Springtime Storylines: Will the Reds break .500 for the first time in a decade?

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Reds logo.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Redlegs


The
big question: Will the Reds break .500 for the first time in a decade?

I’m pretty optimistic about this team. Within reason, of course — they won’t seriously challenge the Cardinals and aren’t good enough to compete with the second bananas in the East or the West for the Wild Card — but I think the Reds are going to take a leap forward this year and post their first .500+ season since Bill Clinton was in office.

I think the biggest reason for this is that the Reds are going to have some respectable pitching. Aaron Harang is in a contract year and seems like a good candidate to bounce back to his former, quasi-ace status. Bronson Arroyo had an under-the-radar 15-win season last year. Homer Bailey’s return and resurgence in the second half last season — a 1.70 ERA in 58.3 innings with a 53/24 K/BB ratio in his final 9 starts — was largely ignored because it occurred on a team going nowhere, but he gave those who did pay attention a reminder of why everyone was so high on him a couple of years ago.  Johnny Cueto has great stuff, has shown flashes of brilliance and, at age 24, could certainly take a step forward.  Edinson Volquez won’t be back until August, but if the Reds are in it he could provide a late boost or, at the very least, some hope for 2011.  And of course there’s a fellow named Chapman down in Louisville who will almost certainly contribute this year.

The biggest question is the offense. It’s a group that, if everything goes right, could be more than respectable. Joey Votto is a young star, Scott Rolen is an old star, and if both of them can stay in the lineup the Reds have a couple of bats that will certainly play. Jay Bruce is a highly-touted enigma. I could see him turning in an All-Star breakout season just as easily as I could see him put up one of those ugly 30 home run, 150 strikeout, terrible OBP lines.  It’s nice to see that Walt Jocketty hasn’t given Dusty Baker some new version of Willy Taveras or Corey Patterson on whom to waste hundreds of plate appearances, but there is still uncertainty in centerfield and left. Drew Stubbs is an interesting prospect who came up and hit for some power late last year and he’ll hit better than Tavares did, but how much better is an open question.

Like I said: this is an “if everything breaks right” kind of team. Given that the majority of things rarely tend to break right in any given setting, I don’t think the Reds are going to win 90 games or anything. But I do think they’ll be a surprising bunch, primarily due to pitching, and will finish second — and above .500 — in an otherwise weak division.

So what
else is
going on?

  • The Aroldis Chapman watch, of course. As I mentioned yesterday, traditional arb-clock politics is going to cover this, as it probably should from the Reds’ perspective. Besides, if he embarrasses AAA hitters for a month or two his legend will only grow, leading to a big sell-out crowd in Great American Ballpark some day in June. OK, like I did with Strasburg, let’s call this thing: Friday, June 11th vs. the Royals. Which is who I think Strasburg will start against too, both for competitive and attendance reasons. I may invite the Royals to my son’s t-ball league too.
  • I really like a Jonny Gomes/Chris Dickerson platoon in left.  Dickerson has an OBP-heavy career .845 OPS against righties. Gomes is a career .885 OPS hitter against lefties. These are the sorts of things that get me kinda excited but which make my wife and non-baseball fan friends scratch their heads.
  • Dusty Baker is in his third season as Reds’ manager. He’s a lame duck too, and one which would probably require a lot of money to keep around. I don’t hate Dusty Baker as much as a lot of web writers do, but I don’t think he’s the best guy to be leading this team either, so part of me hopes that the Reds improve enough to give the fans hope but not so much that the team feels obligated to bring Dusty back.
  • Travis Wood is likely to take the fifth starter’s spot. Here the Reds have a couple of good options — the other being lefty Mike Leake — but Wood seems like he has the edge. Assuming both Harang and Arroyo are allowed to walk next year — a safe assumption given their salaries — both of these guys are likely to be starting for the Reds in 2011.

So
how
are they gonna do?

I think the Reds will be a pleasant surprise. The sort of team that everyone imagines the Marlins are supposed to be every year: 85 wins, maybe, and kinda dangerous to visitors who are more squarely in a pennant race than they themselves are. The sort of team that causes Lou Piniella to finally throw his hands up and say “ah, screw it, I’m retiring” and really angers Brewers fans who want to know why they can’t get a couple of decent pitchers like the Reds have.

Prediction: A somewhat distant second place in the NL Central.

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Noah Syndergaard on Mets extending Jacob deGrom: ‘Pay the man already.’

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March has marked contract extension season across Major League Baseball. Just in the last week, we have seen Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Brandon Lowe, Alex Bregman, Ryan Pressly, Mike Trout, Eloy Jiménez, Blake Snell, and Paul Goldschmidt sign extensions. Nolan Arenado, Luis Severino, and Aaron Nola also notably signed extensions during the offseason.

One name strikingly absent from that list: Mets ace Jacob deGrom. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is coming off of a season in which he posted a 1.70 ERA with 269 strikeouts and 46 walks across 217 innings. It’s the lowest ERA by a qualified starter since Zack Greinke‘s 1.66 in 2015. Prior to Greinke, no pitcher had posted an ERA of 1.70 or lower since Greg Maddux in 1994-95 (1.56, 1.63).

deGrom is earning $17 million this season and will enter his fourth and final year of arbitration eligibility going into the 2020 season. He will turn 31 years old in June, but is an obvious extension candidate for the Mets, who have built arguably their most competitive team since 2015, when the club lost the World Series in five games to the Royals. Thus far, though, the Mets and deGrom haven’t been able to get anywhere in extension talks.

deGrom’s rotation mate Noah Syndergaard is watching. Per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Syndergaard said, “I think Jake’s the best pitcher in baseball right now. I think he deserves whatever amount he’s worth. I want them to keep him happy so when it does come time for him to reach free agency, he stays on our side pitching for the Mets. I just think they should quit all the fuss and pay the man already.”

Syndergaard added that the recent extension trend around baseball — and deGrom’s lack of an extension to date — sends a message. He said, “I think so, yes, because of what you see in what’s going on in baseball right now. If there wasn’t a trend of other guys getting contract extensions, then I don’t know what the circumstance would be. But you see Chris Sale, Verlander getting extensions. I think it’s time Jacob gets one too.”

Part of the equation behind the recent rash of extensions is the stagnation of free agency. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel — two of baseball’s better pitchers — have gone through almost an entire spring training without being signed. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado didn’t find new homes until late February. Free agents in their 30’s are largely being underpaid or otherwise forgotten about. Extensions represent financial security for young and old players alike. Syndergaard himself can become a free agent after the 2021 season, so if deGrom’s prospects improve, then so too will his, at least without knowing the details of the next collective bargaining agreement which will be put into place ahead of the 2022 season.