Another winter or two away
By John Fay
Right now would be the perfect time for the Reds to ask for patience. You know, the we're-going-to-get-this-right-but-it's-going-to-take-time speech.
General manager Walt Jocketty didn't take that tack Saturday. When asked if what ails the Reds could be corrected in one offseason, Jocketty said: "I hope so. I don't think we're that far away. ... We thought we had a chance to finish strong."
A strong finish doesn't look remotely possible given the way the Reds are playing right now. Going into Saturday's game, they had lost 12 of 14.
So though it would seem like a good time to sit back and take the long view, the Reds have made it pretty clear since Bob Castellini took over that the club was going to go for the quick fix. The Reds have tried to do this while infusing young talent at the same time.
A lot of fans would like to see the Reds go all the way with the youth movement. That works as a concept, but the Reds don't have the talent in Triple-A to do that.
But Jocketty will certainly have the chance to reshape the roster this offseason. One thing Jocketty has in common with Wayne Krivsky is he doesn't tip his hand as to what he's going to do.
So far, Jocketty's been remarkably patient. The one thing we know is he didn't want Ken Griffey Jr. back at $16 million for next year, so he traded Griffey.
That's the only significant move he's made.
The offseason - and the rest of this season - won't be as quiet.
The Reds have 12 potential free agents on the roster.
Jocketty said Saturday that the club has not spoken to agents for any of those players about coming back.
The guess here is only a handful will be back. Mike Lincoln and Jerry Hairston Jr. probably. David Weathers maybe. Jeremy Affeldt possibly.
As for Adam Dunn, Jocketty remains noncommittal.
"No decision's been made," he said.
My guess is Dunn won't be back.
But that leads to the question about Dunn specifically and the free agents in general: Who do you replace them with?
"The big thing is who's available," Jocketty said. "The free agent class is not real strong. You've got to look at what you can do with trades."
One thing Jocketty won't do, he said, is trade young players.
"That kind of defeats the purpose of what we're trying to do," he said.
Here's what I see as the glaring needs of the team this offseason:
A frontline catcher: All three Reds catchers are free agents. The club has an option on David Ross. Ryan Hanigan had a very good year in Triple-A. He'll probably be the No. 2 guy next year. "Catching is extremely hard to obtain," Jocketty said.
Center field/leadoff: Hairston has been very good in that role. But he has trouble staying healthy. Ryan Freel is also under contract, so the Reds may hope that between Freel and Hairston they'll have the spot covered.
Shortstop: Alex Gonzalez is Plan A. But Jocketty admits you've got to have a Plan B, given Gonzalez's injury. "The medical reports are good," Jocketty said. "But you've got to play both ways. You can't count on him and then be stuck if he's not ready." Jeff Keppinger's a good backup plan. But if he's going to be your everyday guy, doesn't it make sense to put Brandon Phillips there?
A corner outfielder/big bat: This is assuming Dunn won't be back. Replacing Dunn's production won't be easy. Take 40 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs and 100 walks out of this lineup, and it's average, at best. As Jocketty mentioned, the free agent market is underwhelming.
There are other needs as well, of course. If the bullpen loses Weathers and Affeldt to free agency, they'll have to be replaced. The young starters - Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Daryl Thompson - have to continue to develop. The same can be said of outfielder Jay Bruce and first baseman Joey Votto.
A lot has to go right for this team to win in 2009.
Jocketty's record says he knows how to build a winner. He's watched this team on this abysmal streak. Still, he's convinced it can be fixed in one offseason. At the very least, you've got to credit him for optimism.