The Cincinnati Reds are a pretty good case study on why mediocre teams shouldn’t pay through the nose for a closer. The club signed Francisco Cordero to a 4 year, $46M deal two seasons ago and they’ve failed to play even .500 ball during those years. Especially for an organization whose payroll is expected to be below $75M for the third year in a row, it seemed like a half-assed move at the time, and it still does.

And that’s where the Reds find themselves yet again this spring. They’re not terrible, but they’re probably not going to figure too prominently in the divisional race either.

Offensively, it certainly looks like they have a star in 1B Joey Votto, who continues to impress at the Major League level and I expect Jay Bruce to have a breakout year. And Brandon Phillips remains a pretty good player as long as his power and defense keep holding up.

But I’m not buying into 25-yo Drew Stubbs, who is expected to start Opening Day in CF . At least, not yet. Stubbs appears to be the sort of player that manager Dusty Baker loves a bit too much – a speedy CFer who probably shouldn’t be batting lead-off due to sub-par OBPs (see Taveras, Willy and Pierre, Juan).

In addition, their pitching leaves something to be desired. The rotation is headed up by two pitchers who are on the wrong side of 30 (Harang and Arroyo) and are making $24.75M combined in 2010. Add in Cordero and you’ve got nearly $37M tied up in 3 pitchers who cumulatively posted 5.8 WAR in 2009.  That’s not exactly a good use of limited resources.

The good news is that both Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey took some steps forward in 2009 though it remains to be seen if they can continue the improvement. Cueto’s K numbers fell quite a bit last year and I’d like to see him rebound in that category before I consider him a better than average pitcher. As for Bailey, he finally showed promise in the second half of 2009, posting K:BB numbers of nearly 2:1 over that span.

And of course, there’s the much bally-hooed Aroldis Chapman, the 21-yo Cuban defector with a 100mph fastball. Chapman’s been turning heads this spring and it’s not just because of the hype. In 7 spring innings, he’s struck out ten while walking four with one run allowed. Yes, this is spring training. And yes, stats from 7 innings tell you next to nothing. But at least he’s not walking everyone and is missing bats. It appears that Chapman will head to the minors for at least a bit, but Reds fans have something to look forward to later on this year when he gets the call, and he alone could make this a successful off-season in retrospect.

The other notable* acquisition for Cinci has been SS Orlando Cabrera, whose value fell off a cliff in 2009. His OBP fell for the second straight season (.316) and his UZR/150 went from a 13.1 in 2008 all the way to -13.7. That’s a 26.8 run difference from one year to another. The Fielding Bible’s +/- tells a similar story, with O-Cab saving 1 run above average in ’08, but allowing 30 runs above average in ’09. Now, it needs to be stressed that defensive numbers over one season does not give a very accurate assessment of a player’s abilities and that a larger sample is required. But while I find it hard to believe that one year could have this much of a disparity, it’s pretty clear that his best defensive days are well behind him at this point, making his offensive ineptitude that much more problematic. Admittedly, this is basically nitpicking as it is a one-year deal and he’s not blocking anyone of note.

The Reds seems to have building blocks in Votto, Bruce, Chapman, Cueto, and Bailey. And that’s not even counting top prospects Travis Wood, Mike Leake, Todd Frazier, Yonder Alonso, and Chris Heisey. Plus, Edinson Volquez should be back on the mound sometime in 2010, giving Cinci a very strong future, especially on the pitching side.

But I doubt that this will translate into big league success in 2010, and GM Walt Jocketty needs to think long and hard about trading away both Arroyo and Harang, who are both on the final years of their contracts ASAP. However, the Reds ought to be commended for recognizing that until they can rid themselves of the three huge contracts, and until their burgeoning group of prospects are ready to contribute at the big league level, they should simply sit tight and not do anything rash.

Offseason grade: B

Notable Additions:

Aroldis Chapman, Orlando Cabrera, Aaron Miles, Miguel Cairo (yes, Miguel Cairo), Jose Arredondo

Notable Substractions:

Willy Taveras, Adam Rosales, Darnell McDonald, Craig Tatum, Ramon Ramirez

Projected lineup, rotation and closer:

C Ramon Hernandez
1B Joey Votto
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Orlando Cabrera
3B Scott Rolen
LF Chris Dickerson
CF Drew Stubbs
RF Jay Bruce

SP Aaron Harang
SP Bronson Arroyo
SP Johnny Cueto
SP Homer Bailey
SP Matt Maloney/Aroldis Chapman

CL – Francisco Cordero

Hot Offseason Index

* In this instance, “notable” means “sh&#ty”.

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