Cincinnati and Jocketty Continue to Pass the Blame While Failing Their Rebuild

"Yes, I'll take whatever you're offering. I'm on my way out anyway." Courtesy: Redleg Nation
“Yes, I’ll take whatever you’re offering. I’m on my way out anyway.”
Courtesy: Redleg Nation

I spent time in December defending Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, and it is time to do it again. During the Reds recent caravan, the club’s manager, Bryan Price, dropped this zinger:

“It looks like Brandon is with us. Brandon, for me, is a second baseman of tremendous value and talent, it’s hard to just assign someone else that job. If Brandon’s with us, I expect him to be playing second base.”

Oh? It does appear that the player who the club offered an extension to, giving him 10-and-five rights, is still “stuck” with the club – or is it that the club is “stuck” with him? This, apparently, came after both Walt Jocketty and Price had praised the club’s new, future second baseman, Jose Peraza, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the three-team deal that sent fan favorite Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox.

Phillips didn't turn his back on the Reds - it's the other way around Courtesy:datdudebp.com
Phillips didn’t turn his back on the Reds – it’s the other way around
Courtesy:datdudebp.com

Oh? So, the team that has spent the whole offseason trading away their talent for lesser talent is now going to try to make the upcoming 90-plus loss season the fault of a 35-year-old who refused to move away. At one time, that was called loyalty. It was waiting out the horrendous contract that Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin was given to finish his career in Cincinnati, but, now…Phillips is the problem. He’s blocking the super prospect now.

The problem with this thinking, however, is that the Reds acquired a “ready” talent without knowing that they were going to be able to deal the veteran. This is the equivalent of the club dealing for young talent and acquiring the top first base prospect in baseball. Without the designated hitter, the kid would be riding the pine in favor of Joey Votto. So, why are the Reds pinning this stall in the rebuild on a player?

This fiasco is the fault of Walt Jocketty and Walt Jocketty only. Major League Baseball is not the NFL – you don’t need multiple, elite play-makers at a single position. You need to have a steady flow of talent within your minor league system, and you deal a player like Yasmani Grandal when you have a Devin Mesoraco ahead of him for the long-term. That made sense four years ago when the club was dealing young talent for proven talent and acquiring Mat Latos from the Padres. Now, Jocketty has a very unimpressive farm system that has a dearth of offensive producers, even after dealing Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, and Frazier since last July. Jesse Winker is the great hope for the future, and he profiles as a corner outfielder who is going to hit about 15 home runs, and if you think Peraza is the answer…you have that scum Phillips blocking him at second.

The problem continues to be the Baseball Operations side of things in Cincinnati. The organization continues to try to pass the blame elsewhere, but it starts and finishes there. For a positive change in Cincinnati, it is Jocketty who needs to go. Quit with the small-market nonsense. Get someone in there with a plan that can work.

 

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Brandon Phillips: Staying Put…For Now

Well, Cincinnati did trade Todd Frazier, but they can’t seem to get anything done involving Aroldis Chapman and, now, Brandon Phillips.

So, at least for the time being, Cincinnati is “stuck” with their second baseman. While it doesn’t necessarily help the Reds to keep him, this isn’t time to tweet out stupidity, like:

That comes from the NATIONAL site of SBNation. Then, you have the everyday Joe dropping gems like:

and

or

Oh…the agony!

It is just as easy for people to say positive things, like:

Now, there may be someone worth going to see at Great American Ballpark.

It seems like people will only remember Brandon Phillips in Cincinnati for his tirade on C. Trent Rosecrans. I wasn’t a fan of that outburst, myself, but Phillips is more than the guy who made a mistake, and he shouldn’t be considered the guy who had a bad moment when you consider how much he does for the Cincinnati community. And, for that, you, or those of you, who want to rip him apart for not picking up his life and leaving, should reconsider.

Don't be an ass. Phillips has rights.
Don’t be an ass. Phillips has rights.

If Phillips didn’t want to be in Cincinnati, he didn’t need to sign a deal that kept him in Cincinnati through 2017. However, he wanted to be here and Cincinnati wanted him for the duration of the deal, otherwise, it is the Cincinnati ownership that you should be blaming. If they weren’t planning on building a contender, then they are the ones who should be considered selfish and don’t care about building a winner for the fans. It actually has very little to do with Brandon Phillips and his choices. If the Reds were fielding a great product from year-to-year, a player using a clause in his contract, as Phillips did with his no-trade option through his 10 and 5 rights, wouldn’t become such a monetary disaster for the franchise.

This is only compounded by the hellacious length and commitment owed to Joey Votto, who can veto any trade by Opening Day of 2018 with his own 10 and 5 rights.

