For the first time in many years, the Reds actually look like they have an idea of what they're doing. The 25 and 40 man rosters support this, as there aren't as many questionable talents taking up spots (though both Castro and Stanton still have spots). Too, Wayne Krivsky has done a fairly adequate job of both adding talent and not screwing up the farm system ladder of talent due to begin this season.
In short, things look okay.
However, there are some serious problems with the 25-man roster as it is constructed. Many at Redszone have pointed out these problems, chief among them:
1. Lack of RH pop off the bench
2. Lack of good RH platoon partner at 1B
3. C issues offensively in particular
4. Defense up the middle, CF in particular
5. Middle reliever inadequacy
6. Lack of solid #2/ 3 starter
7. Lack of solid leadoff hitter
As Spring Training nears, there are several veterans out of a job. Most of these are older guys with proven track records and declining numbers mainly due to age, and, in some cases, opportunity.
At this point, economically speaking, Cincinnati has a chance to sign a few free agents who can really help the team and provide an asset to the bottom line. In today's baseball world, these are the guys, if done properly, that can determine playoffs from third place. These are the guys that opposing fans look at, smack their heads, and think, "Why didn't we sign that guy?"
St. Louis has trolled at the bottom for years, with varying degrees of success, as have other large and medium market teams. (In fact, the Yankees perfected the veteran bench from the early 1930's through the late 50's.) Boston has done a particularly effective job the last three or four years.
Small market teams, OTOH, trolled at the bottom for starters and key personell, meaning these old guys had to do too much, thereby increasing their negative value. (Think Pittsburgh, from the late 90's until two years ago.) While small market teams may find a few diamonds in grey (just in Cincinnati over the past decade or so, Kevin Mitchell, Eric Davis v. 2.0, Scott Hatteberg, and David Weathers), too often these greybeards were exposed as older, slower, poorer versions of what they used to be.
This season, Cincinnati has a chance to use veterans as they should. As the medium and larger markets use them. Maybe for the first time, the Reds have a chance to not only improve their own bench to adequacy, but also to make said bench (and bullpen) a positive.
This will take money and the ability to sift through the flotsam and jetsom for unused talent and specific ways of using that talent. Because we here at Redszone have nothing better to do than sit around the computer and think baseball (what is better, after all?), this is what I'd do. Feel free to discuss these choices and argue afterward:
Free Agent Signing: Mike Piazza C/ 1B/ DH
Helps: RH bench pop, 1B platoon, C offense, batting order construction
Likely cost: 1-year, $1.5 million, DFA Juan Castro
Pluses: Sure, most of Redszone have been clamoring for Morgan Ensberg or Kevin Mench. Both would be fine choices. But, for me, I think Piazza is a better bet offensively and a better fit for the Reds. The man can still hit and has pole to pole power. He's been in some of the most extreme pitcher parks in baseball over his career, too (Chavez Ravine, Joe Robbie, Shea, Petco, and Oakland Coliseum), and a year in a homer haven like the GAB might mean a hundred points of slugging over the course of a year. Too, Piazza offers some ability to catch. This means Cincinnati need not carry a third catcher on the roster or stash a third catcher in Louisville. Piazza also solidifies the bench as a 1B, meaning Keppinger plays only 2B, SS, and the hot corner. Dusty can use him in the batting order anywhere from clean-up through 8th and the guy can provide something positive.
Negatives: Mike Piazza is 39 years old. To ask him to catch too much at that age is asking for trouble. (As a third catcher, my guess is that he's going to catch 10-25 times over the course of the year.) Too, his bat has unquestionably slowed. It may have slowed too much. Piazza also has almost no ability to defend at either position. He's a statue with no arm.
Free Agent Signing: Kenny Lofton CF
Helps: Leadoff hitter problems, batting order construction
Likely cost: 1-year, $1.025 million, trade of Norris Hopper or Ryan Freel
Pluses: Lofton was one of those veterans who proved he could still play last season and was one of the feel good stories of the playoffs. He's still a quality leadoff hitter, with some speed (23 SB) and pop (an 800 OPS). He's willing to take a walk and doesn't strike out as much as, say, Ryan Freel. In fact, Lofton is what Freel should be.
Negatives: Can Lofton recreate the numbers from last season or was that his last gasp? Lofton's once-great defense (four Gold Gloves) is notsogreat anymore. His arm is still useless. (Both Piazza and Lofton are among the worst at their respective positions in terms of arm strength, in fact.) This move, too, could block Jay Bruce, as Dusty would absolutely freaking love him some Kenny Lofton.
Free Agent Signing: Shawn Chacon
Helps: Quality middle relief innings, offensive bench
Likely cost: 1-year, $3 million
Pluses: Chacon had a career year with the Yankees, then regressed to mean as a #5 starter on a poor team. Last season, Pittsburgh used him as a part-time set-up man (bad idea), part-time starter (bad idea), and middle reliever. Finally, Chacon found a niche. He can log up to 90 pitches effectively and can spot start as well. More importantly, Chacon is an arm that pitches well against most of the NL Central and is effective in all NL Central parks except Busch. He's 30 and hasn't generated much interest this offseason. He should take the place of a long reliever (Stanton? Majewski?) and provide more help. Too, the Cincinnati bullpen, at this point, looks to be long on lefties and short on right handed help. That Chacon pitches much better against righties (OPS of less than 700) could make him the long reliever this pen needs. He would become the fifth member of the pen, behind Cordero, Weathers, Bray, and Burton. Add Coffey or the Rule V pick and suddenly the pen looks just above average.
Negatives: Chacon's track record isn't exactly long on success. Too, he may want to try starting again with a lesser team in the hopes of repeating his 2005 success. (Tampa Bay, anyone? Baltimore?) His ground ball ratio career is less than inspiring, but he did find more sink last season. Is that an aberrration?