Uncertainty offers chance to re-invent Reds for '07
Column by The Post's Lonnie Wheeler
The suspicion here is that the Reds will never beat the Cardinals in the summer until they beat them in the winter.
By at least some appearances, this could be the one. St. Louis, of course, will gladly take the tradeoff it confronts, which is winning the World Series and losing most of its starting pitchers. Chris Carpenter will return in all of his towering significance, but the various free agents (Jeff Suppan, Mark Mulder, Jeff Weaver and Jason Marquis) may not. And yet, that enviable organization has managed, on an annual basis, to revolve its rotation without losing balance or its edge over less resourceful rivals like Cincinnati. It uses the offseason to find solutions and sign them.
What the Cardinals have always understood is that the pennant race starts now. What the Reds have in their favor, this time, is fresh and presumably motivated ownership.
Bob Castellini bought the club exactly a year ago, but devoted his first three months to identifying Wayne Krivsky as his general manager. Krivsky, in turn, came along too late to snatch something tasty from the tray going around at the free-agent bash.
It might matter that Castellini previously owned the Cardinals, in small part, and is probably encouraged or ticked off or both by the jewelry that dropped from the heavens and landed miraculously around their fingers. It should matter that the Reds will now be receiving additional television dollars from their expanded Fox contract. This is the time.
Upon succeeding the indifferent Carl Lindner, the salad squire assured that he would approve bumps in payroll if they could be put to evident pennant purposes. Castellini was talking about the trading deadline or thereabouts; but the race is half- or mostly over by then. The Cardinals and Astros and Cubs, not to mention the contenders of the better divisions, will be making important moves by Christmas.
Krivsky will, too, if he is fiscally equipped to do so. His lively dealing last year - most of it charmed, some of it not so much - kept the Reds in the picture until the end of the season. The next step is to get there when the stove is warming the store.
To that end, the sleepless GM will be directing his extensive scouting experience to the free-agent list. First, he'll cross off the big tickets, starting with Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka and continuing on through the more familiar names. There will be no Barry Bonds, Barry Zito or Barry Manilow. Sean Casey is already here under the pseudonym of Scott Hatteberg. Forget Alfonso Soriano, Greg Maddux, Eric Gagne, Kerry Wood, Jason Schmidt and probably Nomar Garciaparra, although he's a bit intriguing and his wife would certainly be well-received.
The Reds could, however, put those unapproachables to good use by letting them soak up the payrolls of the better-heeled competition. They could then let loose their legal tender on good-value guys at any number of positions.
Excepting third base, where Edwin Encarnacion is sure to be, is there a single position spoken for in Cincinnati's scheme of things? Beyond Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, starting pitcher spots are up for grabs. Heaven knows the Reds still need relievers. Brandon Phillips could end up at either second base or shortstop, depending on who else is around. Hatteberg needn't be full time at first base. Will Ken Griffey Jr. stay in center field? Will Adam Dunn be traded? Where, if anywhere, will Ryan Freel finally land?
For a general manager with Krivsky's metabolism, the very uncertainty ought to be liberating. He could simultaneously address center field and the top of the order with the likes of Juan Pierre, Dave Roberts, Darin Erstad or Gary Matthews Jr. He could, in the most spectacular scenario, replace Dunn with Carlos Lee. He could power-up first base with Shea Hillenbrand or even Garciaparra. He could splurge for Julio Lugo at short, or flip Phillips there and sign Adam Kennedy or Mark DeRosa or Rich Aurilia for second base. He could move Jason LaRue and come up with another catcher.
He could take a crack at somebody like Toronto's Justin Speier (55 strikeouts in 51 innings) as a promoted closer. He could tap the American League for a serviceable starter on the order of Ted Lilly (15 wins), Gil Meche (28 years old), Vicente Padilla (200 innings) or Adam Eaton (cheapened by injuries). He could sting St. Louis by signing Suppan.
With a few bucks for holiday shopping, he could, in the Cardinal spirit, ring in the season right.
Contact Lonnie Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.