Monday, December 31, 2012

End of 2012 "what if" edition - Cincinnati Reds

Enjoy a big ol' mug of what if joe.
2012 was certainly a special and memorable year for Reds fans, especially those of my generation who were barely even in existence the last time the Reds won the World Series and obviously not much older in 1995. There were so many great moments, as well as some unpleasant moments that comprised the entire season. Unfortunately the season came to an untimely end due to some of those unpleasant moments, but it was still one to enjoy nonetheless.

I'm here to ask, "What if?"

There are so many things that can happen during the course of a 162+-game baseball season, but don't you ever wonder what might have been had some of those events had gone a little differently? Maybe not, but here are a few to ponder as we close the book on 2012 and look forward to 2013. Obviously we haven't invented time travel YET, so there's nothing that can be done about the past. Also, there's no way to predict if the season would have progressed any differently had certain events happened or not happened. It can still be a fun thing about which to think. *Disclaimer: They don't all have a positive outlook.

1) What if Johnny Cueto didn't get hurt in Game 1?
This has got to be the most obvious one, right? The Reds go though an entire season without suffering an injury to a starting pitcher, then something like eight pitches into Game 1 of the playoffs, the ace leaves the mound and his season is done. Sure the Reds won that game and the next one and pretty much should have won the series anyways, but what if the rotation had stayed in tact and continued on its planned schedule. Would the Reds have hoisted their first World Series trophy since 1990 or at least won a playoff series? What if?

2) What if Joey Votto didn't go down with a knee injury?
This event, while quite unfortunate, didn't adversely affect Cincinnati as much as any sane person thought that it would. Perhaps in a way, it even helped the Reds by building confidence in other players like Ryan Ludwick and Jay Bruce who stepped up in a big way during Votto's absence. This one is more of an individual "what if." Maybe he would have shown more power towards the end of the season, where it seemed to disappear after his return from the DL. Votto was putting together a tremendous season and could have been well on his way to the second MVP award of his career. What if? Then again, what if when Votto went down, the other players didn't step up like they did? Would we be talking about how much of a disappointment 2012 was? What if?

3) What if Nick Masset, Bill Bray, and Ryan Madson all started the season healthy?
"I played for the Reds?"
What a tremendous high it was when the Reds announced they had signed Madson to a one-year deal to come in and be the Reds closer, and then what an incredible low it became when he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery without even throwing a pitch for the Reds. He signed with the Angels after declining his part of a 2013 mutual option.

It wasn't just him though who was bitten by the injury bug. Masset followed Madson's lead and never pitched for the Reds in 2012, suffering with shoulder issues. It wasn't long after that when Bray also went down. He pitched 8.2 innings throughout 2012, but was mostly ineffective. He started to get back on track towards the end of July, but was shut down and actually threw is last his last pitch for the Reds on July 30th. He signed with the Nationals this offseason.

If they had all stayed healthy, how different would the Reds pitching staff had been? I don't think the Reds bullpen could have performed any better than it did. Even with all those losses they were basically still the best in all of baseball. However, could Chapman have already notched one year of Major League starting experience with there being no need for him in the bullpen? Would Jonathan Broxton never have become a member of this team? Would Twitter have exploded with numerous fans tweeting about Masset's appearances like last year? (That's probably the most likely scenario.) Seriously, what if?

4) What if the Mat Latos trade had been a complete dud?
Latos was great in 2012. It could be said that the jury is still out on this trade because one season does not a great trade make, but it's certainly appearing to enjoy an upward trend. There's no doubt that the Reds gave up a ton to get Latos. All four of the players whom the Reds traded to the Padres played in the Majors this season. They were all expendable too, though, and helped the Reds get a much needed addition to their starting rotation. Though he had a slow start which had some fans grumbling, he was nearly lights out in the second half of the season and finished 14-4, with a 3.48 ERA. He also replaced Cueto in Game 1 on short rest and proceeded to dominate the Giants as he normally does and gave all of Reds nation a glimmer of hope that the season was not over. He was not so dominant in his second outing of the postseason, but the Reds probably should have won before that game anyways.

If the Latos experiment had gone horribly wrong in 2012, would (some) fans have turned on the Reds and its front office? Might the season have become a major disappointment where the Reds missed the playoffs and on top of that depleted their farm system in the process? When things go negatively, the cupboard tends to look a bit more empty than it does when shown in a positive light. Would (some) Reds fans decide they weren't going to show up in 2013? Who knows? We like to think that all the fans stick behind the Reds no matter what, but that support is always much stronger when Ws outnumber Ls. It's human nature. Would the front office have been more hesitant to pull the trigger on another trade this offseason (Shin-Soo Choo)? What if?

5) What if the Reds were unable to extend Votto and DatDudeBP?
Could Votto have returned home to stay , eh?
This one takes some imagination, so work with me. What if the Reds front office decided they weren't rich enough to extend these players or had only extended one of them? What if the Reds repeated 2011 and weren't so good in 2012 either heading towards the trade deadline? Might they have felt the pressure to replenish the farm system which they had just dipped into in order to acquire Latos? Could Votto be wearing a Blue Jays hat to start 2013? Could Brandon Phillips have switched teams, perhaps even going to the World Champion Giants instead of Marco Scutaro? It's somewhat unnerving to think about the whole scenario. Maybe the Reds actually do have a winning season, but either fall short of postseason play or suffer the exact same outcome, but then basically have to let Votto and Phillips walk at the end of 2012 without getting much in return. In the long run, that could have been even more of a disastrous conclusion than actually trading them midseason in return for prospects. If any of this happened, would the Reds descend back to pre-2010 levels of play and send all of Reds fandom spiraling into baseball despair? What if?

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There are tons of other "what if" scenarios that could be discussed, but these are just some that came off the top of my head while my wife was watching Batman Begins. Do you have any "what if" situations that you have thought about since 2012 ended? I'm sure you do. Share in the comments or on Twitter.

All we can do now is wait and look forward to next year and wonder, "What if the Reds win the World Series in 2013?"

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