Sports Outside the Beltway

Cincinnati Reds 2007 Preview (Spring Training Edition)

General Manager Wayne Krivsky has gone about remaking the Reds more into the image of the Twins organization he left to take the Cincinnati job: more pitching and defense. There have been two major moves in that direction, one very unpopular, one that left the fan base ambivalent.

The first move was the big trade of 2006, sending OF Austin Kearns and IF Felipe Lopez to Washington in return for relief pitchers Bill Bray and Gary Majewski. The trade was lightly praised by the traditional press, reviled by the team’s bloggers (including myself, although with reservations) and ineffective in its initial aims of bringing a playoff birth in 2006. It seems, however, to be only the start of a trend.

The second move was the offseason signing of shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez is not adept at getting on base, but has some power, and a strong defensive rep that is supported by the numbers. It is Gonzalez that is really at the heart of the attempt to keep down the Reds’ Runs Allowed column, as few others moves of consequence were made during the offseason. The team that opens 2007 Spring Training in Sarasota, FL is mostly the same team that ended the season in Cincinnati.

The Reds posted an 80-82 record in 2006, not terribly impressive but the best the Queen City had seen in years. Hopes run high for a resurgence of the southwestern Ohio band. Many of those hopes are pinned on the best Reds pitching prospect since Mario Soto, or perhaps Don Gullett–maybe even Jim Maloney. Homer Bailey is on the horizon, and the hearts of Reds fans beat faster just to hear his name. The loose-limbed, lanky Bailey throws a high-velocity fastball and a sharp curve, and grown men salivate at the thought of him on a mound. Bailey is one of the truly elite pitching prospects in baseball. Many fans were beating at the gate last year, calling for Bailey to be promoted in an attempt to save the big team. Management resisted the temptation, in favor of more seasoning.

Bailey figures to open the season in Triple-A, and move up to the big club during the summer. He may be needed to bolster the team, which has a shaky staff. Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo emerged as top pitchers last year, but their ability to repeat is in doubt. Eric Milton and Kyle Lohse hold down the 3-4 spots, based mainly on memories of 14-win seasons some time past. Kirk Saarloos leads the list of candidates for the #5 rotation slot many would like to see handed to Bailey.

The offense has been sliced for 2007, although strikeout-prone slugger Adam Dunn returns. Dunn popped 40 HR but batted just .234 in 2006. He’ll have to step that up. A healthy season from Ken Griffey Jr. would be helpful as well. Youngsters Edwin Encarancion and Brandon Phillips emerged last year, and continued development is needed to form a contending team. So is a continuation of good performance from veteran Scott Hatteberg, plus speedster Ryan Freel.

Jeff Conine may get playing time, but at 40 that may not be a good idea. Chris Denorfia waits for a spot to open. Prodigal baseball player Josh Hamilton is in camp, hoping to impress and stay on the roster after being picked up in the Rule 5 draft.

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