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2011 Reds Preview: Quiet Offseason

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire.com and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

2011 Cincinnati Reds Team Preview

After breaking through to win the NL Central in 2010, the Reds had a relatively quiet offseason. They didn't make any big waves in free agency nor did they lose any of the cornerstone players. Much of their energy was focused upon taking care of their own - Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto all signed contract extensions, and they tried to ink Edinson Volquez to a long-term deal, too. The lack of activity this offseason shouldn't be interpreted as a team resting on its laurels, however. The core of this team remains young, and the Reds find themselves in the rare position of having depth to trade midseason to address any shortfall. The division will be tougher this season - both the Brewers and Cubs aggressively added reinforcements, and the Cardinals still are dangerous, even with the loss of Adam Wainwright. But the Reds should be right in the thick of it in the NL Central, and the wild card should be in play too should they fall short in winning the division.

Offseason moves:

Signed outfielder Fred Lewis.

Lewis will probably serve as a platoon partner for both Jonny Gomes in left field and perhaps for Drew Stubbs in center field. He'll also get extra duty late as a defensive replacement. His signing hurts both Chris Heisey and Jeremy Hermida. He could be a cheap source of steals if he gets the playing time. He's an upgrade over Laynce Nix as the Reds' lefty bat off the bench.

Signed shortstop Edgar Renteria.

Battling injuries for the second straight year, Renteria hit .276 with only three homers over 243 at-bats last season. Of course, he more than made up for it in the postseason, when he won the World Series MVP. The Reds signed Renteria to a one-year deal in January, and he'll compete with Paul Janish for the starting shortstop job, though right now Janish is the starter. The change in venue will help his stats a little bit, but it may not offset his advancing age.

Signed outfielder Jeremy Hermida to a minor league deal.

On occasion I need reminding that some post-hype sleepers never wake up. Hermida may not have a fork stuck in him just yet, but the cook has started the marinating process and has fired up the grill. There have been some players that I'm slower to give up on than others, and often I've been rewarded (Brandon Phillips comes to mind on the Reds), but I've also waited too long on occasion (paging Austin Kearns). Anyhow, Hermida faces an uphill battle to make the Reds' roster out of spring training. Not only does the team have a number of left field candidates, but Hermida really can play just left field and is not on the 40-man roster. It'll take an extraordinary spring training plus the falling apart of someone like Lewis for Hermida to make the Opening Day roster.

Re-signed infielder Miguel Cairo.

Cairo was a useful super-sub for the Reds in 2010, frequently filling in at third base whenever Scott Rolen needed a day off while occasionally giving Joey Votto a breather at first base. In the event that either Votto or Rolen is out with a long-term injury, the Reds are more likely to turn to Juan Francisco or Yonder Alonso than Cairo to play regularly. Thus, 150 to 200 at-bats is the extent of his upside.

Signed pitcher Dontrelle Willis to a minor league deal.

Willis is a dark horse to win a bullpen spot with the Reds, but if he were somehow able to regain his control while retaining an ability to get batters out, it would give the Reds a little flexibility to move Aroldis Chapman out of the bullpen should they want to go down that path.

Re-signed catcher Ramon Hernandez.

Hernandez no longer has the 20-homer power upside he once had, instead settling in at the 5-10 homer level with the Reds. He's back for another season in Cincinnati in a timeshare with Ryan Hanigan, and this time might end up playing less than Hanigan. He's a bad bet to repeat the .297 batting average he had in 2010 - he's one of the slower runners in the game, and he hit an unsustainable .335 on balls in play.

Lost Aaron Harang, Orlando Cabrera, Arthur Rhodes and Laynce Nix via free agency.

Of that group, the Reds only went after Rhodes, who instead was offered more money by the Rangers. Harang landed in his hometown, San Diego, where at least he can no longer blame his home park for his struggles (though he pitched worse on the road in 2010). Cabrera is in Cleveland and Nix signed a minor league deal with the Nationals.

Projected Lineup/Rotation:

Lineup (vs. RH/LH)

1. Brandon Phillips 2B
2. Jay Bruce RF
3. Joey Votto 1B
4. Scott Rolen 3B
5. Drew Stubbs CF
6. Fred Lewis/Jonny Gomes LF
7. Ramon Hernandez/Ryan Hanigan C
8. Paul Janish/Edgar Renteria SS

The leadoff spot remains a problem spot for the Reds - the Reds received far less production from the top two spots in their lineup than most of their rivals. Phillips is hardly ensconced in the position - other possibilities include Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce, and perhaps Fred Lewis once manager Dusty “I haven't yet seen him play” Baker gets more familiar with Lewis' game.