Brandon Phillips turns 35 in June. He has been with the Reds since April 7, 2006, just before he turned 25. He has grown up and matured in Cincinnati. His game matured in Cincinnati. He had his success in Cincinnati. If he wants to end his career in Cincinnati, let him. He chose to be in Cincinnati just as much as the Reds wanted him here. If he was one of those players trying to leave for more money, he would be hated for that.

For once, a player commits to his love of his city over the money. We hate on him for it. If it was for the money over the city, we would have hated on him for that. Brandon Phillips isn’t selfish. Brandon Phillips is human. He has made his home in Cincinnati and he has the right to stay – thanks to the Players Association and not just his brain.

Cincinnati Reds: An Interesting Winter Ahead

Is Chapman going to be on the move?
Is Chapman going to be on the move?

The Cincinnati Reds have spent some time this offseason shaking things up, promoting Walt Jocketty to President of Baseball Operations, while moving Dick Williams to General Manager and Senior Vice President. After a horrific 64-98, last place finish, it is fair to wonder if Dick Williams was promoted to be the “fall guy” for the firesale that appears to be on its way over the next several months. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported on Tuesday that the Reds appear ready to deal LHP Aroldis Chapman, 2B Brandon Phillips, OF Jay Bruce, and 3B Todd Frazier, or, at least, are ready to listen on offers. When considering Cincinnati owner Bob Castellini’s long-time friendship with Jocketty, perhaps the legacy that this revamping would leave on Jocketty’s name and resume was the motive for the sudden change in guard at the top of the personnel side of the club. Still, it remains a confusing time to be a Cincinnati fan.

At the midpoint of the 2015 season and up through the All-Star break, Cincinnati was very quiet, dealing OF Marlon Byrd and eventual free agents, RHP Johnny Cueto and RHP Mike Leake, for controllable, young talent in deals with Kansas City and San Francisco. When I was reviewing the Cueto deal on July 26th, I stated:

Cincinnati fans need to understand that this is just the beginning of several changes. If Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman, Brandon Phillips, and Marlon Byrd are still with the team on August 1st, Walt Jocketty is doing it wrong. This team hasn’t won a World Series since 1990, and those players aren’t going to bring another to Cincinnati. Scrap it and start over.

Well, the good news is that Byrd was dealt. The bad news is, the remaining players are still on the roster. Jocketty did it wrong. He would have been able to “cash-in” on the additional time that club’s would have had with Chapman and Bruce, in particular. The All-Star Game in Cincinnati was over and it was clear that the team was heading in the wrong direction. If there is someone in the organization who thinks that losing Cueto and Leake to free agency, getting Devin Mesoraco back and getting 150 innings out of Homer Bailey, who will be returning from Tommy John surgery, was going to make the Reds contenders in 2016, they need to be put in a rubber room and removed from their roles…immediately.

Dick Williams seems like a great guy. I met him at the Reds Caravan the last two winters, and he has been with the club since 2006. Maybe he has what it takes to pull the club out of the cellar, but it is going to be a very lengthy process. The prospects that they could receive from dealing Chapman, Bruce, and/or Frazier would certainly help the rebuilding process, but the Reds won’t improve overnight.

Votto will carry a putrid supporting cast...again.
Votto will carry a putrid supporting cast…again.

The problem in Cincinnati will remain the same. Joey Votto will be able to get on base and no one will be able to drive him in. The pitching, even after all of those rookies started so many games in 2015, shows glimpses of hope, but the team needs production from eight players in the lineup to outscore the opposition. Only four teams scored fewer runs than the Reds in 2015, but the Cueto, Leake, and Byrd deals brought…pitchers. Pitchers and a first baseman, Adam Duvall, who might be useful if he can play a position that Joey Votto isn’t supposed to be playing, in a league without a designated hitter.

Dick Williams has a huge problem. He, like Wayne Krivsky and Dan O’Brien before him, will be expected to fix a mess that was left for him, and he will, likely, not be given the time necessary to really turn it all around. Cincinnati should be very busy in the coming days at the GM Meetings, but it is fair to question whether the minds at the top have changed enough to really impact the club in a positive way moving forward. Fans can only hope.

 

Reds Should Be Looking For Help With Phillips Injury

Brandon Phillips took a spill in the eighth inning of Wednesday night’s game, and what was originally thought to be a left wrist injury has turned into a torn thumb ligament, likely costing the slick-fielding second baseman six weeks for Cincinnati. After Wednesday night’s win against the Cubs, the Reds were just 2.5 games out in the NL Central. Now, with Homer Bailey leaving his start on Thursday with right patella tendon pain, Billy Hamilton nursing a hamstring strain, and Joey Votto battling, once again, a quad injury, the Reds could easily head in the wrong direction.

