Scouting the competition: The Reds

Here's a look at the Cincinnat Reds as we continue our look at the other teams in major league baseball.

The Cincinnati Reds believed they were ready to take a huge step in 2007. They had finished the previous season only two games under the .500 mark and expected to contend in the mediocre National League Central Division.

But a 31-51 start ended the managerial tenure for Jerry Narron, as he was replaced at midseason by advanced scout Pete Mackanin. The Reds played much better in the second half, going 41-39 under the interim skipper to finish the season at 72-90.

It was the third straight time an interim manager improved the team, and both of the two previous times the Reds kept those temporary managers. Dave Miley took over for Bob Boone in 2003 and kept the job for 2004, but then when Miley was fired in 2005 Narron came in and the Reds improved and was able to keep the position for another season and a half.

Now the Reds have to decide on Mackanin, who was also an interim manager in Pittsburgh a few years ago. Rumors have the Reds waiting to see if Tony LaRussa will leave the Cardinals or if Joe Torre will be fired in New York. It's not sure if a bigger-named manager would make a difference, but going to way of interim guys has not necessarily worked the previous two occasions.

Whomever is managing the Reds next season will inherit a pretty decent nucleus of talent, along with a few prospects that could blossom in 2008. But changes have to be made. General Manager Wayne Krivsky must go out and find some pitching to support this dangerous offense.

The staff has two very good arms at the top of the rotation in Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo. Harang is a true ace, having averaged 14 wins and 226 innings the last three seasons. That's pretty good for a team that has averaged 75 wins during that span. The Reds have Harang signed up through 2011, so it helps tremendously to have stability at the top of the rotation locked up for the next few years.

Arroyo is also signed through 2011 at a very decent rate for a pitcher that is a number two starter. He was 9-15 this season but two-thirds of his 34 starts were quality appearances. Arroyo is a good compliment to Harang in that he eats up innings (average of 209 IP over the last four seasons).

Most teams looking for pitching are looking for number one or number two starters, but since the Reds already have that they just have to find some stability at the back end of the rotation. The big hope for next season is phenom Homer Bailey, who made nine starts in the big leagues and was 4-2 with a 5.76 ERA. The Reds need to determine if Bailey is ready, and if so hope he can be penciled into the fifth spot in the rotation.

But what can they do for the three and four spots in the rotation? Well they're probably going to have to go get some help. Eric Milton's salary is finally off the books, which does free up some money. The third starter for most of the year was ex-Brave Matt Belisle, who was 8-9 with a 5.32 ERA in his first big league season as a starting pitcher. Belisle was okay, but the Reds just need more from a middle-of-the-rotation starter next season.

Kyle Lohse was behind Belisle, but he was inconsistent (6-12, 4.58) in 21 starts and was traded to the Phillies at the trade deadline. The Reds had four others (Bobby Livingston, Phil Dumatrait, Tom Shearn, and Elizardo Ramirez) combine for 28 starts, but none are guaranteed spots next season.

The bullpen was a huge problem. It had a 5.13 ERA, by far the worst mark in the National League (Pittsburgh was next at 4.77). The Reds' 28 blown saves was second most in the NL behind the Rockies (29). The closer, David Weathers, was actually pretty decent. The right-hander saved 33 games in 70 appearances with a 3.59. But the setup guys were disastrous.

Just look at some of the individual ERAs for the Reds' middle relievers: Mike Stanton (5.93 ERA in 69 games), Jon Coutlangus (4.39 in 64 G), Todd Coffey (5.82 in 58 G), Gary Majewski (8.22 in 32 G), Kirk Saarloos (6.21 in 31 G), Mike Gosling (4.91 in 23 G), Marcus McBeth (5.95 in 23 G), and Bill Bray (6.28 in 19 G).

Only rookie Jared Burton (2.51 ERA in 47 games, 11 holds) had an outstanding season, while Brad Salmon did post a respectable 4.13 ERA in 26 games. But other than that, the bullpen was just a nightmare. The Reds will have the option (for $3 million) of bringing back former closer Eddie Guardado, who gave up 11 runs in 15 appearances after coming back from Tommy John surgery but gave the Reds promise he could return to prior form as a reliable arm.

