Sunday, July 31, 2011

Trade Deadline is...well...dead

Well, I'm back in the saddle, a bit wearier and perhaps even a bit saltier, but back nonetheless. I've had a couple of professional and family issues with which to deal, so finding time to do justice to this blog has been difficult, but such is life. I can't guarantee that there will be no further interruptions, but things are trending in the right direction, so it's time for some new content. My apologies to the loyal readers and thanks to those who sent inquiries. Now, without further adieu, let's get back to baseball.

In the near future, I'm planning on touching on my remaining prospect write-ups in some manner (based on the rankings of last offseason), as my obsessive compulsive side won't let those go unfinished. Besides, better late than never, right? In addition, I'm going to take a stab at saving a prospect's professional career, take the next step in rebuilding the Big Red Machine, and maybe slay a sacred cow or sling a stone at a giant. But, for now, let's just revisit the Reds' current position in relation to the 3 pressing questions I posed this past offseason.

2011 Reds

Frustrating. That's the one word I would use to describe the 2011 Reds. Unfortunately, that's as close as we can come to pinning an identity on this squad. Fans, in seemingly equal measure, are frustrated with Walt Jocketty for either (1) refusing to add talent to make a postseason push or (2) failing to sell off talent to build for the future. Obviously, Jocketty finds himself in an untenable position vis-a-vis the fan base.

Billy Beane once put forth the philosophy that a General Manager needs to divide the season into thirds. The first 2 months are to be spent evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the team. The second 2 months are when the weaknesses should be addressed through player personnel moves. And, of course, the final 2 months are for letting those changes play out.

Here, however, it seems that the first 2 months and more have done little to establish the identity of this team. As a result, it's very difficult for anyone, Jocketty included, to determine whether we should be buyers or sellers, play for the present or the future. In the end, Jocketty ended up doing nothing at all. It's difficult to defend the decision to stand pat with a team that is in desperate need of a jolt. A shakeup of some sort to crush the complacency. If the team has any hopes of making a playoff push, then it likely needed a tweak of some sort. By doing nothing, Jocketty may have ensured that he should have been a seller.

So far this season, the Reds have a very strong Run Differential of +40, which should translate into a better win/loss record than 53-55. And yet, it hasn't. The season has been characterized by inconsistency and volatility in both offense and pitching. In fact, the team has been so up and down that they an almost impossibly long stretch of games wherein they simply couldn't string together back to back wins.

In the offseason, I identified three issues that I thought would go a long way towards determining the organization's success this year. So, here's a quick look at how those issues have played out thus far.

Aroldis exploded on the scene with a lot of hype and a Steve Nebraska fastball. He immediately set the baseball world on fire with his record setting heat. His arrival put the Reds front and center in the minds of baseball fans and in the coverage of the national media. However, he remained more side-show curiosity than impactful big league pitcher. He has all the tools to be a big time success, but he worked only 13.1 innings and his role for 2011 was unclear.

Given his abilities, the Reds had a potentially dominating weapon to unleash on the league in 2011, if only they could harness him properly. So far, they have failed to do so, which is in part due to usage problems, but also because of his struggles with command.

Given the inconsistency in the rotation, having a weapon like Aroldis would have been invaluable. In the bullpen, he needs to be used in high leverage situations (i.e. situations where the value of a run is the highest) in order to maximize his impact. In 2011, Dusty has turned to Coco Cordero, Billy Bray, Logan Ondrusek, and Nick Masset more frequently in high leverage situations than Aroldis Chapman.

Granted Aroldis has struggled with his performance in 2011, but the organization has failed to turn his freakish abilities into tangible production. For a team with a very strong run differential that has consistently struggled in 1-run games, it's inconceivable that an almost unparalleled weapon isn't leaned on more heavily in these situations.

Scott Rolen was a very good acquisition for the Reds and was a big part of the team's success in 2010. He solidified the hot corner on offense and provided surprisingly strong offensive production. However, given his age and degenerative shoulder condition, it was unwise to expect a repeat performance. As a result, I suggested that a key to the season would be finding a fallback option at the hot corner, as Rolen was only likely to be good for ~120 games. So, at a bare minimum, the team needed to find ~42 games of quality play at third.

In an effort to pick up the Rolen slack, the Reds have leaned largely on Miguel Cairo, who has posted a respectable, though hardly impactful, slash line of .277/.351/.422. Cairo is a pro's pro and he's a nice utility player, but he's simply not going to be able to offer up the type of hitting that the team needs to help replicate Rolen's 2010 level of production.

The Reds needed to add a better fallback option at the hot corner. The failure to do so has hamstrung the offense in 2011.

The Greinke question was largely about Zack Greinke, but also about organizational complacency. The worst part about the offseason was the organization's decision to rest on its laurels under the pretext of "payroll restrictions." When a team takes a significant step forward, as the Reds did in 2010, it is frequently followed by a step backward. And, not surprisingly, that appears to be happening to the Reds this year.

When a team breakthrough to another level, like the postseason, it frequently happens because a lot of things go right. And, frankly, banking on all those things to go right again in the following season is a sucker's bet.

The Reds had an opportunity to reel in a legitimate Ace to bolster the pitching staff, but instead allowed him to go to a division rival. Naysayers will point to Greinke's ERA, which sits at a mediocre 4.50, while believers will point to the fact that his peripherals are ridiculously good (11.8 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9) and his ERA will regress to a mark more reflective of his true level of performance.

But, the bottom line is that Greinke, despite missing over a month of the season, has a 2.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for the Brewers, which would be the best mark on the Reds staff (Cueto 1.8, Leake 1.6, no one else over 1.0). Given the inconsistency and overall ineptitude of our rotation, adding a pitcher of Greinke's caliber would have gone a long ways towards adding stability in the team's performance. Even if the other three rotations spots are shaky, having Greinke and Cueto in the 1st and 2nd slots would have ensured that the Reds could at least have strung together a few back-to-back wins. By making starting pitching a strength, the team could have more easily addressed any offensive deficiencies. Instead, they gave that advantage to a division rival.