Restoring the rosters: No. 30 – Cincinnati

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I’m kicking off a new series reviewing what all 30 teams would look like if they included only players originally signed by the club. The ground rules:
1. Players are assigned to the team with which they made their professional or U.S. debuts. Japanese and Cuban imports are being included. As far as I can tell, Angel Guzman is the only player considered who signed with a team but never played for them at any level. As a result, he’s listed with the Cubs, rather than the Royals.
2. Officially retired players are ineligible, but players simply out of the league are fair game. That includes players currently in Japan.
There aren’t going to be any scientific rankings here. I’m choosing players based on some combination of 2008-09 performance and 2010 projected value. Injured players are being included if, in my personal opinion, they’re good bets to bounce back. For instance, Tim Hudson will lead Oakland’s rotation, while Jeremy Bonderman gets viewed as a fifth-starter candidate and Mark Mulder won’t be showing up at all.
I’ll be ranking the assembled rosters from No. 30 to No. 1. The plan is to cover two teams per day.
So, let’s jump right in. Two teams earned consideration for the bottom spot, but it was truly an easy choice in the end. Ladies and gentleman, here are your Cincinnati Reds.
Rotation
Johnny Cueto
Homer Bailey
Dustin Moseley
Brett Tomko
Buddy Carlyle
Bullpen
Trevor Hoffman
Todd Coffey
B.J. Ryan
Josh Roenicke
Carlos Fisher
John Koronka
Zach Stewart
The sad thing is that this isn’t even a bump in the road for the Reds. Cueto’s future looks very promising, but before him, they hadn’t developed a legitimate major league starter since Tomko, who debuted in 1997, or a good one since Tom Browning, who arrived in 1984.
The fifth spot came down to Carlyle or Koronka. Koronka has a 6.25 ERA in 30 starts and one relief appearance as a major leaguer, while Carlyle is at 5.58 in 27 starts and 75 relief appearances. Before running either to the mound, I’d want to find out if Jack Armstrong or Scott Scudder feels up to making a comeback.
The bullpen is in slightly better shape with Hoffman, who spent two years as an infielder and two as a pitcher in the Reds system before being plucked by the Marlins in the expansion draft. A rebound from Ryan would go a long way. Rounding out the staff are the two young relievers the Reds surrendered for Scott Rolen last week: Roenicke and Stewart. Sadly, that left no room for Scott Williamson, who has allowed 10 earned runs in 5 2/3 innings in the minors this season.
Lineup
CF Chris Dickerson
1B Joey Votto
C Ryan Hanigan
LF Adam Dunn
RF Jay Bruce
2B Aaron Boone
3B Adam Rosales
SS Paul Janish
Bench
OF Chris Denorfia
OF Austin Kearns
C Paul Bako
INF Zach Cozart
INF-OF Todd Frazier
To go along with their two quality pitchers, the Reds also have two above average regulars in Votto and Dunn. Unfortunately, those two, Bruce and Dickerson are all left-handed hitters. For that reason, I’ve slid Hanigan into the third spot in the lineup, which seems like a better choice than batting Boone second. When the Reds face a lefty starter, Denorfia should start over Dickerson in the leadoff spot.
The infield is just brutal, aside from Votto, but there aren’t any alternatives. Even Edwin Encarnacion was originally a Ranger. Cozart gets the utility gig over fellow prospect Chris Valaika. If the Reds actually had this group, they’d likely be concentrating on Frazier as an infielder. He’s played mostly left field in the minors this year. Juan Francisco also provides some hope for the future.
The lone tough call here was whether to go with Bako or Jason LaRue as the backup catcher.
Summary
No other team truly compares. The only thing the Reds have done worse than identifying young talent is developing it. Jim Bowden, who remarkably lasted 10 1/2 seasons as the team’s GM before being fired in July 2003, deserves a lot of the blame, with much of the rest going to those who kept him in power. Particularly given how little depth there is behind this abysmal group, a major league team using this roster would be lucky to win 40 games.

Joe Blanton signs with the Nationals

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07:  Joe Blanton #55 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on June 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post reports that the Nationals have signed Joe Blanton to a one-year contract.

