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2013 Preview: Cincinnati Reds

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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 2013 season. Up next: The Cincinnati Reds.

The Big Question: Is this the Reds’ year?

It certainly has that feel. The Reds tallied 97 wins in 2012 and made a massive roster upgrade this winter, acquiring outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians as part of a three-team, nine-player trade that also involved the Diamondbacks. Shoo boasts a shiny .289/.381/.465 career batting line and will finally bring some stability to Cincinnati’s leadoff spot. Reds leadoff men hit .208/.254/.327 last season.

First baseman Joey Votto has led the National League in on-base percentage for three straight years, Brandon Phillips is probably the best defensive second baseman in the bigs and has averaged 21 homers per season since 2006. Ryan Ludwick, who was re-signed to a two-year, $15 million free agent contract in December, posted an .877 OPS, 26 home runs and 80 RBI in 125 games last summer. Right fielder Jay Bruce carries MVP upside, Todd Frazier brings the thunder at third base and Zack Cozart has flashed good power potential while playing a fine shortstop. Then there’s catcher Ryan Hanigan, who owns a .370 career OBP and draws rave reviews from those in the know for the way he handles the Cincinnati pitching staff.

The Reds also have decent depth in young backup catcher Devin Mesoraco and outfielder Chris Heisey. Utility infielder Jason Donald came over in the Choo trade and Jack Hannahan was signed as a free agent.

This is a team with ample big bats and a home stadium that caters well to raw power. Boom, suckas.

What Else Is Going On?

  • The outfield defense is iffy. Choo has started only 10 games in center field in his eight-year major league career, but that’s where he’ll play the majority of the time in 2013. Ludwick has good instincts, but he turns 35 years old in July and isn’t suddenly going to gain more defensive range. Bruce possesses a big arm but can’t be considered speedy. The group should do fine at Great American Ball Park — where the dimensions are tight — but there might be some unintentional comedy this year on the road.
  • The Reds’ top-five starters only missed one total outing in 2012 — and it was the nightcap of a mid-August doubleheader. That crew carries good health into 2013 and should again be one of the better rotations in the National League. Johnny Cueto finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting last year after posting a 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 170/49 K/BB ratio across 217 innings. Mat Latos was also excellent, posting a 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 185/64 K/BB ratio in 209 1/3 frames. Bronson Arroyo continued his inning-eating ways, Homer Bailey took a leap forward and Mike Leake was solid in bringing up the rear.
  • Aroldis Chapman was expected to finally make the transition from reliever to starter this spring, but the Reds cut the chord on that plan earlier this month. The flame-throwing lefty expressed a desire to remain in the bullpen and it’s what manager Dusty Baker wanted. Chapman’s value can be better maximized when he’s throwing more innings, but feeling comfortable is important too and he should again excel in the ninth-inning role. Setting him up this year will be Jonathan Broxton, who was signed to a three-year, $21 million contract this winter, and Sean Marshall, one of the steadiest middle relievers in the game.
  • Start stocking up on popcorn for the Billy Hamilton show. The 22-year-old speedster is converting from shortstop to center field and is scheduled to make his MLB debut at some point in 2013. He stole a record 155 bases in 132 games last season between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola while managing to hit .311/.410/.420. Baseball America ranks him the 11th-best prospect in the sport.

Prediction: First place in the National League Central, surpassing 100 victories.

Dusty Baker calls the Nationals “a baby making team.” Whatever that means.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 31: Manager Dusty Baker #12 of the Washington Nationals looks on before the start of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on August 31, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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When the Nationals fired Matt Williams a year ago, it might’ve been a safe assumption that they were going to go with that new breed of young, handsome recently-retired player-turned-manager who, despite a lack of experience, allegedly knows how to deal with modern players better and knows how to handle a clubhouse. Those assumptions have proved largely off with these guys — Williams was a disaster, Matheny wins despite himself and Ausmus looks like he’s perpetually on the verge of a breakdown — but that’s the all the rage these days anyway.

Instead, the Nats hired Dusty Baker. Though Baker had tremendous success as a manager everywhere he went, he was maligned by some for some pitcher handling stuff in Chicago (which said pitchers have long denied was an issue, but let’s let that lie). He was also, more generally, thought of as a “retread.” Which is what people who prefer younger folks for jobs tend to call older people, even if the older people know what they’re doing.

