I've been giving the Reds a lot of thought and decided to post my thoughts on what they should do given their weaknesses.
Anyway, here are the problems with the Reds as I see it and my thoughts on possible solutions.
1) The Reds are relying on poor defensive players to be the core of the team. I think defensive impact gets a bit overlooked, but I think the pitching staff and this team in general would look much better with a top notch defense.
If you look at Bill James' Defensive Spectrum, then I think it becomes a bit clearer.
If you look at the Reds core, then I think you find that you have 3 guys who are best suited to the last two positions on the spectrum (LF/1b). Griffey REALLY needs to be in left, Dunn REALLY needs to be at first, and Edwin likely needs to be in either LF or 1b.
And, the only upper level offensive prospect we have is Joey Votto, who surprise, surprise also plays 1b. Those are four players who could be the core of this team over the next couple of seasons who should not only occupy positions at the bottom of the defensive spectrum, but aren't even above average at those positions. I understand that most teams get substantially more offensive production out of the right end of the spectrum than out of the left end, but I think the Reds are handcuffed by their current roster structure and the glut of players at the wrong end of the spectrum.
2) Also, the Reds need to improve the bullpen so that everyone can be bumped down a role or two. The Reds have middle relief, innings eaters pitching in the 7th and 8th. If we can add some top notch relievers, then everyone moves down a slot or two and the bullpen gets much stronger. We need to be able to shorten the game to 6 or 7 innings, which can only be accomplished by a strong bullpen.
3) We need to bite the bullet and use Milton out of the bullpen next year. He can be a lefty specialist or a 6th/7th inning guy, but we cannot afford to have him out there every fifth day. He has a huge contract, but moving him to the bullpen would limit the amount of damage he could do next year.
4) Adam Dunn is an interesting quandary. Throughout the past season, I've been posting about the likelihood of Dunn peaking and aging early due to his "Old player skill set" and his body type. And, as most have likely seen from the recent posts on this board detailing his decline over the past two years, I think it's something that needs to be seriously considered.
I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibilities that Dunn has already peaked. The conventional view is that players peak somewhere around 27/28, so Dunn peaking a couple years early isn't an impossibility. If we keep him and his production declines again, then we are staring a very unattractive $13M option in the face for 2007 on a player who may not be worth it. If the Reds feel that Dunn has reached his peak, then now is the time to deal him.
Is the risk greater in keeping him and seeing him decline again? Or, is the risk greater in dealing him and seeing him get back on track? The old axiom is that it is better to deal a player a year early than a year late. And, given his ever increasing salary, I think it's worth considering.
Anyway, as currently configured, I find it hard to believe that the Reds are ever going to win. I think this team needs a substantial overhaul. Basically, I'm tired of shoddy defense, a terrible bullpen, and a lackluster rotation.
Ok, let's start off with the trades I would make this off-season.
Adam Dunn (2007 Salary $10.5M)
Rheal Cormier (2007 Salary $2.5M)
Morgan Ensberg (2007 Salary ~$4M)
Adam Everett (2007 Salary ~$2.5M)
Dan Wheeler (2007 Salary ~$500K)
Likely Savings: $5M
I love Adam Dunn, but having both Griffey and Dunn in the same outfield is a HUGE problem. We can't get rid of Griffey, so if we are going to move one of the two it'll have to be Dunn. I think a case could easily be made for keeping Dunn and moving him to first, but, by dealing Dunn we can fill our need for a shortstop, we can add a third baseman who is good defensively and could replace a good portion of Dunn's lost offensive production, and add a top flight reliever (seriously, look at his numbers to see how good he is) who could be a setup man or a closer. I'm not a Cormier fan, but left handed relievers are always in need, so Houston would likely have interest in him. And, Houston should have the cash available to take on this kind of money, especially with the contracts of Biggio, Bagwell, Pettite, and Clemens up in the air. If they aren't willing to part with Wheeler, then Qualls, Hirsh, or Lidge are other options as the third player in the deal.
Joey Votto (Peanuts)
David Ross (~$2M)
Kevin Correia (~$500K)
Jonathan Sanchez (~$350K)
Dan Griffin RHP Pitching Prospect
Likely Savings: $1.15M
Analysis: David Ross is coming off a career year and his value will never be higher and Correia would be a nice addition to our rotation. I think D.Ross 2006 = J.Valentin 2005, so I think now is the time to deal him. Jonathan Sanchez is a tough lefty who could be in our rotation in the future. Dan Griffin is 6-7 righthander who throws hard and has a high ceiling. By moving Edwin to first, Votto no longer has a place to play, so he's expendable. The Giants are flush with young pitching (Cain, Lowry, Lincecum, etc) and have a lot of holes to fill next year, so they may be willing to move pitching prospects to fill some holes on offense. Adding two inexpensive everyday starters would enable them to afford more expensive options to fill their remaining holes.
Brandon Claussen ($450K)
Juan Castro (~$1M)
Brett Tomko ($4.1M)
Jayson Werth ($650K)
Likely Cost: ($3.2M)
I'd like to see what Tomko can do in relief. In fact, I'd like to see him grab the closer role so we could keep Wheeler in a setup/8th inning role. If not, he could at least be a solid arm in the bullpen. We wouldn't be giving up a ton to get him, but the salary relief would be attractive to the Dodgers, who could use the money to improve the rotation. And, Claussen, despite his surgery, is scheduled to be ready for opening day and is an inexpensive lefthanded starter, which always has some value. And, Castro helps us offset some of Tomko's salary.