 

The Cincinnati Reds 40-man roster and system is bereft of any true offensive assistance beyond their active, 25-man roster. Jack Hannahan (currently on the 60-day disabled list with a shoulder injury) just began baseball activities after spending the entire season on the shelf, Neftali Soto was on the active roster for most of Votto’s previous DL stint and the Reds appreciated him so much that they put Brayan Pena (who had never started a game at first in his career) at first base over him, and Donald Lutz was hitting well in Double-A to earn a very brief trial during Votto’s last stint, but he has been quite over-matched at Double-A. Kristopher Negron and Ramon Santiago can handle the position, but they would provide very little offensive production over the next 40 to 60 days. The remainder of the 40-man consists of outfielders like Ryan LaMarre, Juan Duran, and Yorman Rodriguez, none of which provide any help.

The Reds could add Ruben Gotay, 31, who hasn’t played in the majors since 2008, from Louisville, while reaching to lower levels either wouldn’t be a solid option or would be downright stupid.

Could the Reds look for help via a trade?

There are certainly some options out there as the trade deadline approaches. Here are five players who could fit with the Cincinnati Reds during a time that their roster is littered with injuries:

"Rays

1. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays: Zobrist is 34 and the Rays are 10 games under .500 in the AL East. While they’ve been playing better of late, it likely won’t be enough to keep the club from selling off pieces. With David Price the top commodity on their roster and the focus of so many clubs, Zobrist could be overlooked a bit, which isn’t new for one of the most underrated players in baseball over the last five years. Zobrist could play second base for Cincinnati until Phillips returns, while being an option in the outfield beyond that point. In fact, Zobrist has a $7.5 million team option ($500,000 buyout) for 2015, and with Ryan Ludwick reaching free agency and the Reds needing an upgrade in left, Zobrist would be a tremendous fit. He is a switch-hitter, he has a career .354 on-base percentage, and his versatility can not be understated. While he could be pricey considering the number of clubs who could be in on him and the team-friendly contract for next season, if the Reds are interested in remaining contenders over the next two to three months, he would be the perfect fit.

2. Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland Indians: Cabrera is a free agent after the 2014 season and the Indians may not be all that interested in offering him a one-year deal on the qualifying offer, fearing that he could accept it and block the shortstop position if and when Francisco Lindor is officially ready. There may not be such a thing as a “bad” one-year deal, but there is a lot that goes into Cabrera’s availability. First and foremost, are the Cleveland Indians sellers? They’re within striking distance in the AL Central and the AL Wild Card, and with Lindor in Double-A and Mike Aviles and Jose Ramirez unlikely to be upgrades at short, would they be better off keeping him? Cabrera could likely handle second base, as Zack Cozart wouldn’t move off of short in Cincinnati due to his strong defense, but what is he worth for Cincinnati? Perhaps Ben Lively, who was dominant in the California League prior to a recent promotion to Double-A, would be interesting for pitching depth in the Indians’ system, but he isn’t going to help the team this year. Cabrera would interest several contenders, but the Indians need to determine if they consider themselves the same prior to Cabrera becoming available.

3. Gordon Beckham, Chicago White Sox: If we were living in 2009, Beckham would be very, very expensive in a deal; however, Beckham has been through a free-fall over the last five seasons for the White Sox, seeing his numbers, value, and playing time take various dives along the way. Injuries have been a factor during his career, but Beckham’s ability to handle second and third could make him useful for Cincinnati, especially with Todd Frazier capable of playing multiple positions, likely including left field. Beckham is under team control through the 2015 season, but after earning $4.18 million in 2014, he could also be a non-tender candidate based on his failed production. The White Sox have Micah Johnson and Marcus Semien who could potentially slide into the second base job, and Chicago has little reason to not take additional minor league depth after having one of the worst systems in baseball over the last decade prior to Rick Hahn taking over the GM job.

"Mets

4. Daniel Murphy, New York Mets: The Mets likely aren’t as good as their 42-49 record, which has left them eight games out in the challenging NL East. With very little talent on the major league roster, the Mets are in a slow rebuild, whether the owners and management are aware of it is yet to be determined (signing a 40-year-old to a two-year deal isn’t the norm for a team in their situation – Bartolo Colon this past offseason). The Mets would need another miracle to contend this year, and Murphy could be the Reds’ miracle. Murphy has hit well over his career, earning his first All-Star berth this season, posting a .291/.335/.423 line over his six seasons. While his versatility is a bit more limited than it used to be, he (or Phillips) could be traded after the 2014 season, as they both wouldn’t fit being limited to second base. Murphy is arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2015 before reaching free agency, so his cost could be a bit high, and with very little ready (beside Wilmer Flores) to take over second base, the Mets could be better served giving their fans at least one reason to show up.

