Springtime Storylines: Have the Reds built themselves a World Series contender?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Cincinnati Redlegs.

The Big Question: Do the Reds have the pieces to compete for the 2012 World Series title?

Before closer Ryan Madson underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery, the answer would have been “definitely.” Now? Well … it’s still “definitely.”

Madson looked like the steal of the offseason at one-year, $8.5 million and would have been excellent in Cincinnati’s ninth-inning role. But a reliever can only do so much. In his best season with the Phillies — 2011, when he registered a 2.37 ERA, 9.2 K/9 and 32 saves in 34 chances — he was only worth 1.7 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) according to FanGraphs.

For comparison’s sake Miguel Cairo, a light-hitting utility infielder, was worth 1.9 fWAR last year.

The Reds will survive the loss of Madson. And if Sean Marshall continues to shut down hitters like he did during his last couple seasons with the Cubs, they might even forget about the former Phillly right-hander.

Cincinnati has one of the best first basemen in the sport in Joey Votto, one of the best second basemen in Brandon Phillips and one of the best right fielders in Jay Bruce. Mixed together with developing contributors like center fielder Drew Stubbs, shortstop Zack Cozart and catcher Devin Mesoraco, the Reds undoubtedly have a winning recipe. And if their starting rotation can be somewhat steady, they should be right near the top of the National League Central standings when it comes time to award postseason bids.

What Else Is Going On?

  • The Reds posted a 20th-ranked 4.16 staff ERA in 2011. So they decided to do something about that this winter, trading first base prospect Yonder Alonso, right-handed prospect Brad Boxberger, catching prospect Yasmani Grandal and right-handed starter Edinson Volquez to San Diego for Padres ace Mat Latos. A 24-year-old right-hander, Latos registered a sparkling 3.47 ERA and 185/62 K/BB ratio in 194 1/3 innings last season and a 2.92 ERA and 189/50 K/BB ratio in 184 2/3 innings the year before.
  • Votto was signed to a 10-year, $225 million contract extension on Monday. It’s a crazy amount of money, especially for a small-market team like the Reds. And it’s safe to wonder whether a farm system that was decimated by the Latos trade will produce enough cost-controlled talent over the long term to support continued winning. But the Reds have locked up their star first baseman, and that’s something that neither the Cardinals nor Brewers — the Reds’ primary National League Central foes — can boast.
  • Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman was stretched out like a starter this spring and responded with excellent results, posting a 2.12 ERA and 18/2 K/BB ratio in 17 Cactus League innings. And yet he’s being pushed back into a setup role for the duration of the 2012 season. The 24-year-old flamethrower was signed to a five-year, $25.5 million contract in January of 2010 and was expected to grow into an ace. But the Reds have stunted that growth. And it’s awfully hard to understand why.

How Are They Gonna Do?

The Reds’ lineup is loaded with big-time run producers and the Latos upgrade should be massive. Bruce and Votto are capable of MVP-type years and Phillips seems destined to shine brightly in what is likely to be his farewell season in Cincy. This team will come within a win of the National League Central title — falling just short of the first-place Cardinals — before settling for Bud Selig’s new “second” Wild Card.

Athletics call up top prospect Franklin Barreto

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The Athletics called up their top prospect on Saturday, inserting shortstop Franklin Barreto into the lineup for their second game against the White Sox. Barreto was originally scheduled to make his major league debut on Sunday, but got a head start after Jed Lowrie sustained a minor knee sprain in Friday’s 3-0 win and was scratched from Saturday’s lineup.

Barreto, 21, has been rapidly climbing the rungs of the A’s minor league system after getting dealt by the Blue Jays in 2014. He got his first taste of Triple-A action late last year, going 6-for-17 with three RBI and getting caught stealing in two attempts. He fared little better this spring, slashing .281/.326/.428 with eight home runs and a .754 OPS through his first 309 PA in Nashville.

While his minor league production has been solid, if underwhelming for a prospect of his caliber, the A’s are expected to give the rookie infielder a long leash with both Marcus Semien and Chad Pinder sitting on the disabled list. Pinder landed on the 10-day DL after suffering a left hamstring strain on Friday. Semien, meanwhile, is still working his way back from the 60-day DL with a right wrist fracture and likely won’t rejoin the team until he completes a rehab assignment with High-A Stockton.

And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Friday’s scores and highlights:

Red Sox 9, Angels 4: David Ortiz commanded center stage at Fenway Park for the first time since 2016, becoming the 10th player in franchise history to have his number retired. The club hung his jersey number between those of Wade Boggs and Jackie Robinson and invited the slugger to toss out the ceremonial first pitch, which landed just a few feet wide of the plate:

Following the ceremony, the Red Sox capped their tribute with a decisive 9-4 win over the visiting Angels, powered by 6 1/3 innings of four-run ball from Rick Porcello and a two-RBI performance from Sandy Leon. They remain tied with the Yankees for first place in the AL East.

Nationals 6, Reds 5 (10 innings): Bryce Harper came through in the clutch on Friday, walking off on a two-out single in the 10th after Brian Goodwin tied the game with a home run in the seventh inning. It was the first lead the Nats held all night after the Reds’ offense erupted with a four-run inning to start the game, and, thankfully, the only one they needed to preserve a nine-game advantage in the NL East.

Yankees 2, Rangers 1 (10 innings): Everyone was a winner on Friday — well, except for the Rangers. The Yankees clung to first place with an airtight performance from Masahiro Tanaka, who matched Yu Darvish inning-for-inning and finished the night with just three hits, two walks and nine strikeouts. The offense did the rest, saving their first run for the ninth inning on Brett Gardner‘s one-out home run and securing the win with Ronald Torreyes‘ walk-off hit in the 10th.