And yes, I will cop to thinking about managers that way a lot over the years, so I’m not absolving myself at all here, even if I was pretty OK with the Dusty Baker hiring. I’ve evolved on this point. In no small part because of how Dusty Baker has done in Washington. Flash forward a year, the Nats are division champions and Baker may be a top candidate for Manager of the Year. That, in and of itself, should show you how wrong the haters were.

But if it doesn’t, this sure should:

I have no earthly idea what that means and Castillo gives no further context. All I know is that it sounds cool as hell and of any current manager, only Dusty Baker could say that and pull it off.

Because he’s Dusty Baker and has nothing to prove to you. And if you don’t like it, shoot, he’ll just go back home to his winery or whatever and live out the rest of his days being cooler than you.

Who should win the manager of the year awards? Who Will?

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 15:  Manager Dave Roberts #30 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on from the dougout during the seventh inning of a MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 15, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
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With the regular season ending on Sunday and most of the playoff spots locked up, there’s really only one big thing left to argue about: postseason awards. So let’s spend some time looking at who should win each of the four major awards and who will win them. Which are often totally different things. Next up: The Manager of the Year Awards

The Manager of the Year Award is pretty dumb. Numbers aren’t everything in any award, but there are literally zero numbers that gauge a manager’s effectiveness or performance apart from wins and losses and wins and losses are mostly a function of talent on the roster, for which the manager is not responsible. This is not to say managers aren’t important. Of course they are! They make important decisions every day and keep the clubhouse running smoothly and that’s important. It just so happens to be unquantifiable and subject to anecdote and projection.

For instance, Matt Williams won the Manager of the Year Award with he Nationals in 2014. He was run out of town on a rail in 2015. Did he suddenly forget how to manage? Or did he never really know but was blessed with good fortune and better players the year before?

Joe Maddon won the award last year, in large part because the Cubs outperformed expectations. This year the Cubs are the best team around. But everyone expected them to be because of all that talent! Does that mean that Maddon’s 2015 award was fraudulent? The product of poor expectations assessment on behalf of the media? At the same time, there’s a pretty strong vibe that he won’t win it this year, so are we to say that winning between 101 and 104 games is . . . a worse job than last year? Don’t even get me started on arguments that Bruce Bochy somehow became a lesser manager this year, because I suspect — and bear with me on this — something else is going on with the Giants.

Manager of the Year has always been about narratives and expectations of people on the outside looking in who nonetheless purport to know how the manager performed his job in the most inside baseball kinds of ways. It’s poppycock. It may as well be the Golden Globes.

So, rather than just break it down the way we did the other awards, let’s just thrown this out like the big mess that it is:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Bill and Ashley say that Terry Francona should be the American League Manager of the Year. Bill’s reasoning: “The Indians went essentially the whole year without Michael Brantley and their pitching staff imploded in September. Francona deserves a lot of credit for holding the team together.”

Hey, works for me too! Let’s give it to Tito. Even if we can tell a compelling story about John Farrell and the Red Sox and even if Jeff Banister, the reigning AL Manager of the Year, improved by anywhere from 6-9 games in the standings this year over last in a division most people thought the Astros would win.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Bill says Dusty Baker, arguing that “The Nationals had all kinds of bullpen issues and Stephen Strasburg wasn’t able to pitch the final two months of the season. They could’ve easily folded but they didn’t, and I think that’s a reflection on Baker.”

Ashley says Dave Roberts. She didn’t give me her reasoning, but I bet she’d agree with me if I said “The Nationals Dodgers had all kinds of bullpen rotation issues and Stephen Strasburg Clayton Kershaw wasn’t able to pitch for two months of the season. They could’ve easily folded but they didn’t, and I think that’s a reflection on Baker Roberts.” You could throw in some stuff about how Yasiel Puig was managed by Roberts (i.e. better, though his come-to-Jesus demotion may have been the front office’s doing). I think I’ll go with Roberts, simply because I feel like it’d be bad precedent to give it to a Nationals manager every even numbered year simply because that dang franchise is inconsistent.

What about the Cubs? Here’s Bill again:

I considered Joe Maddon of the Cubs, but the team was so good I think the Cubs could’ve had a kitten manage the team to a playoff berth.

I say we give it to a kitten. Kittens are the best.