5. Darwin Barney, Chicago Cubs: Barney is well-known for his glove, as he should be, but it could be argued that he wouldn’t help the Reds much offensively; however, the Cubs have no reason to keep him around with Arismendy Alcantara on the way up and a likely move to second base for either Addison Russell or Javier Baez in the near future in the minors, both top 10 prospects. Barney is under team-control through the 2016 season, and, like others, he wouldn’t have much value to the Reds once Phillips returns. He could be a useful utility player, especially if he hits like he has over his last eight games (.387/.387/.516).

How the Cincinnati Reds Ruined Their Window

Over the last nine games of the season, the Cincinnati Reds were 2-7, including their National League Wild Card loss in Pittsburgh, which would be their fifth loss against the Pirates in the nine game span. Needless to say, after a disappointing collapse in the 2012 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, the collapse at the end of the 2013 season wasn’t pleasing to the fans, or the front office. Dusty Baker was canned shortly thereafter, replaced by pitching coach Bryan Price, who, in his first year as manager, has been dealt with the task of rebuilding a roster with a lot of question marks into a perennial power, all the while continuing to look up at the St. Louis Cardinals, who have built a system of winning from within.

Now, the Reds must replace their lead-off hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, who only managed a .423 on-base percentage and 107 runs scored while reaching base 305 times by hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch, after watching Choo run to the Texas Rangers in free agency for seven-years, $130 million.

BruceCertainly, it wasn’t within the budget to re-up with Choo at $18.7 million per year, not with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips combining to make $33 million in 2014, $38 million in 2015, and $45.5 million in 2016, that is, of course, if one of them isn’t traded. The Reds have long had a payroll between $80 and $100 million under current owner Bob Castellini, but is it time to start questioning what the long-term goal of the franchise is, after sputtering around the free agent market while trying to replace their best lead-off hitter since Joe Morgan and Pete Rose were flapping and flopping around Riverfront Stadium. Whether television contracts and Major League Baseball Advanced Media revenue will allow the “small-market” Reds to increase their payroll further is a valid question, but with Matt Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake under team-control through 2015, and Homer Bailey headed towards free agency after the 2014 season, how else can the team remain contenders, especially with St. Louis constantly reloading and the Chicago Cubs reaching their contention window, just as the Reds is becoming questionable?

This offseason was difficult, clearly. The Reds couldn’t be in on Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, or any other big-name free agent, but with very little money to spend, GM Walt Jocketty could have been more active in the trade market, or at least the minor league free agent route. Dick Williams, the VP of Baseball Operations, told me during the Reds’ caravan that the club lost out on Grady Sizemore due to his relationship with one of Boston’s trainers, who had been with Cleveland during his time there. While Sizemore wasn’t a lock to produce, or stay healthy, he fit the bill as a low-cost centerfield option. He wasn’t a leadoff hitter, though, at least he hadn’t shown those skills since his last somewhat healthy season, 2009. Which left the club with little choice but to give their in-house candidate, Billy Hamilton, the job.

The issue with Hamilton, though, is that, though he has otherworldly speed, is he capable of thriving long-term in center, a position that he has been playing since the start of the 2012 season. His experience in Triple-A left a lot to be desired, as he posted a .256/.308/.343 triple-slash, stealing 75 bases and scoring 75 runs in 123 games for Louisville. We all know about his brief September audition, when Dusty Baker allowed him to receive all of 22 plate appearances, while Baker pinch-ran him often to allow the speedy Mississippian to accumulate 13 stolen bases in 14 tries.

In addition to plugging Hamilton into center, here is the laundry list of exciting moves that the Reds have made this winter:

October: Signed LHP Trevor Reckling and RHP Timothy Adleman to minor league contracts; signed OF Jason Bourgeois to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training;

November: Signed LHP Manny Parra, 2B Skip Schumaker, and C Brayan Pena to major league contracts; Signed OF Mike Wilson, LHP Nick Schmidt, and RHP Ross Ismail to minor league contracts; Signed C Max Ramirez, LHP Lee Hyde, and 3B Rey Navarro to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

December: Signed 3B Ruben Gotay and RHP Trevor Bell to minor league contracts; Invited non-roster RHP Jose Diaz and 2B Kristopher Negron to Spring Training; Signed RHP Chien-Ming Wang, C Corky Miller, and SS Argenis Diaz to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training; Acquired LHP David Holmberg from Arizona for Ryan Hanigan;

January: Sign RHP Bob Keppel, RHP Sean Black, OF Thomas Neal, LHP Jeff Francis, 2B John Tolisano, and 2B Hernan Iribarren to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

So, the club lost Shin-Soo Choo, Xavier Paul, and Derrick Robinson from last season’s 90-72 squad, so why should fans feel like this offseason is a failure?

