They're defending division champs. Their pitching staff is loaded. They've added an all-star caliber hitter to solve the problematic leadoff spot. They've corrected the right-left imbalance in the batting order. . . . We all know why we should be optimistic about the Reds this year. But what are the issues that might hold them back? What are the five leading concerns for 2013? I'll submit these:
1. All Things Chapman. Has his mind been messed with? And is it messed-up to begin with? Will he mature into a reliable closer? As remarkable as he was for most of last year, he did have a couple stretches in which he was unwatchably wild and simply wretched. You could never be quite certain what you were going to get from Chapman. And maybe more worrisome: did the debate over his role signify a breach between the manager and general manager? Do the Reds have a divisiveness problem?
2. No Rolen. His shoulder won't be missed. Nor his back. Nor, really, his bat. But what about his presence? Todd Frazier has earned his position and his fans, but even the debunkers of intangible factors recognized what Rolen meant to the Reds the last few years. I thought the club suffered in 2011 from the absence of Orlando Cabrera. Could the departure of Rolen have a similar effect?
3. Starting Depth. Face it, the Reds were very fortunate last year that their starting pitchers were historically durable. They weren't so fortunate in the playoffs, which of course raises the question of whether Johnny Cueto is indeed A-OK; whether he can still twist and coil with confidence. And with Chapman in the bullpen, who steps into the rotation if somebody has to step out? Galarraga? Cingrani?
4. Cleanup. Was last year Ryan Ludwick's final fling? Is he really a cleanup hitter? We can only hope that spring training tells us nothing about that. But if Ludwick reverts to his previous couple years, are there solutions to the batting-order issue? Votto may be the best 3-hole hitter in the game, but is that asset largely wasted without a serious bat behind him?
5. Are there really only four concerns? There appears to be no conspicuous trouble spot beyond those. Some may be worried about Choo as a center fielder, but he was fine in right field, his arm is strong, and his speed is not a problem. I'm not too worried about it. More concerning is the sense that this team is all set. It rarely plays out that way. I'm never comfortable with overconfidence.