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.

Chi Chi Gonzalez to undergo Tommy John surgery

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Rangers’ right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez is slated for Tommy John surgery, according to a report by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Gonzalez was placed on the 60-day disabled list back in early April with a partial UCL tear and was working towards a throwing program before getting sidelined with more elbow pain. He’s expected to miss the entirety of the 2018 season while recovering from the surgery.

This is the second straight season that has been derailed for Gonzalez due to injury. The 25-year-old starter pitched just 10 1/3 innings in 2016 after recovering from a torn UCL, and was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock to finish out the year after compiling an 8.71 ERA, 7.8 BB/9 and 6.1 SO/9 in three starts with the club. He showed more promise in Triple-A with a 4.70 ERA, 2.9 BB/9 and 5.9 SO/9 through 24 starts and 138 innings.

It’s a tough blow for the Rangers, who have seen Gonzalez healthy in just one major league season to date. General manager Jon Daniels told reporters that a recent MRI showed signs of weakening in the ligament, which disrupted the team’s plans to have the right-hander stick to a six- to eight-week recovery timetable after getting a platelet-rich plasma injection (via Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). The surgery is expected to take place next week and will put Gonzalez’s earliest return date sometime in September 2018.

Blue Jays place Aaron Sanchez on 10-day disabled list with blister issue

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The Blue Jays placed right-hander Aaron Sanchez on the 10-day disabled list with a blister on his right middle finger, the club announced Saturday. This marks the fourth disabled list stint for Sanchez this season after blister issues cropped up again during his start against the Red Sox on Wednesday. Per MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm, there is still no estimated timetable for his return to the mound.

Sanchez, 25, has made just eight starts for the Blue Jays in 2017. Between multiple trips to the DL, he’s racked up a 4.25 ERA, 5.0 BB/9 and 6.0 SO/9 through 36 innings and currently carries a 1-3 record. He started to look stable after delivering his first quality start last week, but lasted only four innings against Boston on Wednesday night and issued six hits, five runs and two strikeouts in another losing effort.

In a corresponding move, the Blue Jays activated right-hander Joe Smith from the 10-day disabled list (right shoulder inflammation) and recalled fellow righty Chris Smith from Triple-A Buffalo. Left-handed reliever Jeff Beliveau, who suffered in an eight-run inning during Friday’s 13-3 loss to the Indians, was designated for assignment.