Well, Choo’s production won’t be replaced by Hamilton, speed or no speed. Even if Hamilton increases his on-base percentage to .340 over 600 plate appearances, he doesn’t have the patient approach that Choo had, and, while he can move himself from base to base with his wheels, he just won’t be on as often. If Choo’s production is a clear downgrade, where are they upgrading?

Mesoraco1Is Devin Mesoraco set for a breakout season, replacing the putrid production that Ryan Hanigan provided in 2013? Is Todd Frazier going to post an .829 OPS, as he did in 2012, or something similar to his .721 OPS from 2013? Is Zack Cozart even worth starting anymore, given his career .680 OPS over 1,256 plate appearances? Ryan Ludwick had a nice 2012 and his 2013 was ruined due to his Opening Day shoulder injury, but was he ever worth a two-year, $15 million extension, especially when you consider it was back-loaded with an option for 2015, making him guaranteed $13 million, including his 2015 buyout? Brandon Phillips, 103 RBI or not, saw his OPS fall to .705 in 2013. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce seem like locks for success, but Bruce continues to be one of the streakiest players in all of baseball, while Votto’s patience seems to have overtaken his ability to actually produce at his 2010 MVP level ever again.

As far as the rotation, it remains pretty deep, but once you get past the top five, there are question marks. While that wouldn’t be a huge deal for most clubs, you have to remember that Johnny Cueto only had one full season and he immediately got hurt in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. Bailey, Latos, and Leake are very good options, and Tony Cingrani was impressive, even with just one good pitch, but having Wang, Francis, and nothing else as fallback options is rough, which may lead to the club rushing top prospect Robert Stephenson if there was an injury in 2014, not to mention how the rotation is going to function if Bailey leaves via free agency or Cueto’s 2015 option isn’t picked up. Who will be starting games and why don’t the Reds have options waiting like the Cardinals?

The bullpen is still built to dominate, as Aroldis Chapman is as shutdown as it gets. A full season of Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, a former closer in his own right, serving as a setup man, and J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Manny Parra, and Alfredo Simon rounding out the group helps the Reds bullpen look tremendous for another season…but a bullpen doesn’t have a lot of value if they aren’t protecting more leads than deficits.

The Reds haven’t been active enough. The Reds haven’t drafted enough high-ceiling talent. The Reds haven’t had enough success on the international market.

Braun1The Reds are a lot like the Milwaukee Brewers, locking up talent for just a little while, and then watching that talent and the contention window fly way in the breeze. You see, the Brewers were a competitive team until Prince Fielder left. They traded a lot of good, young talent to acquire Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia to help them contend. They bought in to that window and went for it. It is hard for a small-market to commit a lot of money to talent like Greinke and Sabathia, only to watch them leave for big-markets once they hit free agency, but the revenue that comes with a playoff run or a World Series title would alleviate a lot of those dollars. The Brewers, then, went into quite a funk the last several seasons, and they have yet to recover, but the worst part is that their farm system is terrible. If Ryan Braun doesn’t rebound, the club still has Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, but the rest of the organization is quite barren.

The Reds are a lot like the Brewers because they haven’t had many successful recent drafts. While a lot of the key names on the major league roster are homegrown, there isn’t a whole lot of depth currently in the minor league system. The Reds did trade a couple of solid young players (Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Brad Boxberger) to acquire Mat Latos and Choo (Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs), but outside of Stephenson and Hamilton, much of the high-level talent was in Low-A or the Rookie levels last season, specifically Phillip Ervin, Jesse Winker, and Nick Travieso.

So, what will happen when 2015 rolls around without an Oscar Taveras waiting to take over left field for Ludwick? Who fills the rotation without a Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon ready to step in for A.J. Burnett? Who will push Todd Frazier at third base without a Kris Bryant or Javier Baez?

While the Reds and Brewers have weaker farm systems and question marks at several spots, the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates have done it right. They have managed to stay active and have taken risks with draft picks to make sure that they are getting the talent necessary to maintain solid depth within their organization. Sure, the Pirates and Cubs have had higher picks due to their lack of success over the years, but the Cardinals have a lot of talent and they haven’t had a season below .500 since 2007, while making the playoffs in 11 of the last 18 seasons, including four World Series and two titles.

