick doesn’t return.  The hole created would be that of power.  The only other legit power threat on the roster is Jay Bruce, and he cannot be asked to carry the entire burden.

Yes, Joey Votto can hit home runs, but he’s not a slugger.  He is a hitter first and foremost.

Some Reds fans may say center field is a hole offensively.  Drew Stubbs suffered through his worst offensive season as a big leaguer and was a constant target among that same constituency.  He has his supporters, but after two seasons where fans expected the Texan to blossom, the sourness on him has blossomed instead.

That may be a reason (among others) for moving of top prospect Billy Hamilton to the outfield.

A change of hitting philosophy may be in order as well.  Stubbs did appear to be frequently lost in his approach at the plate.  One inning, batters would work the count.  The following inning, three outs on five pitches.  This season saw the Reds offense produce their least number of runs since Baker hit town.  Playing 81 games every year at Great American can make you homer happy.  The Reds fared far better when they homered versus when they didn’t.  What was that cost?  My first inclination was hitting instructor Brook Jacoby’s job, although, as I refer back to the Fay tweet, all the staff appears to be safe.

I do not expect any changes among the pitching staff.  Well, nothing earth-moving, except that little Chapman thing.  The competition for spots in the bullpen will be tight.  Masset and Bill Bray return from injury.  The bullpen in its current configuration was baseball’s best.  Now, you may have to clear two spots.

Unless you make a deal or two.

Will Walt go after some free agents?  Yes, he will.  How much owner Bob Castellini lets him spend will be one matter, and how much can the Reds will spend to land a free agent or two is a completely different matter.

Over the past two winters, Castellini has written some huge checks.  The total is almost $400MM.  Don’t think the wallet will be as open this coming winter.  Then again, Jocketty plays things so close to his vest (or shall I say Tommy Bahama shirt) that he can barely breathe.

And that’s not a bad way to do business.  Frustrating that we can’t be privy to all that stuff.

Ups and downs:

Up #1 – the starting rotation:  At the beginning of the season ,the talk was Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos.  Cueto started well. Latos, not so much.  Latos shifted the tide as the season progressed and Cueto emerged as a legitimate Cy Young candidate until September.

Bronson Arroyo bounced back from a poor showing in 2011 and help balance the staff.

And what more could be said about Homer Bailey?  If the Homer Bailey of his last three outings is the same that shows up for 2013, this staff should be even better than this year.

Up #2 – Aroldis Chapman: Be honest? Is there a pitcher, starter or reliever, that can electrify a crowd the way Chapman does? Maybe Craig Kimbrel in Atlanta, but that might be it.  He won’t hit that 105 anymore, but he will still toss a 102 in for good measure.  That slider can be lethal as well.  Just doesn’t use it that much.

Up #3 – Ryan Ludwick: Talk about your bargain signings.  What I didn’t previously mention in regards to Ludwick was that he played this season for $2MM.  Yep, $2MM.  He had performance bonuses thrown in the deal.  I’ll go out on a limb and say the team won’t mind paying those.  After two less than stellar months, Ludwick slowly started to put the team on his shoulders, especially during the time Joey Votto missed due to his torn meniscus.

Some may be scratching their heads in amazement and wonder as to how I could not have Todd Frazier among my 3 ups.  He’s 3.5.

Down #1 – How the season ended:  Being ahead 2-0 in the NLDS, coming back home where they won 50 games this season, having never lost three in a row at GABP, scoring 14 runs in two games at AT&T Park, you’d figure the NLCS was well in sight.  It was.  Then the sight became impaired and the Reds were painfully bounced.

Down #2 – The constant calling for Baker to go: I know Reds fans are far from the only ones that call their manager into question over various moves.  For some reason, Baker has created a divide among the fanbase.  Not of Baker’s doing, but it’s there.  In this world of instantaneous reaction (thanks to Twitter and Facebook), fans quickly dismiss Baker as an idiot and poor in-game manager.  He receives daily criticism for his lineups.

Down #3 – The regressions of Drew Stubbs and Mike Leake: I will repeat, I believe someone else needs to work with Stubbs on his hitting philosophy.

Concerning Leake, Tom Verducci did have him on his red list prior to this season.  We now know why.  2012 was not along the lines of his previous two seasons.  Looking at Leake’s 2011 and the expectations were possibly unreasonable.  With his NLDS Game 4 performance, chatter has arisen that Leake should be in the bullpen.

Honestly, I did expect the Reds to win the NL Central.  I did not see 97 wins.  I did not see the constant struggles at the top of the lineup.  I did not see losing Votto for almost two months and the team still playing well. I did not see losing three crucial members of the bullpen before the season started, yet, the ‘pen was tops in baseball.

I didn’t see a lot, but I do see another positive season ahead for the Reds.

I also see changes on the horizon for the Redlegs.  The furthering of a youth movement is in the offering.  Henry Rodriguez, Didi Gregorius, possibly Billy Hamilton will only add to that.  There are young arms such as Tony Cingrani and Daniel Corcino in the wings.  The youth shouldn’t reduce the expectations for the 2013 Reds either.

Got to get that playoff home win…at least.

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Tags: Aroldis Chapman Cincinnati Reds Dusty Baker Joey Votto