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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.

Padres sign Trevor Cahill

Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Trevor Cahill (53) during the seventh inning of Game 3 in baseball's National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
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The Padres have signed Trevor Cahill to a one-year, $1.75 million contract.

As recently as the middle of the 2015 season it looked like Cahill’s career would meet a premature end, but after being released by the Braves and signing with the Cubs in August of that season he has been a remarkably effective reliever. He has posted a 2.61 ERA in 61 games in Chicago and has posted a strikeout rate far above his career norms.

He’s not someone you necessarily want taking the hill when the leverage is high, but in San Diego the leverage won’t be all that high all that often.

Justin Verlander: “I’m too old to be part of a rebuilding process”

DETROIT, MI - JULY 20: Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers pitches in the eighth inning of the game against the Minnesota Twins on July 20, 2016 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
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The Tigers have sent some mixed signals this winter. The offseason began with widespread reports that GM Al Avila was going to break up the team. Indeed, it was reported that he was willing to field offers for any and all players, on up to Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera.

As the offseason has unfolded, however, a rebuild has not materialized.

Avila traded away outfielder Cameron Maybin. He signed old friends Omar Infante and Alex Avila. He made the usual sorts of minor league signings every team makes to fill out the roster. Detroit still needs a center fielder and there continue to be rumors that outfielder J.D. Martinez and second baseman Ian Kinsler could be had for the right price, but it’s been pretty quiet at 2100 Woodward Avenue.

If that changes, however, and the Tigers do start to rebuild, there’s one key member of the team who doesn’t really want a part of it. From the Detroit Free Press:

Justin Verlander is 33 years and 330 days old.

He’s not that old.

But the Detroit Tigers ace right-hander – a 12-year major league veteran – is old enough in baseball years to know that he doesn’t really want to be part of a rebuilding process.

“Would it have been upsetting for me if we started trading away everybody?” he told MLB Network Radio on Friday morning. “I’m too old to be part of a rebuilding process.”

Verlander will make $28 million a year for each of the next three seasons and has a vesting option for 2020 if he finishes in the top 5 of the 2019 Cy Young vote. He had an excellent return-to-form in 2016, but his contract is still pretty big for a pitcher with his mileage, making it seem unlikely that he would be moved absent the team eating a huge portion of his salary. The same could be said for Miguel Cabrera who, despite still being one of the best hitters in baseball, is making between $28-32 million between now and 2023. A wonderful player, but an extraordinarily difficult contract to move. Both superstars have full no-trade protection as 10-5 men as well.

At the moment the rebuild does not seem to be materializing and the Tigers — as I think they should, probably — will enter 2017 aiming for the AL Central crown, not aiming at restocking their farm system.

But what will Verlander think, however, if the Tigers find themselves out of contention come May? What will he think if Ian Kinsler — a valuable player on a tradable contract — is sold off? Or Justin Upton? Or J.D. Martinez?

It’s worth watching.