What Went Wrong: Cincinnati Reds

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The following is the second in a series profiling some of 2009’s biggest disappointments.

Last Week: Cleveland Indians

This Week: Cincinnati Reds

Record: 63-78 (5th in NL Central)

How It Happened:

With one of the most exciting young cores in the game, there were
more than a few baseball
experts who pegged the Reds as a darkhorse team in the NL Central race.
And with good reason. We’ll never know what could have been. While the
Mets have grabbed all the headlines on the injury front this season,
the Reds have been equally as snake bit, with top stars like Jay Bruce,
Joey Votto,
Scott Rolen, Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Aaron
Harang all finding their way to the disabled list.

Believe it or not, the Reds were a .500 baseball team as late as
July 7. This in spite of Bronson Arroyo putting up an ugly 5.85 ERA
over his first 17 starts and Votto (chronic depression) and Volquez
(Tommy John surgery) both hitting the disabled list by the start of
June. But they came back to the pack in a big way between July 7
and August 22, going a pathetic 10-30, and losing Bruce (wrist), Cueto
(shoulder inflammation), Ramon Hernandez (knee), and finally Harang
(appendectomy) along the way.

While the Indians decided to sell off valuable parts around the
deadline, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty resisted trading Arthur
Rhodes, Aaron Harang, Francisco Cordero or Arroyo. Instead, he acquired
the injury-prone and expensive Scott Rolen while giving up on Edwin
Encarnacion, who, by the way, missed significant time with a
broken wrist. Coincidentally, Rolen suffered a concussion in his second
game with the Reds, and went on the disabled list shortly thereafter.
On the bright side, the Reds are 12-7 since Rolen’s return and managed
a season-high seven-game winning streak until running into the buzzsaw
that is the Colorado Rockies this week. They have lost five in a row coming into Saturday’s action.

The injuries remain an easy scapegoat, but the Reds have managed a
major-league worst .242 batting average (tied with the Padres) while
scoring a major-league worst 551 runs in one of baseball’s most
hitter-friendly parks. They’ve also struggled at the gate, averaging
just 22,928 fans through 68 games at Great American Ballpark.

Silver Linings:

When the Reds lost Bruce to a broken
right wrist on July 11, the lineup was aching for a power source. Jonny
Gomes has stepped up in his absence, launching 14 home runs. The
28-year-old outfielder is batting .279/.349/.563 with 19 home runs, 48
RBI and a .912 OPS in 240 at-bats this season.

The Reds expected Ramon Hernandez to be a productive force in their
lineup, but the veteran backstop batted just .249/.330/.355 with five
homers and 36 RBI in 77 games before undergoing surgery on his left
knee in July.
While Hernandez disappointed, 29-year-old Ryan Hanigan has emerged as an option for next season, batting
.271/.364/.328 in 227 at-bats while throwing out 42% of would-be
basestealers. Look for the Reds to buy out Hernandez’s option for 2010.

Though he had the 5.85 ERA through July 7 as referenced above,
Arroyo has been nothing short of brilliant since, compiling a 2.17 ERA
over his last 12 starts. Too bad he has gone just 4-4 over that time.

Granted, his season might ultimately be dogged by odd comments
about an injury to his left wrist, but Brandon Phillips has put together a
bounce-back season by all accounts, batting .275/.330/.453 with 19
homers, 86 RBI and 24 stolen bases. He is showing a noticeable maturity
at the plate, walking at a career-best rate of 7.4% while cutting down on his strikeouts (12.2%).

Looking Ahead:

Manager Dusty Baker has another year on his
contract that will pay him approximately $4 million, so it unlikely
that Bob Castellini will buy him out. And considering the hand
Baker was dealt this season, he doesn’t deserve the hook, anyway.

There’s no question that the Reds should tender Gomes a contract for
(arbitration-eligible). One possibility may be to sign him and then
ship him off to another team. It may be a creative way to strengthen
their roster without spending a significant amount of money.

Paul Janish isn’t the answer at shortstop. Sure, his glove is great
(+8.0 UZR), but it’s not enough to make up for his weak bat
(.207/.294/.287). Could J.J. Hardy be a good fit?

