View Full Version : Around the Horn: Middle infielders

Homer's Ghost
01-17-2007, 03:27 PM

As a middle-infield duo gifted with good gloves, good range and good arms, Brandon Phillips and Alex Gonzalez will probably get to make their fair share of good plays for the Reds.

But they'll be expected to make all of the routine plays, too, something Cincinnati wasn't always able to take for granted last season.

"Our fans are in for a nice treat with these two guys," Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said. "I'm looking forward to watching them play together when we get to Spring Training. They have a chance to be an exciting combination for what we hope is many years."

In 2006, the Reds' team defense was tied for second worst in the Majors. It also committed the second-most errors (128), trailing only the Nationals. Krivsky, a pitching and defense minded executive, has made shoring up Cincinnati's defense a priority since taking over last year.

When Krivsky acquired Phillips from the Indians for a player to be named later during the first week of the 2006 season, the move was met with bewilderment from the masses. At the time, the Reds already had three second basemen in Tony Womack, Rich Aurilia and Ryan Freel.

Meanwhile, Phillips came in with a reputation for being an undisciplined, and uncoachable, hitter that ran out of chances in Cleveland before he was designated for assignment -- despite being a former top prospect.

The 25-year-old only proved to be one of the biggest steals in baseball last season.

Shortly after the deal was made, Phillips rose to the top of the heap at second base. He hit three home runs and drove in 17 RBIs from April 17-23 for the Reds and was the National League Player of the Week. Womack was released before the summer started and Aurilia and Freel rarely got chances at second base the rest of the year.

In a career-most 149 games for the season, Phillips batted .276 with 17 homers, 75 RBIs and 25 steals. He led the team with 148 hits and solidified second base defensively.

"With Brandon, he's using the whole field and driving the ball the other way," Krivsky said. "He worked on it every day during batting practice. I'm confident he'll continue to figure it out."

Shortstop was more unsettled in 2006. Offense-first, defense-second shortstop Felipe Lopez was dealt to Washington in July in an eight-player trade. Veteran Royce Clayton came over in the transaction with a reputation for making plays. But Clayton was prone to mistakes and never clicked in turning double plays with Phillips.

The Reds' decision makers contemplated moving Phillips to shortstop for 2007, but that went by the boards when they signed the free agent Gonzalez to a three-year, $14 million contract on Nov. 20.


"I'm straight. It doesn't bother me," said Phillips in December during RedsFest. "As long as I have a job, I'm good. I can't wait for the season to start. I'm looking forward to playing next to Alex."

The Gonzalez signing barely made a ripple compared to some of the industry-shaking contracts the Reds' NL Central rivals Cubs and Astros gave to Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee, respectively. But it was a significant deal to Cincinnati because it addressed the club's defensive holes.

Gonzalez, who batted .255 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs in 111 games with the Red Sox in 2006, was considered one of the top defensive shortstops available on the market. The 29-year-old committed only seven errors and owned a .985 fielding percentage for Boston.

Before that, Gonzalez played for the Marlins from 1998-2005 and won a World Series with Florida in 2003.

"We got one of the best shortstops in all of baseball," Reds manager Jerry Narron said after the signing.

Cincinnati also has one of the best gloves in baseball on its bench. Veteran Juan Castro, who spent 2000-04 with the Reds, returned in a trade following a year and a half with the Twins. Castro, who batted .284 in 54 games with the Reds, has a penchant for making all the plays -- from the routine to the spectacular. He's also considered a positive clubhouse presence.

The 34-year-old Castro has long been a Krivsky favorite. As an assistant GM for Minnesota, he advised and sheperded the free agent's signing before 2005 and then brought him back to shore up the shaky defense last season.

"We're glad we have Juan Castro," Krivsky said. "He's a true professional and a quality guy. He brings a lot to the team and is very valuable."

Rounding out the infield competition up the middle are two off-season acquisitions. Jerry Gil, primarily a shortstop, was claimed off waivers from the Diamondbacks in October. Reports say Gil has a strong throwing arm, but he hasn't put it together offensively. Last season at Double-A and Triple-A, he batted .256 with 27 homers and 89 RBIs.

On Jan. 10, the Reds acquired Jeff Keppinger from the Royals. Keppinger -- who plays second base, third base and first base -- batted .267 with two home runs and eight RBIs in 22 games with Kansas City.

01-17-2007, 06:00 PM
That article gave me a defensive erection...and somehow that doesn't make me happy. :cry: