[This post was written by John Ring, who is the Nation’s correspondent from Afghanistan, where he is serving the entire nation.]
It’s all quiet —- some would say too quiet -— on the Reds front.
No news on Arroyo. Choo is gone. No trades. Nothing.
So while we collectively ponder the state of the current roster, Johnny Cueto’s health, and how to get more of a bang out of our buck for Aroldis Chapman, here are ten things about the Cincinnati Reds from a very wide angle:
1. Is 2014 the crucial year for Todd Frazier? Some would compare it to the “crucial year” for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. But you have to figure the Reds are concerned about the third base position if Frazier doesn’t improve on his .234 batting average. The 19 home runs and 73 RBI are tolerable but it would be nice to see Frazier’s BA (and OBP) jump, or at the bare minimum, head somewhat further north. Frazier is one of the few Reds who seemed to have a pulse the last week of the season and his attitude and energy have made him a favorite among Reds fans.
2. Centerfield. Leadoff hitter. What will the 2014 Reds do? I agree with those who didn’t want to break the bank to re-sign Choo. There has to be some cheaper and viable options out there. So what is in the acceptable range in performance for Billy Hamilton? Protect him and bat Hamilton 7th or 8th? Lead him off in spring training and see how he does? Another concern is his durability. Could he take the pounding of a 162-game season both playing centerfield and stealing bases at an alarming rate? My take: make him earn the position in spring training. Bring in competition. Bat him lower in the order. Give him the green light to steal. And remember that things can always be worse in the leadoff spot. Reds Manager Bob Boone batted Adam Dunn leadoff for a few games during his failed tenure in Cincinnati.
3. Speaking of center fielders. My take on the five best center fielders for the Cincinnati Reds in the modern era (1956-2013) (1) Eric Davis (2) Vada Pinson (3) Ken Griffey Jr. (4) Cesar Geronimo (5) Wally Post. I omit players such as Choo, Mike Cameron and Sam Mejias because they only played center for one season with the Reds. (Just kidding about Mejias.) I took Pinson over Junior mostly because of durability and because after his first season with the Reds, Junior went steadily downhill to the point where he was moved to right field and was plagued by injuries. In his prime, Griffey was the best -— period. But those days were with Seattle.
4. The Chapman Equation. As each day goes by, the more it looks like Chapman will be working out of the bullpen. There was Chapman’s interview (in Spanish) at Redsfest in which he steadfastly said he would be in the bullpen. And then no denial, nothing from Reds management. There was one series against the Cardinals last year in which Aroldis Chapman, who allegedly has the best arm on the Reds pitching staff, didn’t throw a single pitch. That is mind boggling and frustrating. Let’s see how Bryan Price deals with this situation. I would be perfectly happy with a closer by committee concept featuring J.J. Hoover and Sean Marshall.
5. This isn’t crucial but I at least hope that Bryan Price doesn’t name an Opening Day starter before spring training even starts. I hope Price names the starter based on who gets out of the gate quickly in Goodyear and looks ready to pitch, not on performance from the year before or who the “ace” is supposed to be. I don’t care if it’s Latos or Cueto or Homer; I want someone to earn that coveted start. And someone not named Jimmy Haynes.
6. Walk-Up Music. This didn’t even exist 10 years ago. And while I’ve honestly tried to listen and enjoy today’s music, it can’t be done. The best is Joey Votto’s because I like The Stones (Paint it Black) and the runner up is Kashmir for Sean Marshall. I’m a Led-Head.
7. Beat writers. Like many readers of this blog, I followed Steve Mancuso’s article on them, specifically on the Enquirer’s tandem of John Fay and C. Trent Rosecrans. I think that Steve was essentially correct. The industry has changed dramatically even in the last 10 years. I grew up reading articles by Joe Falls, Earl Lawson and Dick Young in the Sporting News so I’m biased in thinking that they were better than the contemporary ones today. I particularly liked Lawson’s style of writing and he never backed down from what he wrote. There’s no competition among newspapers anymore because so many have died off and there are several one-paper towns such as Cincinnati. And I put little or no stock on the bloggers for ESPN/SI that come off as experts on the Reds. I’ll take either Fay or C. Trent over them any day.
8. The Reds 2013 weak finish. When the Reds fell into third place in July, I waited for a final push, a strong stretch run. At the end of August, I knew it wasn’t coming. They weren’t challenged by Washington or Arizona seriously for the last Wild Card spot and the Reds collapsed into mediocrity and played out the string. That and the Brandon Phillips tirade against C. Trent are what finished Dusty Baker in Cincinnati, in my opinion. The wild card game against Pittsburgh continued the misery, as it was lost after the first three innings. No sense of urgency. No emotion. And that came from the top, Dusty Baker.
9. The Reds’ worst years. They are not, at least to me, determined by wins or losses. The 1982 Reds were a bad team; they lost over 100 games but they didn’t break your heart. They were just bad. Dick Wagner bet on the Reds farm system and all of them —- Paul Householder, Duane Walker, Gary Redus, and Nick Esasky, to name a few —- didn’t pan out. The most heartbreaking seasons for me:
(1) 1964, Hutch’s final season, final weekend series collapse, a tragic year.
(2) 1978: The final season for both Sparky Anderson and Pete Rose, another second place finish to the Dodgers.
(3) 1981: the best record in baseball, yet no playoffs due to the players’ strike
(4) 1966: Frank Robinson wins the Triple Crown and takes the Orioles to a championship after being traded for Milt Pappas (12-11, 4.29 ERA), Jack Baldschun (1-5, 5.49 ERA), and Dick Simpson (4 HR, 14 RBI, .238 BA) — their collective stats are for that 1966 season.
10. This started with Todd Frazier and will conclude with Reds third basemen. Cincinnati hasn’t exactly had many players like Brooks Robinson over there. Recent history hasn’t been too kind, either. The Reds got Buddy Bell when he was past his prime in the mid-1980s, Scott Rolen had a first-half MVP season in 2010 but faded, and even Pete Rose’s time there (1975-1978) was a stop-gap measure to get George Foster’s Black Betsy bat in the lineup. Bob Howsam traded for a a mediocre one (Denis Menke) and Dick Wagner traded a good one (Ray Knight.). There have been some good ones, but we’ve also had Willie Greene and John Vuckovich.
Here’s my Top 5: (1) Tony Perez (1967-1971) (2) Chris Sabo (3) Aaron Boone (4) Dan Driessen (1973-1974) (5) Todd Frazier. Fun Fact: Deron Johnson, the Reds third baseman in 1965, actually finished 4th in the MVP voting that year after driving in 130 runs to lead the NL. He batted .287 and hit 32 home runs as well but then faded into oblivion, and ultimately a trade to the Phillies where he had a couple good years in the early 1970s.