Sports Network: Cincinnati Reds 2006 Preview (3/27)
Cincinnati Reds 2006 Preview
By Eric Redner, MLB Analyst (Sports Network)
2005 Finish (73-89) - Fifth (NL Central)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: SP - Chris Hammond; SP - Dave Williams; 2B Tony Womack; C - David Ross; SP - Bronson Arroyo
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: RP - Ramon Ortiz; 1B Sean Casey; OF Wily Mo Pena
PROJECTED LINEUP: Felipe Lopez (SS); Tony Womack (2B); Ken Griffey Jr. (CF); Adam Dunn (LF); Austin Kearns (RF); Scott Hatteberg (1B); Edwin Encarnacion (3B); Jason LaRue (C)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Aaron Harang (RHP); Eric Milton (LHP); Bronson Arroyo (RHP); Brandon Claussen (LHP); Dave Williams (LHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Todd Coffey (RHP)
MANAGER: Jerry Narron
The biggest news coming out of Cincinnati in the offseason was that Carl Lindner, who had been an owner of the Reds since 1981, sold his controlling interest in the team to a group of investors headed by Cincinnati produce magnate Robert Castellini, Thomas Williams and William Williams, Jr.
Lindner purchased control of the Reds in 1999 and kept baseball's oldest franchise from being sold to out-of-town ownership. Under Lindner's ownership, the Reds opened Great American Ball Park in 2003. However, the team has floundered in the standings in recent years, having finished below .500 each of the last five seasons.
The team's last trip to the playoffs came in 1995 when Marge Schott was principal owner and this season does not bode well to break that streak.
Also, Jerry Narron, who took over on June 21 when Dave Miley was fired following a 27-43 start, was given a one-year contract extension that will keep him on the bench for the entire 2006 season. The squad went 46-43 under his guidance for the remainder of the 2005 season.
The Reds' main goal in the offseason was to acquire some solid pitching to compliment one of the most productive offenses in the National League. The verdict is still out, but the team did make some moves to shore up their starting rotation.
Recently acquired righty Bronson Arroyo, acquired from the Boston Red Sox for outfielder Wily Mo Pena, was a nice addition to a starting staff that is looking for quality starts. Also, the team has gotten the services of Dave Williams for the year and are looking for him to step up to the mound and go deep into the game.
Offensively Cincinnati will still be a force to reckon with. The team led the National League in runs scored, home runs and doubles last year, but the problem with the offense is that it has to rely too much on the deep threat. Narron should try to find a way to get utilityman Ryan Freel into the lineup as much as possible since he is a solid hitter and the one of the only base stealing threat for the Reds.
Look to see Scott Hatteberg to be the starting first baseman come opening day. Cincinnati was going to move Adam Dunn to first base this season, but the trade to bring in Arroyo left a hole in left field which will probably keep Dunn there.
Second base has been solidified with the acquisition of Tony Womack. Womack had a disappointing season as a Yankee, but the Reds are hoping that he can find the swing that batted .307 in 2004.
Cincinnati is hoping to see improvement in Edwin Encarnacion, who will be handling duties on the hot corner. He will be coming into his second season and showed alot of potential last season to become a quality hitter.
Rounding out the infield will be Felipe Lopez at shortstop. Entering his sixth season he still has a lot of defensive problems, which include rushing throws and fielding the ball too deep at times. His bat, though, should make up for any defensive errors he commits.
Behind the plate will be Jason LaRue. He is an excellent presence and is able to dig balls out of the dirt and keep them in front. He has a quick release, good arm strength and is very accurate. Offensive numbers have steadily improved and while he will never be a major offensive threat he will put up decent numbers.
Look for Freel to see action in the infield and if any serious injuries hit the team he might be starting every game.
It was suspected that the Reds were going to try and move Dunn to first base, but with the departure of Pena it looks like he will stay put in left field. While a competent fielder, Dunn's major asset is his bat. While his numbers dipped slightly in 2005 he was able to cut the amount of strikeouts he took and could be in line for an outstanding season.
In center field again will be Ken Griffey Jr. Entering his 18th season the 37- year-old had his best year in several seasons and garnered National League Comeback Player of the year honors. If he can stay healthy he should be able to put up his traditional numbers.