PujolsThe conservative nature of the current regime in Cincinnati may not look awful as the Reds compete in 2014, but when Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis have their high-level minor league talent stepping in within the next two to three seasons, Reds fans will forget about the nightmares that Albert Pujols used to bring, and will instead be kept awake by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Gregory Polanco, Oscar Taveras, and others who will make their names in the depths of the thriving systems in the rest of the National League Central. Meanwhile, the Brewers and Reds will continue to cry small-market when they have, instead, chosen to be smarter at the right times.

There are still names on the free agent market that can help the Reds contend, but none of them will make them as good as they were last season, in 2012, or in 2010, when Cincinnati has reached the playoffs. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point to scrap what has been built. Instead, run out there with what you have and hope for the best, which, apparently, was Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini’s plan all offseason.

Pretend GM: Signings and Trades That Should Be Made

With the big signing of Masahiro Tanaka by the New York Yankees on Wednesday, the market for free agency and trades could explode over the next several days. With that in mind, I was thinking about some deals that would make tremendous sense for several teams…although, they could just make sense to me. Regardless, here are some deals that I’d like to see made over the next few weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

Cincinnati Reds Trade Brandon Phillips to the New York Yankees for Brett Gardner

PhillipsWhy This Trade Makes Sense: The Yankees clearly want to get back to the top, as their $155 million investment in Tanaka showed. With Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, and Scott Sizemore as the current options at second base, New York could use a more reliable name to replace Robinson Cano. While the Reds don’t have an immediate replacement ready for Phillips (outside of Henry Rodriguez or another position change for Billy Hamilton), they need to clear some payroll in order to lock up Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake, all of whom are eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, as well as Homer Bailey, who will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Phillips, who is due $50 million over the next four years, could be a bargain based on the current market, while his ability to play defensively at an elite level will provide quite a bit of value, as well. Gardner is unlikely to provide the on-base skills that Shin-Soo Choo provided last season in Cincinnati, but he would provide elite-level defensive skills, speed, and solid on-base skills (career OBP of .352). Gardner, earning $5.6 million in 2014 prior to reaching free agency after the season, would be an upgrade over a 2014 version of Hamilton, while providing quite a bit of financial flexibility to shore up the rotation for the coming seasons in Cincinnati. Even if Cincinnati had to chip in $10 million in salary relief, it would be an interesting deal for both clubs.

Baltimore Orioles Sign A.J. Burnett to a one-year, $14 million deal

burnettWhy This Signing Makes Sense: In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles surprised the world by contending and finishing 2nd in the AL East with 93 wins. In 2013, there was a slight regression, as the team dipped to 85 wins after doing very little over the offseason. The Orioles have been very active in the minor league free agent market this winter, but they could use a splash, and Burnett would be a tremendous addition to the club’s rotation. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman make a good, young rotation, but Burnett would be the anchor for the staff, and his presence would allow the club to move Norris to a (more appropriate) bullpen role. Burnett is from Maryland and he has been rumored to be retiring if he doesn’t re-sign with Pittsburgh, but Baltimore is close to home and he can keep his wife happy, and the spare change for one year would be worth it for both sides. Burnett rebuilt his value with two tremendous seasons with the Pirates, and he is worth a one-year deal for Baltimore for another shot at the AL East for the tattooed right-hander. Sure, it seems like it is going to be Pittsburgh or bust, but the Orioles are contenders with a healthy Manny Machado and consistent production from Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters – the O’s need to do their due diligence here.

Toronto Blue Jays Sign Matt Garza to a five-year, $60 million deal (I know he was rumored to have signed with Milwaukee for four-years, $52 million pending a physical, but it isn’t official…yet)

GarzaWhy This Signing Makes Sense: The Jays need another solid option in their rotation to compliment R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow, so that their offense isn’t wasted on sloppy rotation options like Esmil Rogers, Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Laffey, and Rickey Romero, who combined to make 27 starts last season. While Garza has some injury concerns, the Blue Jays have already given him a dynamic weapon – Dioner Navarro. With Navarro as his catcher, Garza has logged 338.1 innings and managed a 3.25 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, while Garza has posted a 4.07 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP with anyone else behind the dish. While there is risk involved due to Garza spending 170 team games on the disabled list the last three seasons with right shoulder and elbow injuries, the Jays need a pitcher who is capable of pitching in the AL East (Garza has done it before), can toss 180 or more innings (Garza has done it four times), and would be a significant upgrade over Rogers, Todd Redmond, and J.A. Happ, while the club waits for Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Alberto Tirado, Daniel Norris, and Sean Nolin to reach the majors. Garza may not be a number one starter, but he is a strong number two or three option on a club that should compete with an absolutely loaded offensive group.

