Reds Lagging Behind?


There has become a notion that the Cincinnati Reds are starting to slowly fall behind to its NL Central divisional rivals. With the Milwaukee Brewers trading for Zack Greinke, that thought could evolve into a legitimate concern. It’s a fear that is slowly coming to fruition.

While the Reds have made no news since the end of 2010, all the other teams in their division have made attempts to improve their rosters. Reds GM Walt Jocketty has previously stated that he feels the Reds are pretty much set with their roster.

Take those two facts and add them up, you get the cause for concern. Here’s a quick look at the NL Central teams.

Chicago Cubs

One of the teams that was supposed to contend for the NL Central title in 2010 was the Chicago Cubs. Didn’t quite work out that way.

Manager Lou Piniella announced that 2010 would be his last season. Lou didn’t stay for the entire season and Mike Quade was named interim manager. Quade has since been tabbed as the guy.

Key personnel didn’t exactly live up to expectations either. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez, although injured for a portion of the season, played below his standards. Kosuke Fukudome has not lived up to his hype. Carlos Zambrano self-imploded…again.

What’s next for the Cubbies in 2011?

Well, not much has changed from the end of 2010. The free agent signings of Carlos Pena and the return of Kerry Wood could lead to misplaced optimism. The offense receives a boost from Pena. The bullpen now has that bridge from the starters to closer Carlos Marmol. No mistake about this though, Carlos Pena is not Derrick Lee with the glove. Frankly, not many are.

Is there any cause for a bright outlook at Wrigley for 2011? Actually, yes.

I really like shortstop Starlin Castro. I really like Tyler Colvin, too. I saw a rejuvenated Alfonso Soriano. He’s no defensive wizard, but he can change a game with one swing. I saw a more mentally tough Marmol. Now, if the Cubs can receive the same seasons from those guys, plus better years from Zambrano, Ramirez, Pena (from a batting average standpoint) and Ryan Dempster, the Cubs could enter into the conversation of NL Central contenders.

Houston Astros

Brad Mills did an excellent job in Houston in 2010. After seeing Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt depart, he kept the now younger Astros playing hard ball. I look for the same in 2011.

To me, the strength of the Astros may be the starting staff. They have a nice foursome in Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ. Don’t look at only the win-loss record of these guys. All four are quality pitchers. All can get you six to seven innings. All can leave you shaking your head.

The backend isn’t shabby either with Matt Lindstrom and Brandon Lyon.

Offensively, the Astros may be a bit challenged in the longball department. Outside of Carlos Lee, there’s only Hunter Pence that had over 20 homers last season. Enter, maybe, Bill Hall. Figure 60+ HR from Lee, Pence and Hall, but there’s still a lack of pop. Third baseman Chris Johnson could be the key for the Astros offense in 2011.

We know the Astros will run with Pence and Michael Bourne. Just need guys to drive them in.

Milwaukee Brewers

If there’s one thing that’s now obvious, it’s this. The Brewers are all-in for 2011. Trading a top prospect for Shawn Marcum. Trading legit MLB players in Lorenzo Cain and Alcedes Escobar for Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt did kind of leave me shaking my head a bit. But the Brewers were sending a message. We will contend in 2011. And I believe they can.

With 2011 most likely Prince Fielder’s last season in a Brewers uniform, Milwaukee decided to push everything in to the middle of the table. They made a huge splash with the Greinke acquisition. The made a wave in the deal for Marcum. What now?

The offense will be fine. We know that. Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee and Corey Hart is as potent as any in baseball. All can hit 25+ HR. All are capable of 90+ RBI. That’s a lot of homers and a lot of runs.

Now, take Greinke and Marcum and put them in rotation with Yovani Gallardo and you have the possibility of an exceptional top end of the rotation. I said possibility. The starting staff was a major issue during 2010.

There are two issues I see with the Brewers. Bullpen and defense. The Brewers have a guy in Jon Axford that pitched pretty good when Trevor Hoffman stumbled last season. It’s getting to him and Axford is still a bit of an unproven closer.

While the Brewers possess the necessary tools to be an offensive machine, you can’t say that from a defensive standpoint. Adding a strong reliever and shoring up the defense. If those two things are done, the Brewers are as legit as any tem in the NL Central. Maybe, the entire National League.

Pittsburgh Pirates

I like what the Pirates have done so far. They brought in some veterans in Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz to mix in with the excellent young talent in Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and Pedro Alvarez. Throw in a star in Andrew McCutchen, too. The offense shouldn’t lack for the Bucs in 2011.