Rotation:

1. Edinson Volquez
2. Bronson Arroyo
3. Johnny Cueto
4. Homer Bailey/Travis Wood/Mike Leake
5. Homer Bailey/Travis Wood/Mike Leake/Matt Maloney

The first three are set, but there's a pretty robust battle for the fourth and fifth starter's slots. Bailey has the advantage over Wood and Leake of being out of options, and Wood was the Reds' best pitcher in the three-game playoffs loss to the Phillies. Leake wore down after helping keep the Reds afloat when others were struggling early in the season, and he hasn't yet pitched in the minors.

CL: Francisco Cordero

Cordero saved 40 games in 48 attempts in 2010, but his strikeout rate continued to plummet to a new low of 7.31 batters per nine innings. Combine that with a 4.46 walks per nine innings and the presence of Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen, and you have a closer that's a bit at risk of losing his job midway through the season. Working in his favor is manager Dusty Baker, who tends to be more patient with his veterans than other managers. Bid carefully.

Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise

How does Aroldis Chapman fit into the picture?

What is Chapman's ultimate role with the Reds? Right now he's still in the bullpen, as the top set-up man, but he could either start for the Reds this year or could replace closer Francisco Cordero. Because the Reds already have six viable starter candidates, Chapman is more likely to stick in the bullpen for another year - in fact, the departure of Arthur Rhodes helps reinforce that notion. There's some concern about Chapman's stamina should he transition back to starting, and obviously his velocity won't peak as high if he does get stretched out. Either way, his tremendous fastball (MLB record 105 mph) and slider will continue to wow crowds and confound opposing hitters. He should have value even if he doesn't close or start for the Reds in 2011. Even if he stays in the bullpen for all of 2011, that doesn't preclude him starting in the future. Many top starters have begun their major league careers in the bullpen, learning how to retire major league hitters.

Who wins the left field job?

We asked this question last year, and it remains the one position still in flux again in 2011. Jonny Gomes is the nominal incumbent, but he really needs a platoon partner and frequently could use a defensive replacement. Fortunately for him, the Reds don't have a one-size-fits-all alternative to Gomes. Both left-handed hitting alternatives (Fred Lewis, Jeremy Hermida) are also suspect defensively, and while Chris Heisey is an improvement defensively, he doesn't provide any platoon advantage and can't yet hit for the same power as Gomes. Look for left field to remain split among multiple options, with Gomes holding at least a plurality of the playing time.

Strengths: Depth in the starting rotation, an emerging young core (Votto, Bruce, Stubbs) that's locked up for the next few years and the wherewithal to deal for what they need at the trade deadline, if need be.

Weaknesses: The lack of an established ace hurt the Reds last year when they match up against the elite teams and opposing starters. It's possible that Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto or even Homer Bailey eventually becomes that guy, but they aren't there yet. Shortstop is weak offensively and left field is still a bit of a mess.

Rising: Drew Stubbs - Stubbs' 67-percent contact rate last year, resulting in 168 strikeouts, is worrisome, but at least there's a payout that comes with those strikeouts in Stubbs' power and speed. Many observers have compared Stubbs' game to that of Mike Cameron, and the comparison seems apt. He draws walks, plays good defense in center field, and provides both power (22 homers) and speed (30 stolen bases). With his raw speed, Stubbs has the potential to turn in a few 50-steal seasons. As long as you're willing to put up with a lower batting average, Stubbs can provide a lot across the board.

Falling: Scott Rolen - Rolen got off to a great start in 2010 before wearing down over the second half due to back, neck and hamstring problems. Split stats can be notoriously misleading, but Rolen had a .909 OPS before the All-Star break, before most of his injuries, and a .772 OPS after the break while only playing in 58 games. Given his injury history, you need to discount his projection at the draft table just a little bit to account for potential missed time. Third base is thinner than other years, so Rolen is still draft-worthy even in mixed leagues, but he shouldn't be the sole third-base eligible player on your roster.