Completing the outfield will be Austin Kearns in right field. He has the power to put up significant batting numbers, but has struggled since his rookie season to hit for average. He is an excellent fielder and has good arm strength enable him to throw out runners trying to stretch out that extra base.
If Harang has a good year then the Reds could make a season of it. Entering his sixth year, the Reds are looking for Harang to continue to improve upon last year's numbers. Has a good strikeout/walk ratio and is able to mix up his pitches well. If they can get solid starts and 15-plus wins from Harang, the Reds might have a better than expected season.
If Milton can keep the ball down he might be able to post some better numbers this season. He struggled last year by giving up too many home runs in the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. He will be in the front of the rotation, but unless he can get the ball lower in the strike zone he will continue to get rocked by the long ball.
Arroyo could be the wild-card on the mound this season. The righty posted career-highs in wins and starts last season with the Red Sox and Cincinnati felt he was worth the price of Pena. Arroyo was most likely going to be predominately in the bullpen in Boston this season, but if things go well for him he could wind up moving up the No. 2 starter before the end of the year.
Youngster Brandon Claussen will be a regular in the rotation, but it remains to be seen how he will do. He is inconsistent with his velocity and command of the ball and gets it to high in the strike zone, not advisable at the Reds home park. If he can get his changeup working and the fastball lower in the zone he might be able to improve his numbers.
Bringing up the rear in the rotation will be Williams. He uses the whole plate with his fastball, but has a weak curveball. Picked up from Pittsburgh he might have a chance to get higher in the rotation if he throws well and those higher up prove not to be worth the spots.
An unknown factor will be Paul Wilson. He missed most of the 2005 season due to rotator cuff surgery and has had a long history of arm problems. Might start the season in the bullpen, but could be promoted if there are any injuries or inconsistent starting pitching.
Look for the Reds to use righty David Weathers and southpaw Kent Mercker as their primary setup men with Coffey being the closer for the first time.
Weathers good sinker is the perfect pitch to throw at the Great American Ball Park. But, when he hangs a ball high over the plate more than likely it is going to become a souvenir for a fan in the outfield.
Mercker has a hard fastball that he will throw as a cutter against righthanders and will throw it away against lefties. He can be counted on to pitch a substantial number of innings if things go wrong with the starter.
Coffey could wind up being a good closer for the Reds. He has a hard fastball that handcuffs hitters. But, he has trouble with lefties who are able to get a good look at his delivery due to the low angle of his arm when he releases the ball. He has worked on his splitter in the offseason and it could be what he needs to get those crucial late inning outs.
Cincinnati has a couple of decent lefthanders in Chris Hammond and Brian Shackelford. Hammond has a good changeup that will fool right-handed hitters and Shackelford held opponents to a .204 average in 37 appearances last season.
Pitching from the right side will be Matt Belisle, Ryan Wagner and Josh Hancock. But, Wagner and Hancock will be question marks since they are both coming off of season-ending injuries in 2005.
The big question here is what will become of Freel. While he could definitely start at a couple of different position he most likely will be used all over the field to spell other players. But, the Reds would be wise to get him into the game as much as possible.
The team recently acquired David Ross from San Diego for backup work behind the plate. While not much of an offensive threat Ross will be useful to spell LaRue during the season. But, the Reds also have Javier Valentin to come off the bench and work behind the plate and he is a much better hitter than Ross.
Ray Olmedo saw action at shortstop and second base last season. He is a reliable fielder, but is a poor producer at the plate.
Rich Aurilia saw a lot of work at third, second and shortstop last season and while he is not the greatest of fielders he did put up some good numbers from the plate last year.
Chris Denorfia and Jacob Cruz will both see some time in the outfield this season, especially if the club has any major injuries.
President Bush will be throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day in Cincinnati. Hopefully for the Reds they will have a better year than the Commander-in-Chief.
Unfortunately, though, if their pitching doesn't significantly improve they will be in much the same situation as they were last season. They will win those 9-7 games, but don't look for them to get in the win column with a 2-1 victory.
The addition of Arroyo helps and if Harang continues to improve the team could surprise some people in the league. But, don't expect this team to make a serious run for the postseason. Getting to .500 will be a big enough step for the psyche and development of this team.