Team not quite out of its league
BY JOHN FAY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
With all the money being thrown around in baseball, it's fair to ask:
Have the Reds been priced out of contention before spring training starts?
The short answer is no.
No one is going to pick them to win the National League Central. In fact, no one is going to pick them to finish higher than fourth in the Central.
But despite the nearly $300 million investment by the Chicago Cubs, the 2007 Central title has not been bought and paid for.
Most of the experts probably will have the top of the Central lined up in one of two ways:
1. St. Louis
2. St. Louis
The Reds will be picked fourth or fifth by most, depending on what the given expert thinks of the Milwaukee Brewers.
But none of the teams picked above the Reds is without question marks or flaws. A look at the rest of the division:
Chicago: The Cubs are living proof that $280 million doesn't buy you what it once did.
The addition of Alfonso Soriano upgrades the Cubs' offense a bit, but it needed a lot of help. To become truly dangerous again, Derrek Lee must have a bounce-back year.
The larger questions are with the rotation. Carlos Zambrano is among the best in baseball. But the other four starters - Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, Mark Prior and Rich Hill - were a combined 36-42 last season. Marquis went 14-16 with a 6.02 ERA and didn't pitch half his games in Wrigley. Ryan Dempster, the closer, is a blown save waiting to happen.
Basically, the Cubs' pitching is a lot like it was last season. It could be good if Prior and Kerry Wood are healthy, but that's a huge if.
St. Louis: The Cardinals, the World Series champions, added Adam Kennedy to play second.
Their rotation is like the Cubs': an ace and four question marks.
Chris Carpenter is a Cy Young candidate every year. But Kip Wells (1-6, 5.59 ERA), Anthony Reyes (5-8, 5.06) and Brad Thompson (1-2, 3.34) aren't going to be quality-start machines. The club is considering moving Adam Wainwright, who was the closer in the postseason, into the rotation.
Jason Isringhausen will return to the closer's role after missing the last two weeks of the season and the postseason because of a hip injury.
Houston: The Astros added a big bat by signing Carlos Lee. That should help an offense that finished last in the NL in hitting last season.
The rotation is good up top with Roy Oswalt and Woody Williams. But it isn't as good as it was with Oswalt, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.
The bullpen depends on whether Brad Lidge struggles the way he did last season (1-5, 5.28 ERA).
Milwaukee: The Brewers could be a dangerous team simply because they're so young and so many of their players have big upsides. But is Bill Hall going to hit 35 home runs again?
Pittsburgh: All you need to know about the Pirates is that their general manager at the Winter Meetings said they could be really good - in two years.
So the Reds have a chance in this field. Not a great chance, but a chance.
The moves Cincinnati has made have improved those chances. None of the moves was very stunning, but Alex Gonzalez upgrades the defense substantially - something that had to be done. Mike Stanton and David Weathers have a lot of miles on them, but they'll be solid bullpen guys. Jeff Conine will help in a limited role.
But the guess here is the rotation will hold the key for the Reds. You would expect Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo to have seasons similar to the ones they had in 2006.
Kyle Lohse and Eric Milton were good and bad last season. They need to be more consistent.
And then you have the Homer factor. If Homer Bailey can be what the Reds think he can be - one prospect rating has him listed No. 3 in all of baseball - the Reds could surprise some people.