Sunday, May 14, 2006

Price grows with talent
Multi-year deals would be less expensive than arbitration
BY JOHN FAY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER

The Reds have a nice core of young position players to carry them through the next four or five years.

The problem is the price of good, young talent inflates at an incredible rate in the arbitration world.

The Reds are running out a lineup with five players 26 or under - Adam Dunn (26), Austin Kearns (25), Felipe Lopez (26), Brandon Phillips (24) and Edwin Encarnacion (23).

Dunn is the only one of the five who is signed to a multi-year deal.

Do the Reds have plans to try to lock up the others?

"Not right now," general manager Wayne Krivsky said. "There will be a time for that, but not right now."

It makes sense to do so. Kearns and Lopez are eligible for arbitration. With the kind of numbers they're putting up, they'll make a fortune if they go in front of an arbitrator. They aren't exactly working cheap this year. Lopez is making $2.7 million; Kearns $1.85 million.

Players will generally sign for less during their arbitration years for long-term security.

One of the things that allowed the Cleveland Indians to sustain their success in the 1990s was signing players early to long-term deals. They tried it again when they signed 23-year-old Grady Sizemore to a six-year, $23.45 million deal earlier this year. If Sizemore turns out to be what they think he'll be, paying him $7.5 million in 2011 will be a steal.

Krivsky sees merit in the concept, and he's not opposed to talking with players' agents. But it's not a priority right now.

"I'll talk contract anytime anyone wants to, as long as it makes sense for both parties," he said. "I don't have a policy that I won't talk during the year.

"You don't do too much of that. But I wouldn't rule anything out. My policy is open-door, where either side can approach the other at any time."


In-season deals are rare.

"I think once the season starts players don't want to be distracted," he said.

But a small-market franchise like the Reds, it's critical to have young talent.

"That's the way to go for sure," Krivsky said. "That factored into the Brandon Phillips deal quite a bit."

If the Reds could get a firm read on what Dunn, Kearns, Lopez and company are going to cost them three or four years down the road, they'd have a better feel on what they could offer as far as long-term contracts for free-agent pitchers in the offseason.

JUNIOR'S CALL: The most memorable game in recent Reds' history might not have turned out like it did if Ken Griffey Jr. wasn't playing secretary for trainer Mark Mann Thursday afternoon.

Allow us to explain.

Krivsky called Mann's office about 2 p.m. Thursday to check on Griffey's status.

"Junior answered the phone," Krivsky said. He said, 'I'm ready to go. I'm ready to play.' I said, 'Are you sure? It's raining, it's wet. Are we doing the smart thing?'

"He said, 'Shoot, I'm ready.' "

Krivsky wasn't quite sold. He talked to Mann, who said team medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek was OK with it.

"After all this time, I wasn't going to tell Griffey it's too wet to play," Krivsky said.

So Griffey played - and hit the three-run home run to beat the Washington Nationals 5-4 in the 11th inning.

WOWING THE GM: Krivsky was duly impressed with Thursday's heroics.

"Wow," Krivsky said. "I don't know if it gets much better than that unless it's in the postseason, because it was Junior and his first day back for him to do it was special."

The victory was one of those that a team can build on.

"These guys believe they can come back at any time," manager Jerry Narron said.

Thursday's comeback win was the ninth for the Reds.

"We've had a lot of good comebacks this year," Krivsky said. "That goes to the top of the list. I was really happy for the fans who stayed."

THE LISTS

A lot of baseball people subscribe to the theory that the best indicator of offensive production is OPS - on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. Here's how Reds hitters stack up in the category going into Friday (.758 is the National League average):

Adam Dunn .981
Austin Kearns .952
Ken Griffey Jr. .928
Edwin Encarnacion .920
David Ross .900
Rich Aurilia 892
Ray Olmedo .857
Scott Hatteberg .819
Brandon Phillips .803
Felipe Lopez .792
Quinton McCracken .745
Javier Valentin .686
Ryan Freel .653
Jason LaRue .649

For pitching, a good indicator of effectiveness is WHIP - walks plus hits per inning pitched. Here's how the Reds sat in the category going into Friday (1.39 is the NL average):

Brian Shackelford 0.71
Bronson Arroyo 1.01
Todd Coffey 1.19
Aaron Harang 1.23
Elizardo Ramirez 1.29
Eric Milton 1.39
David Weathers 1.41
Rick White 1.43
Matt Belisle 1.58
Brandon Claussen 1.63
Kent Mercker 1.70
Chris Hammond 1.73
Dave Williams 1.95

Minor matters

One of the perplexing things this year is the way Ryan Wagner has pitched.

Wagner was the Reds' last cut at spring training. Wagner got lit up again Thursday at Triple-A Louisville - two runs in a one-third of an inning. Going into the weekend, he was 0-2 for the Bats with a 9.00 ERA and had allowed 25 hits in 15 innings. He had 16 strikeouts and eight walks.

"He's struggling," general manager Wayne Krivsky said.

"With him it's a matter of command and throwing quality strikes. The stuff is there."

E-mail bag

Question, from Fritz in Evendale: "The Reds have finally gotten some solid starting pitching this year but it seems like the bullpen keeps blowing it. This brings up my two questions. How long until Todd Coffey (above) takes over for Dave Weathers as closer (I am writing on the heels of David Weathers blowing both Harang's and Arroyo's sixth win), and what can the Reds do to improve their bullpen and give themselves a real shot at the playoffs?"

Answer: The Weathers-Coffey question is a popular one these days. The quick answer is Coffey's doing so well in the setup role that manager Jerry Narron is reluctant to move him into the closer role. But I think you'll see Coffey close games in the near future. The second question plays into the first. If the Reds could add another reliable arm to the setup mix, they would be more willing to have Coffey close. Krivsky doesn't talk about trades, but adding to the bullpen has to be a priority.

Q, from Seth: Do you think the Reds might make a run at getting Torii Hunter to play center if Ken Griffey Jr. doesn't come around? Also, do you think they can sign him for a few years given his history with Krivsky? Jr.'s deal is up next year, right?

A: Griffey's deal isn't up until 2008. Even if it were up after this year, I wouldn't expect the Reds to make a play for any high-priced position player. If they're going to spend money on free agents, I would think it will be on free-agent pitchers.

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