Fixing the Reds Lousy Winter

Last year, the Cincinnati Reds won 90 games and qualified as a Wild Card entry into the postseason, where they were bounced by the Pirates. Two years ago, the Reds won the NL Central, finishing with the second best record in the majors, but were also eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. This is a team that has recently been quite good, and has been on the cusp of a World Series run. By nearly any definition of the word, they’ve been contenders.

And yet, this off-season, the Reds have basically just sat on the sidelines. Shin-Soo Choo left to sign with the Texas Rangers for more money than the Reds could afford, but the team has yet to acquire anyone who could replace him in their outfield or their line-up. Bronson Arroyo, also a free agent, also seems unlikely to return, based on recent comments made by GM Walt Jocketty. With Choo and Arroyo departing, the team will be down two valuable contributors from their 2013 roster.

And yet, their biggest off-season acquisition to date is utility infielder Skip Schumaker, who has been below replacement level in nearly 1,500 plate appearances over the last four years. Their only other free agent acquisition, Brayan Pena, was brought in to replace Ryan Hanigan as the team’s backup catcher, as Hanigan was shipped out to Tampa Bay. In other words, besides adjusting their bench, the Reds have done basically nothing this winter, despite having the roster of a contender with a few real weaknesses.

But the off-season isn’t over, and the Reds still have 2 1/2 months left until Opening Day. There are moves that could still be made that would restock their roster and put them back in position to keep up with the Cardinals and Pirates again. Let’s take a look at a few moves that could salvage the Reds off-season.

Sign a cheap veteran starting pitcher.

While the Reds have wisely decided not to meet Arroyo’s request for a multi-year deal as he heads towards his 40th birthday, the team could use another starting pitcher. Yes, youngster Tony Cingrani might be able to step in and give the team a good performance in Arroyo’s stead, but every contending team should plan on using more than five starters during the season, and with Cingrani in the rotation on Opening Day, the Reds would have a real depth problem. With young arms like Cingarni and Leake, and a big health question mark in Johnny Cueto, acquiring a starter to replace Arroyo shouldn’t be seen as a luxury, but instead, a necessity.

Instead, adding a cheap but effective veteran like Jerome Williams, Paul Maholm, or even Freddy Garcia (if they’re really pinching pennies) could give the Reds some needed rotation depth without requiring any long term commitment or significant dollars, and would allow the team to keep Cingrani’s innings down early in the season, then have him join the rotation in the second half of the year, in a similar way to how the Cardinals used Michael Wacha last year. Delaying Cingrani’s rotation turn would also allow him to serve as the fill-in for when a starter inevitably gets hurt, and a reduced workload early in the season should allow him to be able to pitch in October, should the Reds get back to the playoffs.

Call the Royals about their outfield logjam.

When Kansas City acquired Norichika Aoki from the Brewers, it gave them two solid fourth outfielders in Jarrod Dyson and Justin Maxwell, and the Royals won’t have enough playing time for both. Neither players are household names and both profile better as part-time players than everyday regulars, but that’s exactly what the Reds need; a part-time contributor who can act as a cushion in case top prospect Billy Hamilton proves not quite ready for prime time yet.

Dyson is a similar player to Hamilton, providing almost all of his value through speed and defense, so he could act as a redundancy in case Hamilton needs more Triple-A time, giving the Reds a chance to still have a rangy fly-catcher in center field. Maxwell would be more of a complement to Hamilton’s skillset, as his power would let the Reds go with a little more offense on days that they expected their starters to keep the ball on the ground; like, say, when Mike Leake is pitching. Either option would be useful, and the Royals asking price for an extra outfielder shouldn’t be too terribly high.

Sign Homer Bailey to a long term contract.

Most of the conversation about Bailey has been about using him as a possible trade chip, but the Reds should instead look to keep him in Cincinnati as a rotation anchor. The jump in his velocity and his strikeout rate suggest that last year’s performance was no fluke, and Bailey should be viewed as one of the better pitchers in the National League. When you see the bidding war taking place over Masahiro Tanaka, who doesn’t project to be significantly better than Bailey in 2014, it doesn’t make sense for the Reds to let Bailey get to free agency, as another strong season probably puts him in line for a contract similar to what Zack Greinke got from the Dodgers.

Instead, the Reds should take the money that they are not giving to Choo and Arroyo this year and use it to keep Bailey around for the long term, ensuring that they won’t have another big piece walk away in free agency next year. Even if it costs $100 million over six or seven years, re-signing Bailey will keep the team’s competitive hopes alive and show the fan base that they’re not just sitting on the new television revenue that each team received this winter.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

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