Action expected during off-season
Column by The Post's Lonnie Wheeler
We're here at the season's final game, Cub Appreciation Day, for the perilous task of judging theReds and saying where they stand.
To do so definitively, there are simply too few abiding truths beyond the obvious, which would consist, of course - see last year, and the one before, etc. - of questionable chemistry and pathetic pitching in every department. How do you get a handle on a team that played so pitifully for one manager in the first half of the schedule and so unevenly for another in the second?
And regarding the more successful of the skippers, whose rehiring, yay or nay, leads the organization's list of immediate to-do's . . . how do you fairly assess a guy who, for the most part, did all a fellow could, then folded at the finish without his five best outfielders?
To make this thing a little more manageable, let's break it down man for man. We did learn, at least ...
that Aaron Harang is a good place to start;
that Bronson Arroyo will be fine with a few runs;
that Homer Bailey is probably next in line, but only for lack of alternatives;
that, going by Bailey's precedent, Johnny Cueto may not be as ready as we'd like to think (but who, then, is?);
that if you're counting on Matt Belisle, you need starting pitching;
that Joey Votto and Great American Ball Park could make beautiful music together;
that Brandon Phillips is a ballplayer to build around;
that Edwin Encarnacion is too good to give up on;
that we'll never arrive at a consensus on Adam Dunn;
that Ken Griffey Jr. will probably never be better than he was this year, and will never cost less;
that Josh Hamilton is a fetching story, a fabulous find and a tantalizing talent who must still prove his staying power;
that Norris Hopper is a sheer delight;
that Ryan Freel can't play every day;
that David Ross probably shouldn't;
that Scott Hatteberg is a whole lot like Sean Casey, less a few slaps on the back;
that Jay Bruce ought to be here;
that Jeff Keppinger can hit, for sure, and also play shortstop;
that Alex Gonzalez can play it better, if he's focused;
that Jorge Cantu warrants a long look;
that Jared Burton offers hope where it's desperately needed;
that Gary Majewski might never be for Cincinnati what he was for Washington;
that Bill Bray might;
that Eddie Guardado still has some outs left in his elbow;
that Mike Stanton is probably finished, though, unfortunately, his contract isn't;
that Todd Coffey cannot remain in the game with another season like this one;
that Mackanin can manage;
that Wayne Krivsky is a brilliant bargain hunter who must now master the bigger game;
and that Bob Castellini's words alone mean very little.
It's Krivsky and Castellini who will have to decide, very soon, whether to reward Mackanin for saving the franchise from 100 defeats. And whether to pick up the option on Dunn's contract, and Guardado's, and Hatteberg's. And whether to make a commitment toward the kind of payroll that will close the gap between the Reds and the team that filled Great American for the last series of the season.
And how to come up with at least two good pitchers, preferably three.
Among the countless uncertainties, we do know that if the managerial decision were the manager's, he'd make it in favor of himself. "Bob Castellini told me that this is a very important decision for us, and I respect that," the interim said Sunday, after the Reds had broken their seven-game losing streak but completed the same in seasons.
"I've learned that I belong here, in my opinion. Not necessarily with this team, but I belong in the major leagues, much the same as you would talk about a guy like Joey Votto who comes up and feels like he can play in the big leagues and after he gets his feet wet says, 'You know what? I can do this.' "
And he's quite right. But so can Tony La Russa. So can Bob Brenly . . .
There is, then - in that and each of the club's critical concerns - no cocksure solution for what the Reds must do between now and next year, other than this:
The only conclusion we can categorically draw from the 2007 season is that there can't be another one like it.