Sure, it’s still freezing outside, but let’s talk a little baseball. Why not? Thanks to BALCO and free-agency, we never really took our hands away from the hot stove this winter anyway.
Here in Reds country, the organization did something that we have not seen in quite a while. They made moves. Can you believe it? They actually signed free agents. They increased payroll (wonder of all!). They brought in starting pitching. They filled holes with veterans who weren’t part of some geriatric clearance sale (well, uh, a couple were). Who would have thought that GM Dan O’Brien had a pulse after all? He still looks like the guest speaker at an insurance seminar, but, bless him, he’s trying.
Going into the winter, the Reds had to address needs at short, third, the bullpen, and the starting rotation. Business as usual, right? Not quite. In the past, the Reds would have done nothing and blamed the fans for not providing enough revenue. This year, out of the nowhere, they changed tactics.
They signed the underrated and productive Joe Randa to play third. He’s an excellent fielder, with a little pop in his bat. Third base…check.
They traded for Ramon Ortiz, signed Eric Milton, and resigned Paul Wilson. Each is a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher and superior to anyone the Reds have had in quite a while. The final two rotation spots are up for grabs in spring training, with about five or six good young arms competing for a job. Starting pitching…not overwhelming, but…check.
We would all miss Barry Larkin, if he would only retire already. Larkin vastly overestimated the value of his remaining skills and found himself exiled from the organization. That said, his old job falls to Felipe Lopez or Rich Aurillia. Aurillia was picked off of the scrap-heap as insurance should Lopez continue to stumble in his development. The last couple of years have been awful for the once highly productive Aurillia, but the Reds got him for much less than they would have had to pay Larkin, and he is seven years younger. A return to form could pay off big for the Reds. Shortstop…addressed, sort of, with a cheap gamble…check.
The bullpen should be a grab bag in spring training, with a mix of new and old. Ben Weber, Kent Merker and David Weathers do not exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing batters; never have, and never will. They’re just filler. The rest of the arms will be made up of young talent that did not make the rotation along with Ryan Wagner and Danny Graves. This does not appear to be a particularly strong crew, but the Reds get a surprise or two every year and hope this one is no exception. Bullpen…weak, but lots of arms there…a reluctant check.
Now, if everyone could only stay healthy, who knows? Junior, Dunn, Kearns, and Casey bring a lot of firepower, but if a couple of them get life-threatening hangnails, the team could be in trouble again. The Reds might have a decent chance in the NL Central this year if all goes as planned, and we’ll have a little excitement going into spring training for a change.