The National League Central Farewell Tour: Cincinnati Reds Edition


The next stop on our tour is Cincinnati Ohio. Not only is The Queen City the home of the Reds, it’s also the birthplace of professional baseball. The Cincinnati Baseball Club was established way back in 1866. Three years later the Cincinnati Red Stockings fielded a baseball team comprised of ten salaried players, the first of its kind. The Red Stockings traveled as far as New York and California, compiling a perfect 65-0 record in 1869. The current Reds franchise began league play as the Red Stockings in 1882, finishing first in the American Association with a record of 55-25.

No other city or franchise can match the tradition and history of Cincinnati and the Reds. Over the last 50 years Houston has uniquely shared in that history. Since the Houston expansion franchise began National League play in 1962 one thing has remained constant, the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are the only team that has continuously played in the same division with Houston through multiple waves of expansion and realignment.

Recognized as baseball’s original franchise, Cincinnati was awarded the honor of hosting the first regular season game each year from 1876 until 1989. In 1990 that tradition finally came to an end when the Reds opened the season in Houston against the Astros. The Reds swept the Astros in that three game series and never looked back, going on to win the 1990 World Series.

This year’s Reds team appears to be poised to compete for another title. To get the inside scoop on the 2012 squad, we caught up with Blog Red Machine senior editor Steve Engbloom. CTH staff writers Brian and Alex came up with some interesting questions for Steve. Click below for the Q & A and my 2012 Reds preview.

Brian: Hi Steve, how do you feel about the Matt Latos trade? Did the Reds give up too much for him?

"The Reds did give up a lot to acquire Mat Latos, but if the Reds are in a “in it to win it” mode, it was a necessary move."

Brian: Do the Reds have all the pieces needed to win a title? If not, what are they missing?

"No one in the division has all their needs met. The Reds lack a bona fide leadoff hitter, experienced shortstop in Zack Cozart and the puzzle that is Left field with Chris Heisey and the recent addition of Ryan Ludwick."

Brian: Which prospects do you think could make an immediate impact on the major league club if promoted this year?

"None. With the Latos deal, that sent Brad Boxberger to the Padres and he was the only prospect that I felt could significantly contribute in 2012. I think the Reds are a little thin at Triple-A."

Alex: With Scott Rolen getting up in age and honestly not as productive as he’s been in the past, is there concern over 3rd base and could Juan Francisco eventually take his job?

"Rolen’s production dropped due to a bum shoulder which was cleaned out toward the end of last season. Rolen states it hasn’t felt as good as it does in the last five years. If that is the case, I expect his production to be solid in 2012.Regarding Francisco, I’m not sold he’s the answer. He’s improved some on defense, but he’s a bit of a free swinger in nature and he will swing at bad pitches. If he can lay off some of the bad ones, he might be the guy."

Alex: I assume there is some serious concern over Joey Votto and his upcoming Free Agency in 2 years after seeing what Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder commanded this offseason. Would the Reds entertain the possibility of dealing him if they fall out of contention this season or are they prepared to risk losing him during the winter of 2013/spring 2014?

"As I said in my post today, Votto is in a Reds uniform for 2012 and 2013. I’ll enjoy those two years and whatever happens, happens."

Alex: Homer Bailey has been a bit of an enigma over his time with the Reds. Very talented but inconsistent, except when he pitches against the Astros, but does show flashes of getting it. What are the club’s expectations of him now and how long will his leash be, in the rotation, this year?

"That will depend largely on the development of Aroldis Chapman."

Alex: Brandon Phillips has a bit of an edge to him which helps him be as good as he is but without signing a new contract this offseason, things might get tense during the season. Do you see him being a distraction during a very important season for the Reds?

"I’m of the opinion that he’s already provided some distraction and I’m not alone on that thought. I also referred to BP’s situation in the same post about Votto."

In case you couldn’t tell by Steve’s responses the Reds are built to win now. The offense that ranked second in the N.L. in homeruns and runs scored last season remains mostly intact. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are dependable run producers in the middle of a lineup that also includes outfielders Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs. Ryan Ludwick was recently signed as a Free Agent and will provide competition for Chris Heisey in left. The 27 year-old Heisey launched 18 homers and drove in 50 runs in only 279 at-bats last season. His .487 slugging percentage has Reds fans wondering why Ludwick was signed in the first place. The job should belong to Heisey, with Ludwick relegated to mostly pinch-hitting duties.

Votto and Phillips consistently provide outstanding offense and defense on the right side of the infield. The left side is a bit more of a question mark. Rolen says he’s healthy, but certainly appears to be slowing down as he enters his age 37 season. Rookie Zack Cozart will handle the SS position. Cozart was outstanding at AAA last season and duplicated that success in eleven games with the big club. The youngster impressed Dusty Baker enough to move ahead of Paul Janish on the depth chart.

With Ramon Hernandez taking up residence in the Mile High City, the catching duties fall to Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco. Hanigan possesses solid defensive skills and carries a .275/.371/.368 slash line into his age 31 season. Mesoraco is only 23 but has hit at every level in the minors. Dioner Navarro is a non-roster invitee who could serve as a placeholder if Mesoraco starts the year at AAA.

The Reds gave up a ton to acquire RHP Mat Latos from San Diego this winter. Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger, and Yasmani Grandal were all once considered to be important pieces to the Reds future. Walt Jocketty saw the trade as an opportunity to tremendously improve the Reds rotation for not only 2012, but for years to come. Latos will team with Johnny Cueto to form a formidable one-two punch in Cincinnati. Cueto has lowered his ERA  and WHIP in each of his big league seasons. After missing the first month of 2011 with arm troubles Cueto put it all together, going 9-5 with a 2.31 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 156 innings.

Bronson Arroyo has been a steady performer for Cincinnati since 2006 but had problems keeping the ball in the yard last year. Youngsters Mike Leake and Homer Bailey round out the rotation. Leake had a nice second half in 2011 and sports a 20-13 lifetime record. Bailey has posted an ERA near 4.50 in each of the last three seasons and is a candidate for a breakout year. Aroldis Chapman is the wildcard. The Reds announced plans to move the Cuban Missile into the rotation but he came down with a sore shoulder in the Arizona Fall League. The Reds have shut Chapman down and hope he will be ready for Spring Training.

The Reds let Fransisco Cordero walk away as a Free Agent and replaced the closer with former Phillie Ryan Madson. Sean Marshall was acquired from the Cubs, completing a nice upgrade to the back of the Reds bullpen. Jose Arredondo, Nick Masset, and Logan Ondrusek are a dependable trio of right-handers. Bill Bray is the lefty specialist and Sam LeCure could be the leading candidate for the role of long man.

The Reds finished below .500 in 2011 but have improved their team with the additions to the pitching staff. Both Milwaukee and St. Louis lost their cleanup hitter this winter and figure to creep back towards the pack. I think the Reds roster from top to bottom is as good as any in the division. If Zack Cozart can provide good defense at the SS position and a decent bat, and Scott Rolen is as healthy as he says he is the Reds should stay in the hunt all season long. Prediction: Reds wear the 2012 N.L. Central crown.