So at least one starter, and maybe two are needed, while the team needs to get a couple of good relievers in for next season. Along with some money available for free agency, the Reds' have an abundance of players at several positions on the field to be able to swing a trade or two to help the pitching staff.

A big decision looms in left field, where the Reds have to make a decision on Adam Dunn. They have a $13 million option to bring him back, and it's doubtful they'd let him walk away. They could keep him and instead trade one of their other outfielders, maybe even feel-good story Josh Hamilton, to get some pitching.

Hamilton hit .292 with 19 home runs and 47 RBI in about half a season. He battled injuries all season long and needs to stay healthy to show he can be the star that might eventually replace Dunn in the lineup.

Ken Griffey, Jr. played in 144 games, the most he's played in since 2000, his first year with the Reds. Griffey hit .277 with 30 home runs and 93 RBI to show he's still a large threat in that lineup. He'll likely be back for the final year of his long-term contract.

But the Reds have Jay Bruce on the horizon, a player compared to a young Larry Walker. He was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .319 with 26 home runs and 89 RBI in 521 at bats between AA Chattanooga and AAA Louisville. The Reds must determine if Bruce is ready, and if so the five-tool prospect could start living up to the tremendous potential he's developed since being a first round pick in 2005.

Norris Hopper is a decent player who started 46 games in center. He and Ryan Freel are two outstanding role players for this club.

The Reds' infield is also pretty deep, with second base the strongest position under Brandon Phillips. The former Indian castoff hit .288 with 30 home runs and 94 runs batted in last season to further establish himself as a star player. Phillips is probably the leader of the Reds' infield.

Alex Gonzalez was given too much money last winter, but he performed admirably (.272, 16 home runs, 55 RBI) before getting hurt after 98 games. He'll return as the starter but be pushed by Jeff Keppinger, who hit .332 in 43 games as the starting shortstop with 5 home runs, 32 RBI, and an incredible .400 on base percentage. Keppinger played first, second, short, third, and the outfield for the Reds, so he might replace Freel if the Reds decide to trade the super utility player this winter.

The Reds could bring Scott Hatteberg back for first base. He did a nice job (.310, 10 home runs and 47 RBI in 361 at bats) and the Reds have an option for $1.85 million. But the team is leaning toward giving the first base job to Joey Votto, another top prospect who hit .321 late in the season with 4 home runs and 17 RBI in 84 at bats. Votto hit .294 with 22 home runs and 92 RBI in 496 at bats in AAA Louisville.

Edwin Encarnacion had a nice season as the third baseman hitting .289 with 16 home runs and 76 RBI along with a .356 OBP. The Reds could think about trading Encarnacion for a pitcher and putting either Freel or Keppinger at third base, but they would be losing a pretty decent player.

Cincinnati also has Jorge Cantu, acquired during the season from Tampa Bay. Cantu is versatile as well, able to play first, second, and third base.

The Braves might think about Ken Griffey, Jr. as a replacement for Andruw Jones in center, but since Griffey has moved over to left he's best served to stay there for now.

Atlanta has always liked Freel, and with some excess relievers in the bullpen the Braves could see if the Reds bite. But other than that there does not seem to be much of a match between these two teams since they both need starting pitching in the middle of the rotation.

The two teams talked in July about an Bronson Arroyo trade, but with the Reds needing pitching instead of trading it, don't expect those conversations to rekindle.

The Reds have to decide on a new manager, but once they do expect them to be very busy this offseason trying to improve a team that has not been to the playoffs since 2000.

Players Eligible for Free Agency: Adam Dunn *, Eddie Guardado *, Scott Hatteberg *, Javier Valentin *, Mark Bellhorn, Dustin Hermanson, Brian Meadows, Eric Milton, Paul Wilson
Players Eligible for Arbitration: Matt Belisle, Jorge Cantu, Jason Ellison, Gary Majewski, Brandon Phillips, Kirk Saarloos


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.



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