If it feels like it’s been a while since the Yankees won a game via walk-off, that’s because they haven’t done it since April:

Marlins 2, Cubs 0: Giancarlo Stanton won’t get a chance to defend his Home Run Derby title for a few more weeks, but he got plenty of practice against the Cubs this weekend. He fueled the Marlins’ shutout with a 458-foot blast, putting the club on the board in the third inning and lending some support to Jose Urena‘s fifth win of the season.

Rays 15, Orioles 5: According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Orioles have allowed a cumulative 160 runs over their last 20 games. They took their sixth double-digit defeat in that span on Friday, handing the Rays a 10-run lead after Tampa Bay engineered three separate innings of 4+ runs. To say that Baltimore skipper Buck Showalter is concerned about his rotation is an understatement. Via MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli:

Got to pitch better. It is what it is. The help’s going to come from within,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We got to get back in step and create some rhythm for the offense, and even the defense gets out of step when the game’s being played so choppy and not very crisp. I really don’t like hanging it around one phase of it, but it starts if we could just string some good starts together. You can get into some type of rhythm.

Twins 5, Indians 0: The Twins entered a pivotal series this weekend as they attempt to unseat the Indians from first place, and Friday’s 5-0 shutout saw them pull within two games of the division lead. Adalberto Mejia strung five scoreless innings together, flummoxing the Indians at the plate with two hits, five walks and four strikeouts en route to his second win of the year. Not only was it the first win Mejia recorded since the Twins’ doubleheader last month, but it was the first time the southpaw managed to log more than 100 pitches in any major league start to date.

Braves 5, Brewers 4: Just call Dansby Swanson the next time you need a save. The Braves’ shortstop was instrumental in the team’s nail-biting finish on Friday evening, executing a run-saving fielder’s choice to catch Eric Thames off the third base bag in the ninth inning and helping right-hander Arodys Vizcaino secure his first save of the year with a diving stop to end the game.

Athletics 3, White Sox 0: The A’s finally brought their four-game skid to a halt, coasting to their second shutout of the season on five solid innings from right-hander Jharel Cotton. Cotton exited in the sixth inning with a blister on his pitching hand, but the bullpen kept things rolling against the White Sox with four scoreless frames. Khris Davis and Matt Joyce took care of things at the plate, muscling two home runs to give the A’s the edge they needed to lock down their 32nd win of the year.

Pirates 4, Cardinals 3: Jameson Taillon and Adam Wainwright were locked into a pitcher’s duel during the Cardinals’ home opener, holding their respective opponents to just two runs apiece over the first four innings. After Taillon’s exit in the sixth inning, the Cardinals jumped on reliever Daniel Hudson with a tie-breaking home run from Paul DeJong, but couldn’t quite close the door after the Pirates rebounded with a David Freese RBI single in the eighth inning. John Jaso smacked a game-winning home run in the ninth, securing the win and breaking the Bucs’ seven-game losing streak at Busch Stadium to boot.

Royals 5, Blue Jays 4: The Blue Jays appeared to be on the verge of a much-needed win on Friday, but some late-game struggles from the bullpen quickly unraveled eight innings of hard work. With two outs in the ninth inning, Alcides Escobar cut the Jays’ lead in half with an RBI single, followed by another from Alex Gordon and a game-winning two-run double off the bat of Whit Merrifield — the first walk-off of his major league career.

Phillies 6, Diamondbacks 1: Don’t look now, but the Phillies are… well, still in the last place. A 6-1 win is still worth celebrating, however, as they turned in an impressive four-run spread in the ninth inning to hand Mark Leiter his first win of the year. The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, now sit 2.5 games behind the division-leading Dodgers after squandering another quality start from left-hander Patrick Corbin.

Padres 1, Tigers 0: The Padres have won all but one home opener this season, and Friday’s 1-0 shutout was no exception. They continued their dominant streak with their fourth shutout of the year, backed by six innings of two-hit ball from right-hander Luis Perdomo. Despite Perdomo’s season-high five walks, not a single runner was able to advance past second base, gifting the Padres with a win after Austin Hedges doubled home the winning run in the second inning.

Mariners 13, Astros 3: Felix Hernandez may not look like the King the Mariners crowned back in 2010, but he certainly got the royal treatment upon his return from the disabled list on Friday night. The offense put up a sparkling 13 runs behind Hernandez’s six-inning, six-strikeout effort, topped by a trifecta of home runs from Mike Zunino, Ben Gamel and Kyle Seager. The double-digit finish extended the Mariners’ win streak to six games, giving Seattle hope that they’ll stick above .500 for more than a couple of days.

Dodgers 6, Rockies 1: The Dodgers steamrolled the Rockies to their eighth consecutive win on Friday, extending Alex Wood‘s record to 8-0 with 6 1/3 innings of a three-hitter. The Rockies struck early on an RBI double from Tom Murphy in the second, but found themselves unable to move a runner past first base in any subsequent inning. With the win, the Dodgers are now 14-1 in their last 15 contests, good for the best record in the majors, though they’ll need more than a couple of wins to completely shake the Rockies and Diamondbacks from contention.

Mets 11, Giants 4: The Giants took one step forward and two steps back this week, earning their 10th loss in 11 games after the Mets turned out an 11-run win on Friday. Ty Blach imploded after three innings with a career-high 11 hits and seven runs and failed to strike out a single batter. Club manager Bruce Bochy didn’t let his players off the hook, either, and told reporters that he wouldn’t excuse the team’s poor performance despite their early-morning arrival from Atlanta prior to the game. “Sure, we landed early in the morning, but it’s not the first time this has happened,” Bochy said. “You deal with it.”