One of the biggest, if not the biggest, concern for me in 2012 and beyond is the defense. Since the Mets series, and possibly just before, this team has been so horrific on defense in comparison with their better selves.
It cannot be overlooked that 2010 happened in very large part because of the defense. Scott Rolen is a once in a generation type defender at third and he as much as anyone stabilized the young rotation. It is plain as day this year watching Cairo and Frazier flub plays that Rolen, at 36 and wounded, delivers with stunning command. It is a huge deal if he cannot contribute in 2012. 2013+ is far enough away right now, yet, there ought to be plans to upgrade what we currently can project at 3b. Frazier, Francisco, ALONSO for petes sake, are all nice bats, but create a whole new climate defensively, which as we know is 1/2 the game. I'm pinning for Zimmerman right now.
Knowing what was said and reported out of Louisville and by the prospect mavens about Yonder's LF progress makes you wonder if Yonder is just having a panicky start and he'll settle, or if their respective agendas or visions colored the reports inaccurately. I'm jaded at this point, and I think batsfan was honest when he said Yonder is just not fit for LF.
There is also cause for concern, IMO, with regards to Frazier, who's rap is that he doesn't have a position. SS and 2b are definitely out of the question for him. LF and 3b are serious questions given that neither has stuck. In a defense first organization, this is not an ideal situation to rely on.
Francisco's defense is just not something I want to endure. I've heard enough about his range and accuracy to scare me away.
As for Sappelt, I've heard his arm is not very strong, we shall see, but is it really time to be thinking of moving Stubbs because we've got a guy that can hit for a little higher average? Again, this is another prospect that weakens our current defense.
As for the veteran players on this team, I think I expected a lot more from Votto, Janish and Bruce. Phillips has been amazingly good and no one in the organization will come close to his defense in the next 2 to possibly 4 years.
Overall, I think if you start taking out these defensive stars from the lineups of the future, just for the sake of offense, or just for the sake of fitting all these minor league prospects into the team to see how they finally play out, we will almost certainly begin remembering how painful it is to watch a season slip away with "uninspired play", "poor fundementals", "lack of focus" and all those other awful descriptors that really just describe "crappy defensive players".
EE, Dunn, and Griffey were all shipped out for good reason, defense being chief among them. I believe Dusty knows what he's talking about when he states the value of good defense. I also believe this pitching staff could further turn in to a pumpkin when a season of comical infield defense breaks their spirit by June.
Really, the key dilemma in 2012+ is what happens in a world without Gold Glovers Rolen and Phillips? Literally none of the current group of prospects can assuage this fear. I'm sorry, but the trend in baseball is not "out-slug the opponent". It's foolish to think any alignment without those 2 vets can out-slug the defensive drop-off that is created by their absence.
Defense is also a large factor in the psychology of the game. Bad defense is bad vibes no matter when it occurs. Perhaps its because its one area of the game where success is in the high 90's percentage wise. You should make all the plays you can touch. Likewise, a commanding defense has that much more of a smothering effect on the opponent.
So, a world without Rolen and/or Phillips is a scarey place. Heck, right now a world without Gomes in LF is scarey, but we'll see how long Sappelt can hold onto his spot and if his arm is truly a serious detriment. Frazier, Francisco and Alonso are not defensive players, and they are not likely to offset anything significant with their bats, otherwise I'd have to believe some of Gomes and Cairo and Lewis even would not have been on the 2011 team, as these prospects were "ready" offensively. In general, I think Reds fans need to start thinking realistically about constructing a complete team again. We may be able to keep pace with the FO or at least understand them a bit better.
Edit: I forgot about Mesoraco - his defensive development is paramount to his success - remember, it's half the game. Get him up here so we can have a look, sure, but I won't be surprised if his delay in arriving is tied to him having a fully rounded game.