By adding Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen, the Pirates are attempting to bolster their pitching staff with lower dollar hurlers. Not a bad move really. Correia gave a couple decent seasons to the Padres and Olsen was once considered a possible #2 starter when he was in Florida. These hedges may pay off well for Pittsburgh. Bucs GM Neal Huntington better hope they do.

I really like the backend of the staff with All-Star Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan. But the starting staff still leaves a bit to be desired. There’s not a true ace. There’s not really a true #2 for that matter.

And that’s the majority of the issue in Pittsburgh. Need arms. When you really think about it, that’s the issue with the Pirates.

I know Pirates fans are tired of hearing about their young talent and then see that talent being dealt. Maybe now, they will hold onto that talent. If so, the Pirates may not be as far off as people think. Not a contender this season, but I do expect a decent season provided pitching can step up.

St. Louis Cardinals

The chatter has already commenced about the Cards for 2011. I like the trade for Ryan Theriot to an extent. I liked Brenden Ryan as a defensive asset, but he fell off with the stick in ’10 and that was the primary reason for his deal to Seattle. Maybe the change in scenery (aka no Chris Carpenter to publicly unfleece the guy) will do him good.

But that’s the only real move the Cards have made. Sure, they re-signed Jake Westbrook to provide the Cards with a potentially excellent staff. That does leave teams staring at Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia as well. Can these guys rebound from a subpar end of the 2010 campaign? They sure can and I expect them to do just that.

Offensively, the Cards are a bit on the challenged side, too. Outside of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, who else really poses a threat? I don’t believe the Cards have addressed that outside of Theriot. I’m not completely sold on that option either.

David Freese could be that guy. He was on track for 10+ HR and 60-70 RBI when he went down last season. Freese was also sporting a .296 batting average. The Cards were lacking offensively from the third base position last season. He’s recovering nicely from an ankle injury and a setback associated with that ankle.

Not sure how the signing of Lance Berkman will really figure into the Cards scheme. I thought that his signing could open the door for another deal, maybe Colby Rasmus. Oh, that?

I do like the youngsters the Cards have in Rasmus and John Jay. We all have read and heard of the supposed issues with Rasmus and manager Tony LaRussa. Rasmus has all the potential to be a star. There have been rumors of his parting since the middle of 2010 when he and LaRussa apparently had a spat.

Jay, to me, is just as impressive. After the Cards dealt Ryan Ludwick in order to get Westbrook, Jay stepped in rather well. Like many of the Cards in 2010, he fell off toward the end of the season. Maybe that experience will serve him well in 2011. Right field is his as long as Rasmus is still a Redbird.

I haven’t mentioned the bullpen. Are Cards fans sold on Ryan Franklin as a closer? Who do the Cards have to get to Franklin? Um, the answers are possibly “no” and “I don’t know”. Franklin is solid, but he can scare you.

With the starting rotation as strong as it is, the Cards are a viable pick in this division. Not sure where the offense will come from other thatn Pujols and Holliday. Like all the other teams in the NL Central, there are holes.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds have spent the entire offseason standing pat. There were the extensions for Bronson Arroyo and Jay Bruce. Multi-year deals for Johnny Cueto and Joey Votto are in reported negotiations. They re-signed Miguel Cairo. The only real bit of internal housekeeping is re-signing Arthur Rhodes.

Reds GM Walt Jocketty insists that all is good for the Reds entering 2011. Not so sure the fanbase buys it. Walt may be more on course that we think.

I pointed out that the only glaring offensive need in 2010 was the leadoff position. Jocketty went to the winter meeting with an eye on that, but no deal was made. The Reds have a guy that can bat leadoff in Drew Stubbs. It’s just correcting and teaching him a couple of things when Stubbs is in the batter’s box. And I’m not sold on Brandon Phillips being that guy. He’s much better in the #2 hole.

And people want to bring the left field position into the conversation, too. While Jonny Gomes can be a defensive liability, his enthusiasm, hustle and energy served the Reds well in 2010. He served as the team’s inspirational leader.

Many an expert will point out all the young arms the Reds possess. Outside of Arroyo and closer Francisco Cordero, no other pitcher currently on the roster that pitched for Cincy last season is 30 years old. The closest is Jared Burton at 29.

While, the Reds do have a nice mix of youth and veterans, something just seems to be lacking here. Not sure what that is though. Maybe it’s that the other five teams in the division have added quality talent and the Reds haven’t.

Provided they can get the same production from all in 2010, a repeat is not out of the question.

Yes, even with all the moves the other teams in the NL Central have made.