Cincinnati Reds 2012: Great Expectations

A sizable portion of Cincinnati eschews the long wait for baseball’s start until after the other professional team in town has completed their season. While this normally means the countdown begins no later than November, 2011 followed a different path. A playoff berth by the Cincinnati Bengals kept those intent on following professional sports in the Queen City interested into the second week of January, but that came to an end over the weekend. And so eyes turn to the next hopes to bring Cincinnati a championship banner.

For those of you otherwise occupied by football related pursuits, welcome to Cincinnati Reds baseball 2012.

While 2011 was a disappointment for the Reds, 2012 is buoyant with high expectations. While the team is getting national publicity as a World Series contender before even throwing a single session in spring training, there are a great many expectations locally and not all of them involve just the players or franchise. There isn’t a soul in this world who can “know” where the Reds will finish in 2012. Even if their predictions were to bear fruit, it would merely be happenstance that they managed to be accurate. And many times, expectations are oftentimes married to simple hopes and wishes.

2012 Goal: For the Reds to accumulate enough wins to clinch a playoff spot.

This first one is the easiest for all fans to rally around. The trades they made to acquire Mat Latos and Sean Marshall, combined with the general belief, misplaced or not, that Joey Votto’s time in Cincinnati is winding down, put the team in win now mode and they are as stocked with talent as they have been in quite some time, probably even more than the 2010 Central Division title season.

Verdict: Expectations.

2012 Goal: For Dusty Baker to manage the Reds without tripping the players up and costing the team wins.

This is a little bit murkier water. Both sides of the argument were made with every move Dusty made during the 2011 campaign and when the season fell apart, he took a lot of blame. Whether it was bunting to move a player into scoring position ahead of Votto which gave opposing teams the ability to intentionally walk the reigning MVP or calling for a relief pitcher simply because the situation warranted it and watching the meltdown that ensued, Baker became the focal point of much fan animosity toward a wasted season. The most vocal group wants Baker to fully abandon what they see as an antiquated small ball mentality and fully embrace a sabermetrics style of managing. Still others decry his willingness to stick with “his guys” far too long in the hopes that they will turn it around on the field. Regardless of which side of the argument Dusty’s detractors fall down on, his managing style was unchanged from the success he had in 2010 through the failure of 2011. There is likely very little chance that his managing style will be uprooted and modified for the coming season.

Verdict: Hopes and Wishes.

2012 Goal: For young players to continue to improve or reverse their recent slide.

Namely, this category belongs to roughly half the projected starters. From the hopes that Drew Stubbs can become enough of a contact hitter that they remake the 1997 film with him as the lead instead of Jodie Foster. Or that he can at least regain his lost slugging ability. Combine that with the desire for Jay Bruce to extend his annual monthly streak into a season long performance and that Chris Heisey can be more than a role player and this team’s youth is still its core. Add to those hopes that Zack Cozart can play for a full season as well as he did in his pre-injury 11 game big league stint or that Devin Mesoraco can acclimate himself at the plate as he has behind it and there are 4 of the starting 8 who are young enough to still provide a ton of question marks. That said, even among the most cynical of Reds’ fans, there seems to be a general notion that at least 3 of those 5 will take place, probably with the most uncertainty being focused on Stubbs and Heisey. That’s probably to be expected as Stubbs was the only player to have a regression in his play and Heisey did nothing to cement himself in left field, while Bruce did improve and both Cozart and Mesoraco are still virtual unknowns. All that youth and all those questions without even touching on the question of whether Johnny Cueto can be an ace, Mat Latos will continue to shine, that Mike Leake will continue to improve or that Aroldis Chapman will be an effective starting pitcher, if he even makes it to the rotation. But those questions still seem to be held in Reds’ country with the expectation of being answered in the affirmative.

Verdict: Expectations.

2012 Goal: Cincinnati’s residents will show up in droves to Great American Ballpark in numbers unseen in previous years.

The short term prognosis of the Reds is good, but long term, they are wrestling with a couple issues and they all revolve around the ability to re-sign Joey Votto. The management of Brandon Phillips’ contract, assuming he’s extended, will probably not blow up their payroll structure and most other key pieces of their team are locked up for a few more years. But Votto will command the mega deal that either keeps him in Cincinnati for potentially all of his career or sees him become the beloved son of some other franchise. And the only way to prevent that from occurring in the current baseball economics is to increase revenue. In 2011, the Reds got 2.2 million people to walk through the turnstiles of GABP. If they have a successful 2012, they should easily hit 2.5 million, but to really affect the chances of keeping Votto, they probably need to reach about 2.7 million in 2012 and meet/surpass that in 2013. Attendance is a hard thing to predict. Even when you’re winning, Mother Nature can wreak havoc on your best laid plans.

Verdict: Hopes and Wishes.

While 2010 built a lot of expectations right into 2011, 2012 is constructed on a more solid foundation of exciting young talent, great acquisitions and even a seemingly weakened division. You don’t even have to read national press to find great expectations placed on the local ball club, but measure the fans with a thermometer and you’ll find their hopes and wishes are heating up long before the temperature. So if is this your first week counting down the start of the upcoming Reds season, welcome. Hey, maybe the wait won’t even be that long at all?

Verdict: Hopes and Wishes.

Tags: 2012 Aroldis Chapman Attendance Baseball Brandon Phillips Chris Heisey Cincinnati Reds Devin Mesoraco Drew Stubbs Dusty Baker Expectations Hopes Jay Bruce Joey Votto Johnny Cueto Mat Latos Mike Leake MLB Predictions Sean Marshall Wishes World Series Zack Cozart

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