I’ve long argued that the transition the Reds have been seeking to make—from a great offensive club to a pitching-and-defense team—is similar to the one the club made from 1987-1990.
Well, no longer.
There is very little offense left at this point, and what offense is left is young and emerging (i.e., unproven). That comp no longer applies. At this point, the team this one most reminds me of is the c. 1989-1990 Braves, with some interesting young offensive parts, lots of talented young pitching, and no defensive prowess to speak of. The Braves had 34 and 27 defensive win shares in 1989 and 1990, respectively, which is the hallmark of a bad defensive team.
What happened to the Braves in 1991 is well-known at this point: they searched for defense, targeting Terry Pendleton at third, introducing Sid Bream at first, and inserting Mark Lemke at second on a part-time basis. The net effect was that the Braves sported the best defense in the NL (47.4 win shares) in 1991.
What’s most interesting to me is the first of those three moves: Terry Pendleton. He was a GG-defender at third with a weak stick, coming off a mid-career lull. This is the exact type of move the Reds should be making in the offseason.
Move 1: Move Encarnacion to LF, target a serious defensive upgrade at third
Moving Votto to left is the wrong move. These moves toward the right of the defensive spectrum almost never work (remember the Kearns to 3B idea that lasted for, what, two days?).
EdE already has the stick for LF (EdE OPS .808, ML LF average .795), and I believe he has the raw defensive skills to be an average defender, if not substantially better. My own assessment of his defense is that he has a strong arm, functional speed, and sufficient lateral quickness for third. But his footwork is not graceful, his arm slot is very inconsistent on throws, and he is more of a “thinker” than a “reactor” at third. Overall, a move to LF will mask his deficiencies and really highlight his strengths. He could really cover some decent ground out there and gun down a few runners. I think his offensive performance would likely improve, as well.
So who to target as a replacement at third? My top three would be Adrian Beltre, Eric Chavez, and Joe Crede, in that order.
Adrian Beltre’s offense has plateaued, yet his defense remains top notch. Seattle is in rebuilding mode, and 2009 will be Beltre’s last year of his contract at around $13M. With Dunn gone, the Reds will have the money. I think his offense would substantially improve with a move to GABP, and I don’t think the Reds will have to give up top-shelf talent to acquire him. He bats righthanded. He is the Terry Pendleton c. 1990, and the one that the Reds should target.
Chavez is a bit dicier, given his shoulder surgery and likely 10/5 rights, but he has won six gold gloves. He represents an interesting target, with a distressed contract. It will be interesting to follow how his shoulder progresses and whether that requires a move off of third. If so, the A’s will be looking to dump him, as I don’t think the A’s are moving Daric Barton or Cust defensively if Eric Chavez is forced to move off of third. [Clearly, he isn’t really interesting to the Reds if he can’t play third.] He has two years left on his 6 yr/$66M contract, plus a $12.5M option.
Joe Crede has put up some good defensive years, but his bat scares me, and he will be an expensive free agent. This free agent class looks ugly (http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2007/1...lb-free-a.html), and he would be my move of last resort at third.
Hank Blalock has fallen off the map, but if his option isn’t exercised (doubtful), he could be another target.
Move 2: Target defense, speed, and OBP in centerfield
You’re probably thinking. . . Good luck in getting all three of those in one player without breaking the bank. And I agree. There is no hope on the free agent market, in case you are wondering.
Will Coco Crisp still available? He brings defense and speed, although no consistent OBP.
If Dusty insists on batting his CFer in the leadoff spot, the Reds need some OBP from that position. The Reds could move someone like Ray Durham from second to CF.
Ultimately, the Reds must get creative with this position and will probably need to take some calculated risks.
Any other suggestions for CF?
Move 3: Move Homer Bailey to the bullpen
The Reds need to follow the Bobby Jenks/Eric Gagne model with this guy, pronto. I don’t doubt that Bailey would be a lights out bullpen arm, health caveats aside. He doesn’t have the repertoire or the head to start right now, so the Reds need to maximize the benefits he can bring to the team.
I fully expect to see organic improvement from the likes of Bruce, Votto, and EdE in 2009, and perhaps bounce-back years from Gonzalez, Freel, and Keppinger. The pitching staff has young talent with Ks up the wazoo, and a newly improved defense will help them to mature and grow. Harang and Arroyo will likely return to form.
Defensively, these moves leave the Reds average or better defensively at all positions, with the exception of catcher and perhaps SS. But a Beltre or healthy Chavez would cover for the shortcomings of the SS, like Pendleton did for Blauser in 1991.
Overall, I think these moves will accelerate the improvement of the team. And it will enable the transition to a pitching-and-defense squad.