Surprised it took this long given that Blanton was excellent out of the pen for the Dodgers last year, posting a 2.48 ERA and 80/26 K/BB ratio over 80 innings. But even if it’s a late signing, it’s not a terrible one: Blanton will receive a $4 million salary and will have the chance to make an additional $1 million in performance bonuses. UPDATE: The salary structure is kind of odd. Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports that Blanton will get only $1 million in 2017, plus some incentives, and will have $1 million deferred to 2018 and $2 million deferred to 2019.

And he got two weeks off work. Bonus!

Baseball doesn’t need gimmicks to draw in young fans. It just needs to be baseball.

MESA, AZ - MARCH 6: Chicago Cubs ball and bat bags are seen prior to the game between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds on March 6, 2015 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. The Reds defeated the Cubs 5-2. (Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)
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MESA, AZ — I didn’t set out to ask Robin Mitchell about pace of play, rules changes, how to best execute an intentional walk or how to turn kids into baseball fans. I was interviewing her about other stuff. She brought those topics up on her own.

“I heard them saying that they were not going to throw four pitches for intentional walks anymore,” Mitchell said. “I’d prefer that they throw the pitches because anything can happen. There can be wild pitches. And that’s the exciting part of baseball. That you don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think we need to speed the game along.”

For most baseball fans such sentiments are tied up with a devotion to baseball purism, tradition or their distaste for change. But such is not the case for Mitchell. While the lifelong Chicago resident went to Cubs games as a child, baseball has not been a lifelong obsession. Rather, it’s something she has become reacquainted with via her two baseball-obsessed boys, Jake, 11, and Bennett, 9.

Mitchell and her boys live on the north side of Chicago and, over the past two years, her sons have developed a huge affinity for the Cubs, almost by osmosis. It was certainly a good time for it, as the Cubs have become winners, and Mitchell allows that since Jake and Bennett didn’t “have to suffer through some of the more challenging times,” their attraction to the game became easier. It’s clear to her, however, that they are not going to be fair weather fans.

“They love baseball,” she said, implying that it’s not just homerism for the current World Series champions at work. They love the sport itself and began to play it too. It’s not easy for Mitchell to say whether their playing led to their fandom or vice-versa. It all sort of happened at once, with each reinforcing the other.

I asked her what about baseball, specifically, appeals to them. What, at a time when Rob Manfred and everyone connected to the game is worried about the sport’s seeming inability to attract and hold on to young fans, keeps Mitchell’s sons engaged.

For them, it seems to be all about accessibility and engagement. Being in Chicago and living close to a park is important, as is having all of the games available on TV. Also important to them: appealing young stars.

“It helps that the Cubs have some really nice players who seem like really nice guys,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes we see them in the neighborhood even. Ben Zobrist. Anthony Rizzo. David Ross. Whenever we’ve seen them out or at an event they’re always kind and polite and give the boys encouraging words.”

But isn’t baseball . . . boring? And slow? Don’t kids like video games and kinetic action? Doesn’t a 19th century pastime with a sometimes turgid pace turn off 21st century kids?

“No, are you kidding?!” Mitchell said. “We don’t leave the game before it’s over. That’s what we do. It doesn’t matter what the score is. We love the pace of baseball. In the world of electronics, with everything moving really fast and being gimmicky, there’s something I think that my boys and I find appealing about baseball. I can share it with them and we all just slow down.”

As we talked, Jake and Bennett ran around a field just outside the Cubs clubhouse, playing catch and practicing rundowns with a couple of other boys they just met. Mitchell and I spoke for nearly a half hour. They played the whole time and looked like they wouldn’t stop unless or until their mother dragged them away.

We have spent a lot of time lately talking about how to fix baseball. I don’t know that anyone has made a compelling case that, despite the challenges the game faces, it is actually broken. Robin Mitchell doesn’t think it is. Neither do Jake and Bennett. While Rob Manfred and Joe Torre propose increasingly unorthodox methods for speeding things up, some pretty basic and longstanding factors are continuing to attract young fans:

  • The availability of games almost every day;
  • An exciting and successful local team;
  • The charisma of baseball’s biggest stars;
  • The ability for kids to play the game themselves and to emulate those stars on a little league field; and
  • The chance for parents to share their love of baseball with their children.

These are the factors which have always made up baseball’s appeal. Perhaps Major League Baseball should concentrate on ensuring that those factors, which are proven to draw in fans, persist and flourish. Perhaps they should concentrate less on chasing hypothetical fans via gimmicks aimed at fixing problems which are far-from-established.