03/10/2006 10:00 AM ET
Reds rebuilding from bottom up
Alyson Footer / Baseball Perspectives
The Cincinnati Reds probably aren't to the point where they can be considered contenders, but based on their recent history, just heading in the right direction should be considered a huge plus.
A new owner and a new general manager are in place, and in their short time with the club, they've renewed hope among longtime Reds fans who want to know why they haven't put a winning team on the field in this millennium.
It's not owner Bob Castellini's physical presence at Spring Training and at Great American Ball Park that will make the ultimate difference in the club's progress in the immediate future. His faith in new GM Wayne Krivsky -- and his commitment to doing what is necessary to build the organization, from the Minor Leagues up -- will dictate how the new regime's legacy begins.
It doesn't take a genius to deduce what this team needs. The Reds finished eighth in the league in hitting and fifth in the National League Central standings last year. The problem is pitching, something the Reds had very little of in 2005. They finished dead last in the league with a 5.15 ERA, worse than the Rockies' 5.13 mark.
Only two teams in all of baseball were worse ERA-wise: Tampa Bay and Kansas City.
A few realities exist. The Reds' payroll is going to fall somewhere in the range of $60-65 million. Eric Milton, and his $25.5 million contract, probably isn't going away. Most of the cast of characters from last year's rotation is back. If the Reds are to have a good season, they'll have to look mostly from within.
The Reds don't have a great recent track record in terms of developing their own pitching talent. The last Reds pitcher who was groomed in the Cincinnati farm system and won 15 games in a single season was Tom Browning in 1990.
A 16-year drought seems a little extreme, until you consider that it's been even longer since any Reds pitcher, regardless of his origin, won 20 games. The last time was 1988, when Danny Jackson won 23.
Sure, they've had some good years in between. But the overall state of the team has moved backward in recent history, and the new regime has to change that. A complete overhaul isn't necessary, nor is it plausible. The Reds are going to have to first ask their current members to be better. Then they may consider looking for outside help for the rotation, although that's a big maybe.
This means that Milton has to be better than 8-15. It means that Harang and Brandon Claussen, who won 11 and 10 games in '05, respectively, have to build on that promise. Dave Williams, acquired in the unpopular Sean Casey trade, needs to produce.
"We had some ups and downs last year," Harang said. "We've got some veteran guys to fill in the bullpen. Starters have to step up and get us through six or seven innings and give our bullpen a chance to finish it."
While it's up to manager Jerry Narron to manipulate on-field activity on the big-league level, Krivsky and Castellini appear to have a side plan for the farm system.
Their first move was to buy the Florida State League's Sarasota franchise from the Boston Red Sox. Sarasota is the Reds' Spring Training home and, pending approval from MLB, the Minor League franchise will become a Reds affiliate. Improvements of the overall facility will follow. The Reds expect that the quality of talent that plays in Sarasota, as well as their other farm clubs, will also improve.
Krivsky, largely responsible for the success of the Minnesota Twins' system, knows how to build from within. His former employer had low revenues, low attendance and high expectations. And the Twins, despite the threat of contraction, won.
Castellini hired him to make the same thing happen in Cincinnati, sans the contraction issues, of course.
"They want to win," Krivsky said about the Reds, soon after he took this job. "They want to do it the right way. They're dedicated and committed to scouting and player development, which is how you build a frontline organization."
It's up to Krivsky to build the farm system, one that grooms players, not rushes them to the big leagues before it's time. In hindsight, promoting Ryan Wagner to the Majors in 2003, two months after he was drafted, probably wasn't the right move.
It is time for the Reds to make smart personnel moves, and that process started as soon as Krivsky was hired. A Reds turnaround isn't going to happen overnight, and it likely won't happen this year. But if they formulate a plan and stick with it, at least there is hope.