Reds by the numbers
Modest proposals for maximum gains
By John Erardi
Much has been made of the Reds' chances of going near-last to first in 2009, because of Tampa Bay's success.
But it's a longshot for the Reds, because they don't have nearly the young talent of the Rays.
More likely, the Reds are at least two years away. Nobody knows it better than Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty, whose job it is to convince Bob Castellini.
The pitch? If you make good long-term decisions, the short term will take care of itself.
Tampa Bay had more room for defensive improvement than the Reds, but it's still a sound strategy. The Rays changed players everywhere but catcher, first base and left field. The Reds should change everything but catcher, first base, right and center.
The Reds' makeover should include going after Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts with a trade package of Edwin Encarnacion, minor-league infielder Chris Valaika (he's in the Reds plan for 2010; the Orioles don't have any minor-league infielders on the cusp) and any two young Reds starting pitchers who aren't named Volquez or Cueto. If the Oriloles want somebody more major-league ready, sub Chris Dickerson for Valaika and give the O's one of the pitchers.
The Reds are weakest defensively at third base and shortstop, the latter of which could be solved by moving second baseman Brandon Phillips to short and making room for Roberts at second.
If the Reds were closer to contending and farther from having their third baseman of the future up here by 2010 , we'd suggest going after Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre, who was 23 runs above average defensively last season. Even if he was only 10 runs above average defensively, he'd be a 25-run improvement on defense over Encarnacion.
But the Reds have third base options on the cusp: Valaika, Todd Frazier and Juan Francisco. Later, look out for Neftali Soto; he's only 19, but man can he hit.
If the Reds don't trade Encarnacion, they should move him to left field. Ryan Braun made the same move for the Brewers last year and went from a 23 runs below average third baseman to a nine runs above average left fielder. Even if he were only average defensively, he'd be as valuable to the Reds as Phillips. Don't believe it? Check the '08 stats.
Of course, Encarnacion still needs to improve. His power has started to develop and his plate discipline is acceptable. If he returns to making more solid contact, he could put up a good year offensively.
One good thing about Jocketty: He isn't bothered that the fans and talk-show hosts have soured on Encarnacion.
But the guy we'd be most jazzed about adding next year is All-Star level second baseman Roberts. The 31-year-old right-handed hitter has Barry Larkin-like skills (gets on base, has some power, is an efficient base stealer and solid defender). He has only one year left on his contract at $8 million, so the Reds would have to sign him long-term for the deal to work.
We like moving Phillips to short. True, Phillips likes second base; it got him a big contract. But that's not the Reds' concern; fielding a winning team is.
Even if Phillips is only average at short, and Roberts "is what he is" at second, then defensively the Reds would net 5-10 runs. But together they would gain about 40 runs, because of their offensive ability; that's a net five more victories. Phillips would be "replacing" Jeff Keppinger at short. And a Keppinger-and-Gonzalez platoon at third, would hold things down till the cavalry arrives in 2010.
Here is a possible Reds lineup for 2009: Roberts 2B, Keppinger/Gonzazlez* 3B, Votto 1B, Bruce RF, Phillips SS, Encarnacion LF, Dickerson CF, Hanigan C
We don't know what it will take to get Roberts, which is why Encarnacion and Dickerson are in this lineup. If they're dealt, put Jerry Hairston and a new guy in the outfield.
Keppinger blows away Gonzalez vs. hitting left-handed pitching. Keppinger has a .351 batting average, .403 on-base average and .515 slugging average, compared to Gonzo's .247/.298/.402. Against right-handers, they're similar, so play Gonzo for his glove. When he's in there, move batters 3-7 up a spot and bat Gonzo seventh.
Sabermetrician Joel Luckhaupt and Greg Gajus provided most of the information for this piece. Also contributing was sabermetrician Justin Inaz.