The choice for the Reds this winter has essentially been two-fold. Be nuts, or be quiet.
Only one of the above is cheap. Not a tough call.
Nevertheless, the Cincinnati baseball team would prefer that its name and that five-letter word find different sentences to fill out. Bob Castellini, the second-year owner, has been brandishing his competitive spirit in every speech, promising that a few bucks will not separate the Reds from the race. The produce prince, however, has yet to put his cabbage into anything more than cole slaw.
In that stance, he has chosen the right market. Cincinnati is desperate for a contending team - last year's counts only if you can't count (to, say, 82) - but not so delirious that it expects the home club to spend $55 million, or even 55 crates of cantaloupes, on Gil Meche, as silly Kansas City did. Around here, nothing engenders empathy like high prices and unworthy ballplayers.
So the Reds, for the most part, sit on the deck with fast-drying toes while the Cubs and Mets and Giants, etc., cannon-
ball into the free-agent pool like show-off teen-agers, sending up the big splashes that soar through the sunshine and leave their surroundings sopping wet. And while Cincinnati's constituency deals uneasily with its boredom, it's basically cool with the whole thing.
No $126 million here for nearly two presidential terms of Barry Zito (Giants). No $10.5 million for a summer of ol' Tom Glavine (Mets). No $10 million for a season of ol' Greg Maddux (Padres), $16 million for Andy Pettitte (Yankees), $8 million for Randy Wolf (Dodgers), $21 million for three years of Jason Marquis (Cubs), $24.5 million for the same amount of Adam Eaton (Phillies), $47 million for 36 months of Jason Schmidt (Dodgers again), $42 million for an Olympiad of Jeff Suppan (Brewers), or $40 million for that much Ted Lilly (Cubs again). There's more where those came from, but not a one of them outpitched the Reds' Aaron Harang last year.
What do you want out of a starter? Wins? With 16, Harang tied for the National League lead in those. Innings? He shouldered 234, six behind teammate Bronson Arroyo, who led the league. Complete games? Harang's half-dozen led the NL in that category. Strikeouts? Led the league.
In arbitration this winter, Harang is asking the Reds for $5.5 million. They're offering $4.25 million. On the open market, he'd make that for a couple extended road trips.
So pay the man, and while you're at it, pay him for next year and the year after and the year after that, if the good fellow's willing. Serious, you say, about starting pitching? Pay the man to stay the man. That much, you owe the city.
No doubt, the Reds are even now endeavoring to do that, and well may. It would be the best bargain of the offseason, the kind of deal they simply have to make to keep up with the Chicagos and Houstons and world champion Cardinals of the NL Central. But if they let Harang get away at that price, the pity party's over.
So far, general manager Wayne Krivsky has shopped discerningly with his rolls of quarters. Alex Gonzalez appears to be the sort of lockdown shortstop Cincinnati sorely needs. Former prodigy Josh Hamilton was well worth the negligible risk. Mike Stanton and Jeff Conine are competent veterans.
Some folks were displeased to see the Reds part this week with the youth (24) and Double-A numbers of reliever David Shafer in return for veteran Kirk Saarloos. They argue that Saarloos is just another .500 pitcher - but hey, at 27, he can be a .500 pitcher for years to come. Besides that, when he was 23, working the Texas League, the right-hander went 10-1 with a 1.40 earned run average, giving up only 48 hits in 83 innings. Those are Homer Bailey numbers. And you get five bonus years of big-league experience.
It was another pretty-good gambit on Krivsky's part, another show of faith in his scouting department, another mild move to err on the side of value. Along those lines, the difficulty this winter has not been with what the Reds have done. It's with what they haven't done.
They haven't found a closer. They haven't settled center field. They haven't kept up with the competition.
They haven't traded Adam Dunn for Brad Penny.
There'd be nothing nuts about that.
Contact Lonnie Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read Lonnie's blog at http://frontier.cincinnati.com/blogs/lonniewheeler/