Philadelphia Phillies Sign Ubaldo Jimenez to a five-year, $85 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Phillies first round pick, seventh overall, is protected, so while Jimenez would require draft-pick compensation, it would only be a second round pick going to Cleveland for Jimenez. After a tremendous second half in 2013 (1.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP over 84 innings), Jimenez rebuilt his value, and, at the age of 30, would be a solid right-handed option for the Phillies to place between Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Jimenez has had some success during his career in the NL East:

I Split W L ERA GS GF CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
Atlanta Braves 3 5 3.79 9 0 1 1 54.2 47 25 23 6 28 66 1.372 10.9 2.36
Miami Marlins 1 2 4.07 5 0 0 0 24.1 23 19 11 1 16 31 1.603 11.5 1.94
New York Mets 2 3 3.40 6 0 0 0 39.2 27 15 15 4 21 29 1.210 6.6 1.38
Washington Nationals 5 1 2.61 7 0 0 0 48.1 39 14 14 1 16 36 1.138 6.7 2.25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.

For those who don’t want to do the math, Jimenez is 11-11 with a 3.39 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 162:81 K:BB over 167 innings and 27 starts, and while that isn’t perfect, especially in a ballpark that is more favorable to hitters, Jimenez should, at least, be worth the money as an innings eater if he isn’t elite like he was in the second half of 2013. The Phillies may not be contenders, but they’ll always be spenders. They don’t have any arms ready in their system and Jimenez would be a huge upgrade over Roberto Hernandez and Ethan Martin, who appear to be options for the rotation currently.

Oakland Athletics Sign Nelson Cruz to a three-year, $27 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Cruz market appears nearly dead after there was draft-pick compensation added to a PED suspension, but Cruz is still just 33 and he is coming off of an All-Star season with solid production (27 home runs and 76 RBI in just 109 games). With very little interest and risk involved, it’s the perfect opportunity for Oakland to swoop in and make an interesting signing. While the club has some solid right-handed pop in Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the remainder of the lineup is filled with left-handed hitters, including Josh Reddick, Eric Sogard, Brandon Moss, as well as switch-hitters Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie. Another right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat would be a tremendous addition, as Reddick or Moss could sandwich between Cruz and Cespedes, providing quite a bit of value and production for a team that struggles to find offense in a cavernous home ballpark. However, Cruz has struggled in Oakland, posting a .192/.248/.352 triple-slash in 202 career plate appearances there. The late first round pick and discounted contract, though, could be enough to overlook his struggles, while providing a little more punch to the Oakland lineup.

Texas Rangers Sign Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $24 million deal

ArroyoWhy This Signing Makes Sense: Arroyo has been homer prone in the past and doesn’t have the stuff to avoid bats, but he has averaged 211 innings pitched over the last nine seasons and is someone whom the Rangers could count on with Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison coming back from injuries and Derek Holland on the shelf until mid-2014. Arroyo survived in a bandbox in Cincinnati over the last eight seasons, so he would be just as likely to post 200-plus innings and an ERA around 4.00 in Texas, especially with spacious ballparks like those in Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim within the division. There isn’t draft-pick compensation tied to Arroyo, and with Masahiro Tanaka gone and no real hope of acquiring David Price in a trade, the Rangers just need five starting pitchers, and Arroyo is a nice, reliable addition for the middle or back-end of the Texas rotation.

Atlanta Braves Trade Alex Wood to the New York Yankees for Gary Sanchez

Why This Trade Makes Sense: C.C. Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Hiroki Kuroda make a great top three and Ivan Nova showed drastic improvements last season, but the Yankees are relying on David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, and Manny Banuelos at the back of the rotation in 2014. While Alex Wood has one of the more violent deliveries you’ll ever see, he has solid stuff and is ready to be productive immediately in a major league rotation. With Brandon Beachy healthy and David Hale and Gavin Floyd capable of filling the back of the Braves rotation, Wood could be expendable for Atlanta to seek a long-term option at catcher with the departure of Brian McCann to the Yankees via free agency. Evan Gattis has a lot of power and Christian Bethancourt has tremendous defensive skills, but neither seem like strong options as an everyday catcher for Atlanta. While Sanchez still needs some seasoning and he could use a change of scenery due to his makeup and maturity concerns, the Braves have several upcoming arms, as usual, and they have a long-term need at catcher. Sanchez could be the answer and the eventual elbow surgery that Wood will need is worth this type of deal for Atlanta, and the production that the Yankees get out of Wood could be useful, as well.

