Sunday, October 5, 2014

Post-Season Thoughts and Musings About 2014 Campaign

Well, the dust has settled on what turned out to be a tumultuous season for our beloved Reds. And the clearing of dust and a little time gone by has allowed us all to look back and reflect on what exactly went wrong, or better yet, what can be done to ensure the same results don't happen in 2015.

Here are some jumbled thoughts I have of the recent campaign:

+ There was a strong contingent of Reds fans who couldn't wait to see Dusty Baker removed from his managing duties at the end of the 2013 season. Those fans received their wish when Bob Castellini officially gave Baker the boot in favor of pitching coach Bryan Price. To no surprise, those same fans are already calling for Price's head after guiding the club to a 76-86 campaign in his first year at the helm. Would the Reds have been better off with Baker as their skipper? We will never know. But I think Price deserves a pass for what transpired in 2014. Not only was it his first year as a major league manager, but he was forced to make due without his best hitter (Joey Votto) for much of the season, as well as juggle a lineup constantly battling injuries. All told, Devin Mesoraco, Brandon Phillips, Mat Latos, and Homer Bailey, arguably four of the team's best players, also spent considerable time on the disabled list, while Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick has seasons to forget.

+ Speaking of Bruce, is anyone else worried? The native Texan is set to make $12 million in 2015 after posting a .217/.281/.373 line with just 18 home runs and 66 RBI. His .217 average, .281 on-base percentage, and 18 home runs were career lows for the 28-year-old. Of course, each is a far cry from his career norms (.251/.323/.467). Will 2014 prove to be an anomaly for Bruce? Or is it a tragic sign of things to come for Cincinnati's All-Star right fielder?

+ Like Bruce, Phillips also had a down season. Except his down season has become a troubling trend. The numbers don't lie: Phillips isn't the same player that he was in 2007 where he clubbed 30 jacks and stole 32 bases en route to posting a .331 on-base percentage. Instead, Phillips has turned into an average hitting second basemen, but he still has the knack for making incredible defensive gems. With that said, only a fool would believe Phillips is worth the $39 million left on his remaining three-year contract. Sure, the Reds could try to trade him and part ways with his salary, but it's going to be awfully tough to convince another team he is worth the price. Especially now that Phillips has obtained the power to reject any proposed trade thanks to the 10-and-5 rule. If Cincinnati could deal Phillips, though, Kris Negron might be an intriguing option to fill the void at second base.

+ After becoming the first Reds pitcher to win 20 games in a season since 1988, Johnny Cueto is no longer baseball's best-kept secret. This is both good news and bad news for the Redlegs. The good news is they have one of the best hurlers in the game on their roster. The bad news is that it is highly unlikely they will be able to retain his services once he hits free agency. So what are the Reds to do? Given recent history, I would be a little surprised if Cueto was actually traded this offseason. The front office continues to believe that this team is better than it really is and sending Cueto away doesn't seem to fit into their mold of winning and winning now. 

+ If Cueto isn't dealt, could Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, or Latos be on the trading block instead? Even the most optimistic of fans have to realize the Reds won't be able to afford the current cast of pitchers. They have simply been too good for too long and are soon-to-be demanding market price. Unfortunately, the cumulative market price for all players involved is too high for the Reds. And decisions must be made as to who stays and who goes.

+ Switching gears, the Reds have to find some offensive help in their batting order. Namely, someone who plays left field. The likes of Ludwick and Chris Heisey haven't been able to cut the mustard and there doesn't appear to be a homegrown product in the minors to fill the role either. This means general manager Walt Jocketty will have to dive into the free agent pool or acquire this help via trade. Luckily, the Reds have some chips to bargain with in the form of their free agent-to-be pitchers.

+ Needless to say, Mesoraco and Todd Frazier really came into their own this year. But I am anxious to see if both can continue their breakout performances in 2015 and beyond. We have seen too many examples of players experiencing stellar single seasons only to revert back to irrelevancy soon thereafter. Hopefully these guys don't fall into that same misfortune.

+ On that same token, what is to come for Billy Hamilton? By most accounts, he turned in a solid rookie campaign, as evidenced by his 56 swiped bags, 25 doubles, and better-than-expected defense in center field. But he also recorded an on-base percentage below .300 (.292) while getting gunned down on the base paths a major league-leading 23 times. He also struckout 117 times compared to just 34 walks. We can assume Hamilton might fare better with a year of seasoning under his belt come 2015. But just how much better is the question. Count me as skeptical if Hamilton is the long-term answer for the Reds as their leadoff hitter.

+ With the Reds out of the playoffs, I find myself only slightly interested in October baseball. However, I must admit, it is very cool to see underdogs Baltimore and Kansas City taking the postseason by storm in the American League. Both are terrific stories and each is only one win away from taking one step closer to the World Series. Who could have possibly dreamt of such a scenario unfolding back in February? On the flip side, Los Angeles might be in a chronic state of shock after what the Cardinals did to them in Game 1 of the NLDS. It seems no team has the propensity to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat quite like St. Louis does. They really have spoiled their fans in the past two decades.

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