2010 finally be the year that Homer Bailey turns the corner? The Reds
will need him to step up with Edinson Volquez expected to miss all or
most of the season after Tommy John surgery. Bailey has pitched better of late, going 3-0 with a
1.67 ERA over his last four starts, but his spotty control remains a
serious concern (4.50 BB/9).

Who will patrol center field? Former No. 1 pick Drew Stubbs is
getting a chance right now, batting .250/.306/.440 with with five
homers and eight RBI. But with a 31/8 K/BB ratio in 97 at-bats, his
plate discipline leaves something to be desired. Willy Taveras (who is
owed $4 million in 2010), Chris Dickerson or Chris Heisey, who batted
.314/.379/.521 with 22 homers and 77 RBI between Double-A Carolina and
Triple-A Louisville this season, are also options.

The Reds already have $65 million in contract commitments for 2010,
including $12.5 million for Harang, $12.25 million for Arroyo, $12.125
for Francisco Cordero and $11 million for Rolen, so unless Jocketty
trades one of his veteran starters, there won’t be much payroll
flexibility. They’ll have to hang their hats on continued progression from their young stars.

Angels sign outfielder Rafael Ortega to one-year contract

Rafael Ortega
AP Photo/John Bazemore
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According to the official Twitter account of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the club has agreed to terms on a one-year major league contract with outfielder Rafael Ortega.

It’s worth the MLB minimum, which should be a little north of $507,000 in 2016.

Ortega was once considered a top prospect in the Rockies’ minor league system, but he has made only six total plate appearances at the big league level since signing out of Venezuela in 2008. The 24-year-old batted .286/.367/.378 with two home runs and 17 stolen bases in 131 games this past season for the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate in Memphis.

He’ll be in the running for an Opening Day roster spot next spring in Angels camp.

Report: Ben Zobrist’s price tag is currently four years, $60 million

Ben Zobrist
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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Ben Zobrist will turn 35 years old early next summer, but that doesn’t seem to be putting too much of a dent in his free agent value.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the “sense among interested teams” is that Zobrist’s price is currently hovering around four years, $60 million and it “may go higher.”

There was a report from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal on Sunday stating that the Mets have made Zobrist their “No. 1” offseason target, and over a dozen other clubs have linked to him since the World Series ended. That’s the kind of attention you command when you can both hit — Zobrist posted an .809 OPS (120 OPS+) in 2015 — and also cover a range of positions defensively.

He makes sense for just about any club looking to contend in the coming seasons.

Wilin Rosario elects to become free agent

Wilin Rosario
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi
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Wilin Rosario was designated for assignment by the Rockies late last month. Now, according to Thomas Harding of MLB.com, the 26-year-old former National League Rookie of the Year vote-getter has elected to become a free agent.

Rosario is a bad defensive catcher and wasn’t much better when the Rockies tried him at first base, but he should draw some interest from American League teams looking for a bench bat and part-time DH.

Rosario slugged 28 home runs for the Rockies in 2012 and he’s averaged 26 home runs for every 162 games over the course of his five-year major league career.

He boasts a .319/.356/.604 career batting line against left-handed pitching.

Orioles acquire Mark Trumbo from Mariners for Steve Clevenger

Mark Trumbo
AP Photo/Joe Nicholson

As first reported by Bob Dutton of the Tacoma Tribune and now confirmed by CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Mariners have traded first baseman and corner outfielder Mark Trumbo to the Orioles in exchange for catcher and first baseman Steve Clevenger. There is also a second player headed to Baltimore in the deal.

This feels like an admission from the O’s that they’re not going to be able to re-sign Chris Davis, who is said to be looking for more than $150 million in free agency.

Clevenger was out of options and the Orioles have both Matt Wieters and Caleb Joseph coming back at the catcher position. Wieters was due to become a free agent but accepted a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from Baltimore last month.

Trumbo has always been a low-OBP guy and he rates as a poor defender everywhere he has played, but the 29-year-old has averaged 31 homers and 96 RBI for every 162 games in his six-year major league career. Camden Yards is a much better place than Safeco Field for him to show that power.