Time for a Change

It is time for the Cincinnati Reds to a make a change. Dusty Baker needs to go.

On the heels of another postseason defeat, one in which Baker’s decision-making was quite questionable, this is the time to make a change.

Baker2Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty said that “He’s signed for another year,” but he also said, “we’ll sit down in the next couple of weeks and evaluate and try to see what we can do to improve things.” What seems like a vote of confidence is sort of a broad, vague, we’ll have to see type of statement.

Certainly, the Dusty Baker-era in Cincinnati hasn’t been terrible. The team has made the postseason three of the last four seasons, winning 90 or more games in those three seasons; however, in three of Baker’s six seasons, the Reds have had losing seasons. Does Baker have what it takes to get this club over the hump?

The issue with Baker is that he can’t separate himself from his players. He seems to enjoy being the cool dad figure in the clubhouse, focusing so much on the relationships that he overlooks the obvious. Like this:

The problem with this statement is that Baker can’t get into Johnny Cueto’s head. Does Cueto really thrive in playoff environments? I guess this is Baker’s proof: Cueto had started two games in the playoffs in his career prior to last night and he had a 1.69 ERA. The only problem is that he lasted all of 1/3 of an inning before he was removed from last season’s NLDS start against the San Francisco Giants with an injury, and his only other start was a five inning loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010. Was Cueto the answer as the starter in the one-game playoff?  Nevermind the 130 days that Cueto spent on the DL this season. Nevermind that Mike Leake was available and he didn’t pitch on Tuesday, despite being 3-0 with a 3.28 ERA over four starts against the Pirates in 2013. Baker went with his horse, Cueto, who had pitched all of 12 inning since June 28.  It isn’t as if Dusty Baker is very aware of the use of statistics, instead flying by the seat of his pants to make decisions. “All I know is that my eyes see plays and see things that save games,” this was a quote from Baker when discussing Darwin Barney and Brandon Phillips as Gold Glove worthy second basemen from the Chicago Sun Times; however, his eyes didn’t seem to save him on Tuesday night.

 More importantly:

Bonds1Baker may be respected across the game for his leadership, but he has only led one team to a World Series, and that was in 2002, in his 20 years as a Major League manager. One could even question whether Baker actually makes any decisions that have led to success. After all:

Great players don’t always make great teams, but it certainly helps. Does anyone out there think that the Oakland A’s would have won the AL West this season with Baker at the helm?

Regardless of where Baker could or should have been, he doesn’t belong in Cincinnati going forward.

The Reds have a window with their current club, the 2015 season (after which Mat Latos, Cueto, Ryan Ludwick, Sean Marshall, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon are free agents) likely it, and after the club lost the final six games of the season, including the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh, while showing very little effort in losing twice to the New York Mets before being swept in a three-game series at home against the Pirates to end the regular season, it is fair to wonder if Baker has the leadership skills necessary to motivate the Reds to play hard and get over the hump.

When Ryan Ludwick questioned the fans and their effort last week as a way to spin the Reds’ apparent lack of motivation, saying:

“I might be be calling (fans) out. But I’m calling them out in a positive way. We want loud and energetic. It’s like a natural Red Bull. We need every positive aspect we can to keep this thing going.’’

You’re telling me that in the middle of a playoff race, men playing a game and making millions of dollars can’t motivate themselves? There was no one stepping up and saying anything to fire the group of men up within the clubhouse?

This isn’t just a one-time call as a Cincinnati native, overreacting to the failure of another lost season. This is a continuation of failures that continue to go unnoticed by so many. All of the times that Ryan Hanigan started over Devin Mesoraco. All of the times that the No.2 spot and No.4 spots were juggled. All of the times that Jay Bruce and Joey Votto were split up in the lineup because they’re both left-handed, instead of utilizing their skills back-to-back in the middle of the order. All of the times that Aroldis Chapman would pitch three or four days in a row and then not pitch for a week. It has been apparent for some time that this wasn’t working.

BakerThe Cincinnati Reds lack leadership and it all starts with the manager. Look how far the Cleveland Indians have gone this season with Terry Francona taking the reigns. Ignoring numbers and flying by the seat of your pants in decision-making leads to tremendous failure, and that is the way that 95-percent of teams have finished their seasons when Dusty Baker has managed them. While intelligent managers like Joe Maddon adapt to the changing game, Dusty Baker allows his teams to fade, he loses leads, and he has no true way of defining how he can make a difference as a leader. If you throw enough crap at a wall, eventually some of it will stick.

It’s time for the crap to leave Cincinnati. It’s time for an intelligent leader. Fire Dusty Baker.