Sleeper: Nick Masset - Masset has worked himself into the Reds' top setup role, or at least he had before Aroldis Chapman got the late-season callup. Since coming over to the Reds in the Ken Griffey Jr. trade, Masset has raised his strikeout rate each season, going from 5.7 batters per nine innings in 2008 to 10.0 last season. Chapman rightly is considered the next in line for the Reds to close, but don't discount the possibility that Dusty Baker might instead turn to Masset in the event that Francisco Cordero loses the job.

Supersleeper: Jose Arredondo - Arredondo missed all of 2010 recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, but he was frequently dominant with the Angels before his injury and had good results in the Dominican Winter League, hovering in the 94-97 mph range. He might begin the season at Triple-A Louisville, but he could eventually carve out a high-leverage role in the Reds' bullpen.

Roster

Here's the rundown of players not mentioned above:

Bronson Arroyo - Arroyo was the Reds' steadiest starter last year, which earned him a three-year, $35 million contract extension this winter. While the market for useable starting pitchers was pretty robust this offseason, there's a good chance that the Reds will regret this contract as much as they did Aaron Harang's. For the second year in a row, Arroyo averaged just over 5.0 strikeouts per nine innings, and he gave up 29 homers. On the flip side, he walked just 2.46 batters per nine and held opposing hitters to a .246 BABIP against. The former stat seems repeatable, the latter does not. Expect some regression in 2011 and more beyond that.

Homer Bailey - Bailey demonstrated some improvement in 2010, raising his strikeout rate while maintaining decent walk and home run rates. His overall record looks a little worse than it could have been, thanks to a 68-percent strand rate and a .321 BABIP against. Will it be enough to stick in the starting rotation? His spot is pretty tenuous, with Travis Wood, Mike Leake and perhaps even Aroldis Chapman battling with Bailey for the final two spots after Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez. He has the talent to succeed, and he's still young enough to turn that talent into performance.

Jay Bruce - Bruce started slowly for the Reds in 2010, hitting into a decent share of bad luck in April, mixed in with a low contact rate. The luck turned around midseason and Bruce finished the year on fire, ending up with a career-high .846 OPS. He's capable of hitting 30-35 homers at his peak, which might occur in the next couple of seasons. He has a big home/road split, but any concern over that has been washed away by his six-year, $51 million contract extension signed in the offseason. The only factor keeping him from being among the elite fantasy outfielders is a lack of stolen bases - he seems unlikely to top double-digits in any given season.

Johnny Cueto - A quick look at Cueto's numbers show that he has made an effort to become more pitch efficient at the cost of a few extra strikeouts. He lowered his walk rate and his home run rate two years in a row, and the tradeoff has been worth it. Cueto lowered his ERA below 4.00 and threw more innings than he was in his previous two seasons. Look for more of the same in 2011.

Juan Francisco - Francisco did more of the same for Triple-A Louisville last year as he did throughout his minor league career - hit for power, hit for decent average and strike out a ton. The contact rate problem, accompanied by a lack of walks, is what's going to limit his future ceiling. He also isn't the most adept third baseman defensively, which makes it hard to anoint him as the Reds' future option at the hot corner. Look for him to play a little bit more in 2011 than in 2010, when he was essentially limited to pinch-hitting duty with the Reds.

Ryan Hanigan - The Reds quietly received good production at the plate from their catching tandem of Hanigan and Ramon Hernandez in 2010, while Hanigan also provided excellent defense. Hanigan has unusually good plate discipline, having walked more than he's struck out over his major league career (81:63 BB:K in 549 at-bats). He won't hit for much power, but if you're looking for a $1-2 catcher in the endgame of your NL draft, he might not be a bad investment.

Paul Janish - Janish isn't ever going to hit for much power, but if he can continue to get on at the .340 OBP-pace that he posted in 2010, the Reds will take that from him as their starting shortstop and be satisfied, getting superb defense in return as part of the equation. The team added Edgar Renteria to be a veteran caddy to go along with him in January. Given Renteria's pedigree, particularly in the postseason, it looks like Janish will have to share the starting duties at best once again.

Brandon Phillips - Phillips is probably miscast as a leadoff hitter, given his lack of patience at the plate, but due to the utter lack of alternatives on the Reds' roster, that's where he was for much of the season. The result was that he scored 100 runs for the first time since 2007 hitting in front of Joey Votto, while driving in only 59. At the end of the day, he's better off lower in the lineup, but unless Drew Stubbs takes the leap in 2011, Phillips will probably spend another year toward the top. His overall numbers were hurt by a wrist injury that he tried to play through in September, a problem that shouldn't be present going forward.

