Sun, Jun. 10, 2007
Reds can only go up with Krivsky
MINUS THE BULLPEN, THE TOOLS ARE THERE
By John Clay/HERALD-LEADER SPORTS COLUMNIST
CINCINNATI --Maybe they're not that far away.
Sounds crazy. The Cincinnati Reds took a 24-38 record into last night's game with the Cleveland Indians, after all. Worst record in the National League. Third-worst record in the majors.
The Reds are dead last in the NL in relief pitching and team pitching, 14th in fielding, 12th in starting pitching, 11th in batting average.
But Homer Bailey's debut win Friday, a 4-3 conquering of the Indians, turned your critical eye toward youth and optimism and the thought that maybe, as General Manager Wayne Krivsky keeps saying, the Reds are better than they look.
The wheeler-dealer that Bob Castellini hired from the Twins before last season has certainly reshaped the Reds. Ken Griffey and Adam Dunn are the lone everyday starters remaining from previous GM Dan O'Brien's lineup in 2005.
But Krivsky got caught between an organization's mandatory building and the mandate of the new owner to win now.
That's why Krivsky became addicted to the waiver-wire a year ago, collecting retreads and rent-a-pitchers in hopes of goosing the Reds into the playoffs. Nearly worked, too. Last week of the season, Cincinnati was still in the hunt.
But this year, as Bailey proved on Friday, the GM needs to think long-term, not short. Plan for the future. Spin thinking toward better days. Reject the rejects and profess patience. Some pieces are in place.
At age 25, Brandon Phillips is a coming star at second base, a gem Krivsky stole from Cleveland a year ago. Since his recall from Louisville, 24-year-old third baseman Edwin Encarnacion has flashed the talent that can make him top-shelf.
The 26-year-old Josh Hamilton, the former No. 1 pick who nearly lost his career to drugs, has been the feel-good story of the year since the Reds acquired him before spring training.
Now in right field, the 37-year-old Griffey has shown pop in his bat. Junior hit his 14th homer Friday.
If the 21-year-old Bailey proves to be the real deal, he strengthens a good-not-great rotation headed by the 29-year-old Aaron Harang and the 30-year-old Bronson Arroyo. Starters Kyle Lohse, 28, and Matt Belisle, 27, are both at career crossroads, though each has shown encouraging signs.
Contrary to popular belief, help is on the way. Jay Bruce, the 20-year-old outfielder, is already on a fast track, hitting .318 at High-A Sarasota. Joey Votto, first baseman of the future, has his average up to .313 at Louisville. He figures as the '08 first-sacker, meaning Krivsky can redirect the money now being paid Scott Hatteberg and Jeff Conine toward more pressing needs.
Such as the bullpen. All you had to do was watch Cincinnati blow an 8-2 lead last Sunday at Colorado to feel Jerry Narron's pain. No matter who the Reds manager trots out to the mound, he can't do the job.
At season's end, Krivsky will have monetary options to attack the problem. Eric Milton's dubious contract finally goes off the books. The Reds might refuse their 2008 option on Dunn's deal, or dispense the outfielder at the trading deadline.
It's not much of a stretch to see a Votto, Phillips, Alex Gonzalez, Encarnacion infield, with a Hamilton, Ryan Freel (Bruce?), Griffey outfield, with David Ross behind the plate next season. It's not difficult to see a decent rotation built around Harang, Arroyo and Bailey.
What's difficult to see is how Krivsky might fix the beleaguered bullpen. That's his charge. If Krivsky can, the Reds might indeed be better than they look.