Pitching a priority for Baker's Reds
Cincy hopes to provide new manager with quality hurlers
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Even with Dusty Baker and his winning track record on board as Reds manager, he can't expect to win without pitching.
Like several clubs in the Major Leagues, Cincinnati lacks pitching depth in both its rotation and bullpen. Consequently, its fans have lacked watching a contender for many of the past few seasons.
Good arms have become increasingly difficult to acquire, especially on the free-agent market these days.
"You can look through the 30 clubs and a high percentage of them are looking for pitching," Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said. "It's the state of the game and it's a priority every year."
Clubs' exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents ends on Monday, which means the market will open for business. But will there be anyone out there worth getting? Like last winter, the prevailing view is this year's free-agent crop lacks quality pitchers. Krivsky isn't going into the buying season pessimistic.
"There are always players out there that can help you," Krivsky said. "A lot of it comes from the player's side, and if there's a role for them they want. Dollars and years is a factor also. You use every avenue for player acquisition you have, and free agency is an area you look at."
Ace and 16-game winner Aaron Harang was Cincinnati's lone consistent starter in 2007. Behind him was Bronson Arroyo, who eclipsed 200 innings again, but fell to 9-15 with a 4.23 ERA. Nine pitchers were needed in the remaining three spots. Reliever-turned-starter Matt Belisle, who was inconsistent during his first year in the rotation, is expected to compete for a spot again, as will prospect Homer Bailey.
Look for the Reds to seek more rotation help. Many of the free agents are veterans nearing the end of their careers like Bartolo Colon, Livan Hernandez and Jon Lieber.
The lack of quality is underscored by the fact that former Reds righty Kyle Lohse is expected to cash in big time like fellow middle-of-the-road pitcher Gil Meche did with Kansas City last winter. Another interesting name is sinkerballer Carlos Silva, who has had up-and-down seasons with the Twins. As a former assistant GM with Minnesota, Krivsky had a hand in the Twins' trade for Silva.
Even with some second-half improvement, the Reds bullpen ERA of 5.13 was easily last in the National League. The only two Reds relievers seemingly assured spots for 2008 are veteran David Weathers and Rule 5 Draft pick Jared Burton.
Weathers, who notched a career-high 33 saves in the closer's role, could move to a setup role if a closer is acquired. Burton emerged as a reliable setup man for the eighth inning with a great second half.
Krivsky's attempts to improve the Reds' bullpen since his hiring in February 2006 have mostly backfired. Last winter, he signed Mike Stanton to a two-year, $5.5 million deal and didn't get the return on the investment. A July 2006 trade for veteran Rheal Cormier was a bust, and the acquisition of Gary Majewski and Bill Bray in an eight-player trade from the Nationals the same month has yet to pan out.
A stampede of rookies was tried in 2007, from Brad Salmon to Marcus McBeth and Jon Coutlangus with marginal results. Coming off a solid 2006, Todd Coffey was given a one-year, $925,000 contract for 2008 before he subsequently struggled and received multiple demotions to Triple-A.
The Reds declined Eddie Guardado's $3.5 million club option for 2008, and they are trying to negotiate his return at a lower price. Guardado joined a free-agent posse that includes a lot of veterans. The biggest names, Mariano Rivera and Francisco Cordero, are expected to bypass Cincinnati. Other name relievers out there include Todd Jones, Eric Gagne, LaTroy Hawkins, Troy Percival and an intriguing possibility in Kerry Wood, who was a starter for Baker in Chicago before shoulder injuries derailed him.
If the free-agent market isn't for the Reds, Krivsky can always go the trade route. With Brandon Phillips and Arroyo as examples, the GM has made some shrewd deals while giving up little in return. Cincinnati has more outfield and infield depth than in past years and a still-improving farm system.
Wood was one of over 40 players that made contact with Baker after he was named Reds skipper on Oct. 14. Baker has the respect of many players throughout the league, which could be important for recruiting.
"Having a guy like Dusty can only help," Krivsky said. "The players that called to congratulate him were from all over baseball, whether they played for him or not. Dusty has an outstanding reputation in the game."
Soon the Reds will get to see just how much use they can get out of Baker's mojo this winter. Let the Hot Stove season begin.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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I felt this was an important article. It correctly identified that the Reds need to upgrade both the starting pitching and the bullpen this off-season. The exclusive period that teams have to negioate with their own free agents will end on Monday, and we can expect the free agency period to begin in earnest then.
One thing that worries me is that I have not seen the Reds name linked to any important prospective free agents or any really good trades. I have been checking mlbtraderumors.com on a regular basis hoping something will happen, and there is very little out there.
The Cubs and Astros seem to be doing a whole lot to make their team better, and I get the sinking feeling the Reds are waiting until the best free agents are gone, and they will simply go dumpster diving this off-season again. I get the same feeling with respect to trades.
There are a whole lot of suggestions that the Reds trade all their best young talent for one player who will not make much difference in the culture of losing we seem to have in Cincinnati. I really hope the hiring of Dusty Baker makes a difference, and the Reds are interested in improving the team this off-season.
Wayne Krivsky is very circumspect in what he does, and I expect mlbtraderumors.com might be the last one to find out. Right now, however, it does not seem to me that the necessary groundwork for getting the best free agents and players in potential trades has been lain.