This is part of a series of posts in which we call out all 30 teams for their wily offseason moves and tragic offseason blunders.
After fizzling out of last year’s NL Central pennant race; the Reds winter began with loads of questions surrounding the core of the team: What’s going to happen with Rich Aurilia? Will they trade Adam Dunn for some pitching? What about staff ace Aaron Harang, will he be locked up long term? Do they have a closer? Is our infield defense any good? Was the tightness of Bronson’s cornrows what caused him to go in a mid-season slump last year?
Amazingly – and this is how I’ve evaluated teams, goals, not dollar signs – G.M. Wayne Krivsky was able to solve quite a number of the above variables. Most importantly, both Arroyo and Harang have been signed to long-term deals for relatively modest numbers, compared to what other free-agent pitchers got. Arroyo signed an extension of 2 years/$25M, which takes effect in 2009, and Harang signed a 4 year/$36.5M deal.
Considering the fact that the NL saw a 16-game winner earn Cy Young honors (Brandon Webb), and that both Harang’s record (16-11) and ERA (3.76) were right there numbers wise, the Reds secured one of the best pitchers in the league. Add Bronson Arroyo’s guitar and cornrows (oh and his 14 wins and 3.29 ERA) to that rotation and you’ve got yourself one of the best 1-2 [insert cliché here] in the NL.
But Krivsky’s rotation doesn’t stop on Arroyo’s day; he decided to let Eric Milton, Kyle Loshe, and newly acquired Kirk Saarloos have contract-years at the expense of leapfrogging the Cardinals and winning the NL Central. The Saarloos trade is intriguing; and while the young right-hander wasn’t lights-out by any stretch of the imagination, his slider has been described as filthy. His age is also a plus, 27 is right about when pitchers start to hit their prime, and what better than to have this young arm have his contract year while pitching out of the fifth spot in the rotation?
As for Milton and Lohse, the Reds will use them as placeholders in 2007 while a deep pool of pitching prospects matures. Don’t discount Elizardo “EZ” Ramírez in giving one of the two starters a run for his soon-to-be hard-earned money.
Of course, Cincinnati Reds talk wouldn’t be complete without an update on KGLI (or Ken Griffey’s latest injury, as we would call it around here). The Reds press machine seems to be excited to learn that Junior is out of a cast and is expected to join the team for the start of Spring Training (I guess that would be considered very good news when it comes to Griffey). On a tad more serious note, one of the questions haunting the Reds front-office is how to go about telling Junior they don’t want him patrolling center field anymore. They’ve waited all winter long to finally pop the question, and presumably, the right time will be in Spring Training.
As far as the other issues are concerned, Krivsky addressed them swiftly. He let Rich “Where am I playing today, skip?” Aurilia go and instead signed utility man Bubba Crosby and veteran Jeff Conine. He didn’t trade Dunn, who, despite a low average and high strike-out numbers, hit 40 home runs for the third straight year (and is only 27).
Krivsky also pulled-off one of the most underrated moves by signing SS Alex Gonzalez. Despite the fact that he can’t hit his weight, his glove does all the talking, and the Gonzalez-Brandon Phillips double-play tandem will be interesting to watch.
The few negatives, or at least, resonant questions are 3B Edwin Encarnación’s 25 errors and .916 fielding percentage in 2006, the absence of a traditional closer (Every Day Eddie Guardado’s recovering from Tommy John surgery) and then there’s the signing of coke-addict and former #1 draft pick Josh Hamilton as a potential outfield reserve.
Though the closer-by-committee route seems to be Manager’s Jerry Narron’s #1 option until Guardado returns, it’s not such a dreadful prospect; with the addition of Mike Stanton, the Reds have four lefties in their bullpen, and they have three guys with saves under their belts (Stanton, David Wheathers and Todd Coffey).
Overall, the Reds did good in solidifying their rotation and improving their middle-infield defense (they were second worse in the NL in 2006); but if they hope to stay in the pennant race all year, their hitters have to produce a better team BA than .257 (second worse in 2006) and stay above the pack in the rest of the offensive categories.
Offseason grade: B
Acquisitions: Alex Gonzalez, Mike Stanton, Kirk Saarloos, Jeff Conine, Jeff Keppinger.
Losses: Rich Aurilia, Royce Clayton, Jason LaRue, Scott Schoeneweis, Jason Johnson, Ryan Franklin.
Projected lineup, rotation and closer.
C David Ross – .255 / .353 / .579, 21 HR
1B Scott Hatteberg – .289 / .389 / .436
2B Brandon Phillips – .276 / .324 / .427, 75 RBI
3B Edwin Encarnación – .276 / .359 / .473, 72 RBI
LF Adam Dunn – .234 / .365 / .490, 40 HR, 92 RBI
CF Ken Griffey Jr. – .252 / .316 / .486, 72 RBI
RF Ryan Freel – .271 / .363 / .399
SS Alex Gonzalez – .255 / .299 / .397
RHP Aaron Harang – 16-11 , 3.76
RHP Bronson Arroyo – 14-11, 3.29
LHP Eric Milton – 8-8, 5.19
RHP Kyle Lohse – 5-10, 5.83
RHP Kirk Saarloos – 7-7, 4.75
CL David Wheathers – 12 SV, 3.54 / Todd Coffey 8 SV, 3.58