Tag: Sam LeCure

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.

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Too Much of a Good Thing

CingraniIn 2012, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, and Mike Leake combined to start 161 of the Cincinnati Reds 162 games, with Todd Redmond starting the second game of a double-header against the Chicago Cubs on August 18. In 2013, the Reds haven’t been quite so lucky with pitching health, as Johnny Cueto lasted just three starts before a strained lat shelved him on April 13.

While losing a pitcher who has managed to go 29-14 with a 2.58 ERA over his last 390 innings would probably leave most teams in a panic, the Cincinnati Reds had the luxury of calling up Tony Cingrani.

Cingrani was dominant in the minor leagues in 2012 and the beginning of the 2013 season, posting an overall 11-4 record, 1.57 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 198:54 K:BB in 160.1 innings. While he managed to get by with his fastball, which he varies the speed on from 88 to 96 miles per hour, it appears to be enough.

After just three starts in Cincinnati, Cingrani is going to make life very, very difficult on Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker. After posting a 28:4 K:BB over his first 18 innings (three starts) with a 1.50 ERA and 0.89 WHIP, who will have to leave the Reds’ rotation to allow the flame-throwing left-hander to continue to occupy a spot in the rotation?

Courtesy: twinsdaily.com
Courtesy: twinsdaily.com

Cueto will be welcomed back with open arms, Homer Bailey has finally become the dominant arm that the Reds hoped he would become when they drafted him, and Mat Latos is basically the 1(b) to Cueto’s 1(a) status as duel aces. That would leave Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake.

Arroyo hasn’t been awful this season. While his 4.24 ERA is a little high, the 1.09 WHIP shows that he is limiting damage by not allowing many base runners. He is averaging just under seven innings per start, as well, and he seems to have a rubber arm, having made 32 or more starts each season dating back to 2005, the poster-boy for reliability.

LeakeLeake had a rough 2012, posting a 4.58 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, but he hasn’t really rebounded to this point; his ERA is 4.34 and his WHIP is up to 1.52. At just 25, Leake still has a very bright future, but he needs to figure out a way to keep the opposition off of the base paths. His BB/9 is at a career high this season (3.4) and his hits per nine innings is 10.2, the highest since his rookie season.

While sending Leake to Triple-A Louisville would allow the Reds to keep their starting pitching depth fresh, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that whoever gets bumped from the rotation will end up in the bullpen. Sean Marshall just returned from an early season disabled list visit, which will greatly assist a pretty brutal group in the bullpen, which was so dominant last year. Outside of Aroldis Chapman (0.73 ERA, 0.65 WHIP) and Sam LeCure (1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP), the Reds’ bullpen has combined to go 1-5 with a 5.24 ERA in 55 innings this season.

Cingrani2Would the Reds even consider sending Cingrani to the bullpen at this point? Because of his reliance on his fastball, it would limit his innings while shoring up the back-end of the bullpen, where Jonathan Broxton has been very unimpressive in setting up Chapman. The Reds could then handle Cingrani much like the Atlanta Braves handled Kris Medlen in 2012, allowing him to start from mid-June or early-July until the end of the season, getting valuable innings during a potential playoff run.

While the Los Angeles Dodgers looked to be loaded with starting pitching as spring training broke, only Clayton Kershaw has been worth the price of admission. With Zack Greinke out with a broken collarbone, Chad Billingsley tearing his already torn elbow ligament further, and Aaron Harang traded away, the Cincinnati Reds look to have the most starting pitching depth right now. While the St. Louis Cardinals have plenty of young arms (Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Michael Wacha, to name a few), the Reds have it all ready to go and ready to contribute.

Now…what do they do when Cueto returns?

2013 Cincinnati Reds

Looking ahead to next season, though the Reds are currently in first place in the NL Central, the Reds have some interesting roster issues to address. Not only do they have arbitration eligible players who can increase payroll significantly, but they’ll have key players with extensions kicking in. Take a look at guaranteed contracts for 2013:

Joey Votto: $17 M

Brandon Phillips: $10 M

Jay Bruce: $7.5 M

Johnny Cueto: $7.4 M

Aroldis Chapman: $2 M

Bronson Arroyo: $11.5 M

Sean Marshall: $4.5 M

Ryan Madson: $2.5 M buyout OR $11 M

Nick Masset: $3.1 M

Ryan Hanigan: $2.05 M

Ryan Ludwick: $500K buyout OR $5 M

Jose Arredondo: $1.2 M

If the Reds buyout Ludwick and Madson, they have $69.25 M locked into 12 players, with only 10 of them returning. If they take on the contracts of both Ludwick and Madson, it goes up to $82.25 M for 12 players. However, it doesn’t end there. The following players are eligible for arbitration after the 2012 season:

