Editor’s Note: Yes, it’s that time of year again – the time for us to settle back into our protective bubble where the Chicago Cubs are destined for greatness, and every other team in the National League Central is bound for spectacular failure. If you’d care to check out last year’s fare: St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros.
The 2011 Major League Baseball season is nearly upon us, and that means every sports publication in the world puts out a season preview. Some are interesting, some aren’t. For the most part, folks just don’t have the time necessary to do the kind of in-depth preview that is going to be of any use to a reader that actually follows the team being previewed.
So most previews end up being pretty surface level, and boring. Well, we’re not going to do that here at Bleacher Nation. It’s much more interesting to simply examine/invent why the team currently sucks and is going to suck in 2011. Of course, had I anticipated the 2010 success of many NL Central teams, coupled with various excellent off-season moves, I may not have tied myself to such a cantankerous exercise. Let’s just say, establishing that the Reds, Brewers and Cardinals are going to suck in 2011 is not an easy enterprise. But this is the life I have chosen, so live it I must.
We’ll be previewing the suckiness of the other teams in the National League Central over the next five weeks. Up first, Dusty’s overachievers: the Cincinnati Reds.
Baseline for Suckitude
The Reds won 91 games last year, taking the NL Central and heading to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. But then they were swept in three games by the Phillies, which, I mean, what kind of team wins their division handily and then gets swept out of the playoffs in the first round? *kicks dirt*
Last year, I totally predicted the Reds’ surprising success:
“On paper, the 2010 Reds are one of the better teams in the Central. Or not. But maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? Not me.”
The simple fact is, the Reds didn’t suck last year. They won the Central by five full games over a solid Cardinal team, and it wasn’t luck: the Reds’ expected W/L was 92-70. In other words, given the runs they gave up and the runs they scored, the Reds were every bit as good as their record suggests. Harumph.
Sucky Offseason Moves
Sad Arrivals: SS Edgar Renteria (free agent), OF Jeremy Hermida (minor league free agent), OF Fred Lewis (free agent).
Happy Departures: RHP Aaron Harang (free agent, signed with Padres), LHP Arthur Rhodes (free agent, signed with Rangers), INF/OF Willie Bloomquist (free agent, signed with Diamondbacks), RHP Micah Owings (free agent, signed minor league deal with Diamondbacks), RHP Russ Springer (retired), OF Laynce Nix (free agent, signed minor league deal with Nationals), OF Jim Edmonds (retired).
Once again, not a lot going on in this space for the Reds. Their offseason was not devoid of moves, however, as the team signed star Joey Votto and budding star Jay Bruce to extensions. They also signed pitchers Bronson Arroyo (yes! an excuse to post a picture of the flowing locks! now with more corn!) Johnny Cueto to a long-term deal.
Their Very Own Blogoverse Thinks They Suck
You want to frustrate the shit out of yourself for a few hours? Try to find some pessimism in the Reds blogoverse. It doesn’t exists. It’s like trying to find pessimism in the Cublogoverse going into the 2009 season (remember how awesome the Cubs were going to be? Milton Bradley!). Nevertheless, tiny threads of negativity exist here and there at the Red Reporter:
The Reds are paying up to $3 M/yr [for Edgar Renteria], which is valued at something like 0.6 WAR. I have Renteria as a replacement player here, so this comes out as an overpay/waste of money. ::grumble::
Ok, so let’s be fair to the Reds and say that there’s a margin of error of at least +/- 0.5 WAR on any valuation I produce. This really is back of the envelope stuff, here. That means that Renteria really might still be a true talent 0.5 WAR player, which would make an incentive-based contract a fair one if he plays like that. ‘Course, I could also be rating him too high…
Either way, it’s still the case that Janish–who is probably somewhere in the vacinity of a 1 WAR player, I think–should still be the starter. He’s not great, but he’s better than replacement!
Hooray for consternation. Um, about a probable bench player. At least they were unhappy about Bronson Arroyo’s unduly expensive deal:
So it looks like the Arroyo deal is a significant overpay when compared to the rest of the market. Of course, this assessment ignores the special circumstances of the deal, like the deferments and especially the restructuring of the option. But the Reds had the choice to decline the option and let Arroyo go as a free agent, which is looking more and more like the best choice in hindsight.
Arroyo got three years and $35 million to block one of the many burgeoning Reds’ arms. Compare that with the three and $33 million Ted Lilly got, and the Red Reporter is right – it doesn’t look great.
The Suckiest Part of Their Suck
The back end of the Reds’ bullpen could have some issues, but shortstop is the clearest concern. Although the Reds signed Renteria, he’s not expected to start at the position. That job falls to Paul Janish (he’s not Jan, he’s just a little Janish), a guy whose pedigree screams utility player. He sports a career .226/.308/.326 line, which is awful, but could be bearable at short if he were more than merely passable defensively. Renteria will pick up some starts as well – particularly given Dusty Baker’s preference for vets – but he hasn’t been a decent option since 2007 (one post-season aside).
And in the End
Despite being a reigning division winner, the Reds are not without flaws. Perhaps the most troubling aspect is not a particular position. It’s the manager. Yes, I’m talking about Dusty Baker.
Do I sound like a bitter Cubs fan, lamenting Dusty’s success with the 2010 Reds while the Cubs floundered? Probably.
But there’s no denying that Baker makes questionable decisions with respect to young players, and as a small-market team whose very lifeblood is the health and development of its young players, Baker remains a poor fit to lead the Reds. Did it show last year? Nope. There’s no arguing that it did. But the longer guys like Travis Wood, Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman are exposed to Dusty’s particular brand of pitcher use (think racks, hot pokers, and the final scene in ‘Braveheart’), the more likely they are to go the way of the Mark “Dodo” Prior. Think this horse is too often beaten unfairly? I don’t. Just ask Aaron Harang, who now publicly states that the way Baker used him so severely fatigued his arm that it jacked him up for a season and a half.
Still, while Dusty will do his best to derail it, I suspect the young pitching could be even better this year, assuming they finally fulfill the promise they’ve been riding on for years. Leake and Wood could be future stars, and Johnny Cueto had made quiet improvements. Edinson Volquez, outside of his first season with the Reds (you know, the one after he was traded for Josh Hamilton), has proved little other than an impressive ability to serve a performance-enhancing drug suspension while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. That is not say he could not be better in 2011.
The lineup, on the other hand, is not terribly imposing. Scott Rolen is on the downside of his career, Jay Bruce has yet to really live up to his considerable minor league hype, and expected Gomes-Hernandez-Janish trio at the bottom of the lineup gives opposing pitchers four consecutive relatively easy outs. I simply don’t see the Reds’ lineup being as productive in 2011 as it was in 2010 (quick, which team led the NL in offense? yeah, it was the freaking Reds), particularly when you factor in statistically expected regression from Joey Votto.
Ultimately, the Reds are an NL Central contender this year. But they come with as many questions as any reigning Division champ in recent memory.
Thus, they suck.