Edinson Volquez - Pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery typically get their velocity back before their control, and that was definitely the case with Volquez. After a splashy 2010 debut, Volquez had a mix of good outings and bad ones, and the bad ones were particularly disastrous. He suffered from some bad defense, a tight strike zone and a quick hook by Dusty Baker in his one playoff start. Don't let that dissuade you on draft day - better times are ahead for Volquez.

Joey Votto - Votto's counting stats were able to catch up with his already great rate stats in 2010, leading up to his NL MVP award. Just think how many RBI he'd be able to tally if the Reds were capable of putting a decent leadoff man in front of him - Reds leadoff hitters were among the bottom five in baseball in both batting average and on-base percentage. At age 27, Votto is in the prime of his career, so a repeat of his 2010 power numbers is probable. The one aspect that might not repeat, however, is his 16 stolen bases.

Travis Wood - Wood lost out on the fifth starter's job to Mike Leake in spring training, but didn't let that deter him from building off of a strong 2009 season. Once he made it to the Reds, he was extremely reliable for two months before slowing down in September. However, a strong relief outing against the Phillies in Game 1 of the NLDS loss in the Roy Halladay no-hitter game reminded Reds fans of his potential. That said, his spot in the starting rotation to begin 2011 isn't secure. Either he, Homer Bailey or Mike Leake will be on the outside looking in. The guess here is that Wood wins the spot ahead of Leake.

Top Prospects

Yonder Alonso - Alonso started slowly in 2010 while trying to recover from the broken hamate bone that slowed his 2009 season down. A strong second half left him with decent overall numbers, though not the monster power numbers the Reds were hoping for when they drafted him. The bigger problem for the Reds is that an attempt to move him to left field at Triple-A Louisville fizzled out, leaving him without a position at the major league level, with Joey Votto obviously not going anywhere. There's a good chance that his bat will eventually catch up to expectations, but the odds are it will be with another organization after Alonso gets dealt. Because of the position issue, Alonso will probably spend half the summer in Louisville again.

Devin Mesoraco - After scuffling at the plate in his first two-and-a-half seasons as a professional, Mesoraco exploded in 2010, hitting a combined .302/.377/.587 at three levels before slowing down a bit in the Arizona Fall League. While the offensive development was promising, Mesoraco's receiving skills behind the plate still need improving. The Reds re-signed Ramon Hernandez for another season, so look for Mesoraco to spend most of the year at Triple-A Louisville. He'll have to produce once he reaches the majors, with the Reds drafting another catcher in Yasmani Grandal in 2010.

Yasmani Grandal - Many draft experts considered Grandal to be a potential top-five pick in last year's Rule 4 draft, but he slipped to the Reds at No. 12 overall due to signability concerns. For the second year in a row, the Reds broke ranks with recent history by going over slot to sign Grandal much like they did Yonder Alonso the year before. Grandal will be on the fast track for the Reds, as he can hit for both power and average and is considered to be a smooth defensive catcher. Devin Mesoraco will probably reach the majors before Grandal, but Grandal has the higher ceiling.

Billy Hamilton - Hamilton was drafted out of a Mississippi high school in the second round of the 2009 draft and started to hit his stride last year in the Pioneer League, where he hit .318/.383/.456 with a whopping 48 stolen bases in 69 games. So far he hasn't hit for power, and this production came at a pretty low level, but Hamilton's raw tools should put him on your long-term radar.

Todd Frazier - Frazier took a step back last year at Triple-A Louisville, nearly doubling his strikeout rate while dropping in batting average by 40-plus points. He regressed enough to the point that the Reds didn't make him one of their September callups, instead choosing to keep him off the 40-man roster. Frazier's other problem is that he's without a position, having washed out at shortstop and second already. He split time between left field, third base and first base with Louisville last season, and probably projects best as an outfielder, where his value is limited. A return engagement in Louisville seems in the cards for Frazier.

Zach Cozart - The Reds are likely to start Paul Janish at shortstop this season and not bring in a veteran caretaker for the job, as they did last year with Orlando Cabrera. That means a utility job will be open for the Reds, and Cozart could win that job, as the better defender at short between he and Chris Valaika. Unfortunately, Cozart's bat isn't really ready after a campaign at Triple-A Louisville where he posted a measly .310 OBP. He has some power, but there's not much upside here.

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