Pre-arbitration – players who can have their contracts renewed at the league minimum:

Logan Ondrusek

Sam LeCure

Devin Mesoraco

Zack Cozart

Jordan Smith

Todd Frazier

Arbitration-eligible – players who can be non-tendered or signed through arbitration and receive a raise, with 2012 salaries listed in parenthesis:

Homer Bailey ($2.4 M)

Mat Latos ($550K)

Bill Bray ($1.42 M)

Wilson Valdez ($930K)

Paul Janish ($850K)

Drew Stubbs ($527,500)

Mike Leake ($507,500)

Chris Heisey ($495K)

Alfredo Simon ($487K)

The Reds would be wise to let Homer Bailey walk by being non-tendered, as he shouldn’t be getting a raise considering the inconsistencies that he has shown. He would earn between $3.5-4 M in arbitration. Valdez and Janish are veteran utility players who can be replaced with others who can play defense and not hit…just like them! Stubbs, Leake, and Heisey should all still be affordable in their first year of arbitration, but Latos could be an issue. He will get expensive quickly due to his early success, though it wasn’t with the Reds.

Free-Agents:

Scott Rolen

Miguel Cairo

Willie Harris

So, buyout Ludwick and Madson and keep Heisey in left and Chapman at closer and go from there.

Catchers: Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco

1B: Joey Votto

2B: Brandon Phillips

3B: Todd Frazier

SS: Zack Cozart

LF: Chris Heisey

CF: Drew Stubbs

RF: Jay Bruce

Starting Rotation:

Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, and OPEN

Bullpen:

Jose Arredondo, Bill Bray, Nick Masset, Sam LeCure, Alfredo Simon, Logan Ondrusek, Sean Marshall, and Aroldis Chapman

Bench:

OPEN

Clearly, the Reds would need to fill the bench with about three players: a utility infielder, a super-utility player (infield and outfield), and a good fourth outfielder. They will need to look to free agency to fill those roles. The following players will be free agents and would be worth a look for the Reds:

Jose Lopez – Lopez can play first and third comfortably and second if or when needed. He has done so for the Cleveland Indians in 2012. He is making $800K in 2012 and will be 29 in 2013

Scott Hairston – Hairston may end up on the expensive side of bench players, as his power and versatility will be very valuable on the open market. He currently has an .840 OPS with 10 HR and 31 RBI in just 157 at bats for the New York Mets. Hairston is making $1.1 M in 2012 and has played all three outfield spots this season and some second base in his career.

Grady Sizemore – Injuries MIGHT be gone when he hits free agency after the 2012 season. Sizemore hasn’t had a healthy season since 2008. He is making $5 M in 2012 but hasn’t played in a single game. An incentive-laden contract is a necessity for Sizemore to prove his worth and as a former gold glove caliber center fielder, he can handle all three outfield positions…if healthy.

Ryan Theriot – Theriot is making $1.25 M for the San Francisco Giants while playing primarily shortstop. He played left field late in a game and has played second, short, third, and outfield in recent years.

The open rotation spot should be left to Tony Cingrani, the young left-hander out of Rice, who has dominated the minors this season to the tune of a 7-2 record, 1.47 ERA, 86 IP, 109:21 K:BB, .196 BAA, 0.95 WHIP, including a 15 strikeout, eight shutout inning outing on Wednesday night. It’s worth seeing what you have there. Alfredo Simon or Sam LeCure could fill the number five spot if the Reds don’t sign another veteran arm like: Aaron Cook, Kevin Correia, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Marquis, Joel Piniero, or Chris Young, who could all be cheap options.

It’s never too early to wonder what your team will look like in the future. Maybe Billy Hamilton moves to center and Drew Stubbs or Chris Heisey becomes the team’s fourth outfielder? As the season goes on, trades could be made involving Cingrani or Hamilton to upgrade for 2012, as well. Regardless, the Reds look like an excellent team for this season and could get better by cutting some of the dead weight, namely their entire bench and Scott Rolen.