Given his age and his home/road splits, I think it's time to deal Scott Hatteberg. I considered most teams around the league and the only one I see having use for Hatteberg is Baltimore and the Angels. It's possible that the Giants could be interested, but since we dealt them Votto that's not an option. So, if we could get a solid prospect or two for him, I'd deal him.
Likely Savings: $1.5M
Departing Free Agents:
It's time to say goodbye to Rich Aurilia. Given his desire to start, his age, and his strong stats, I think it's now time to cut ties with Rich. Offer him arbitration and let him sign elsewhere. This would save us money (~$2M) and net us two compensatory draft picks, which would be of greater benefit than anything Richie could do for us on the field next year.
Free Agent Signings
1) Top priority, I'd sign Chad Bradford. Give him a two year deal worth $4-4.5M. Bradford is exactly what we need, a groundball reliever who is consistently good. Given that, I'd be happy to pay him $2-2.5M per season for what he would bring to the team. Since our first draft pick is within the top 15, we'd only forfeit a second rounder if the Mets offer him arbitration.
2) I'd sign Darin Erstad to an incentive laden deal with a $1.25M base. I've been thinking long and hard about who we could realistically get to play centerfield and Erstad is the way I would go. In my book, he's a top 5 defensive centerfielder and is a gritty, lunch pail type player. If he can hit his career average numbers (.286/.341/.416/.757), then he'd be worth it. Top notch defense in center, potential solid offense, and a new attitude on the field. He'd be a crowd favorite in a hurry.
3) Sign Roberto Petagine to the league minimum and bring him in as a backup first baseman and left handed pinch hitter. Given the departure of Dunn, we need to find some additional power where possible. Petagine has strong on base skills and solid power, which would make him an asset off the bench. I think he'd be a good risk/reward pickup.
4) Sign Aaron Boone to a $1M contract with incentives and let him take over Aurilia's role. He has good versatility and his offense would improve with a return to GABP. People were saying Aurilia was done prior to coming to Cincy, so a bounce back year out of Boone isn't out of the realm of possibilities.
Here's what all those moves would leave us:
1) Darin Erstad cf l (Freel when necessary)
2) Brandon Phillips 2b r
3) Morgan Ensberg 3b r
4) Ken Griffey Jr. lf l
5) Edwin Encarnacion 1b r
6) Jayson Werth rf r
7) Adam Everett ss r
8) LaRue/Valentin c r/s
1) Aaron Harang r
2) Bronson Arroyo r
3) Elizardo Ramirez r
4) Kevin Correia r
5) Jonathan Sanchez l
5a) Homer Bailey r
cl Brett Tomko
RH setup Dan Wheeler
LH setup Billy Bray
RMR Chad Bradford
RMR Todd Coffey
LMR Eric Milton
RMR Gary Majewski
c Javier Valentin
1b Roberto Petagine
inf Aaron Boone
inf/of Ryan Freel
of Chris Denorfia
And, two additional 1st/2nd round draft picks in the 2007 draft to restock our farm system.
Now, admittedly these moves do carry with them a degree of risk. But, I've tried to make it manageable risk.
Here are the risks:
An outfield of Griffey/Erstad/Werth would be very injury prone, but I think that it is offset by the presence of Freel and Denorfia. We wouldn't have to rely on any of the three to stay healthy for 162 games, as we'd have two very capable backups.
Erstad and Werth may not produce as well as I expect, but again Freel or Denorfia could easily step in and start if need be.
The loss of Dunn and Aurilia would create a large hole on offense, but I think Ensberg and Werth could offset a large portion of the lost production, as they both have strong on base skills and good power. And, I think the bench as configured would be one of the best and most versatile in the league, which would also help offset some of the lost production. I think both Boone could have a solid season off the bench and Petagine could be a nice left handed bat off the bench.
The starting pitching is undeniably young and inexperienced, but the deeper, strengthened bullpen would be able to shorten the game to 6 or 7 innings on a nightly basis. Only having to rely on the young pitchers for 5/6 strong innings would make it much easier.
Tomko may not pan out as a closer, but if he doesn't than we could move Wheeler into the role and bump Tomko down a slot or two. Regardless, I think either Tomko or Wheeler would be an improvement over what we had this year at closer.
And, here's what these moves do rather well:
An outfield of LF Griffey, CF Erstad, and RF Werth would be one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. Griffey would likely actually be an ASSET defensively in left and at the very least would be an upgrade over Dunn.
An infield defense of 1b) Edwin 2b) Phillips 3b) Ensberg SS) Everett would be one of the best infield defenses in baseball. I can't watch Edwin play third base again. He's too erratic on throws and I'm starting to suspect that his range is below average. But, a middle infield of Everett and Phillips would be something to watch and an up the middle defense of Erstad, Everett, Phillips, and LaRue would be fantastic.
On offense, I think Ensberg could pick up much of the slack of Adam Dunn. He's been streaky, but he has great on base skills, good power, and can hit for a solid average.
Erstad/Freel and Phillips could set the table for the 3/4/5/6 of Ensberg, Griffey, Edwin, and Werth.
Ultimately, the offense may take a bit of a hit (though I think it would be smaller than many might think), but the team would be improved overall.
I think the bullpen would be among the best in baseball, which would take the pressure off of our younger starters. Bradford, Wheeler, and Tomko could bolster the bullpen and bump Majewski and Coffey to less important roles.
The starters (Correia, Elizardo, and Sanchez) are young, but have significant upside. The defense would be AWESOME and we'd have a lot of good team speed (Phillips, Everett, Werth, Erstad).
Some of the deals may require an additional prospect or two to balance it out, but I think the general framework of the deals is solid. And, in the end, we would actually be SAVING around $1M by making all these moves.
Anyway, that's just my $.02 (give or take).