Reds caravan promises better product for 2005

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 30, 2005

ASHLAND, Ky. - It's not Joe Namath guaranteeing a Super Bowl win, but then it's not former President George Bush promising "No new taxes."

But somewhere in between, Cincinnati general manager Dan O'Brien believes Reds fans can count on an improved and competitive product when the 2005 baseball season begins April 4 against the New York Mets.

"We're a better team on paper guaranteed. We're far better prepared to go to war this year," O'Brien said during Saturday's Reds Caravan stop at the Ashland Town Center.

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"But we have to transfer that talent from paper to the field."

A flurry of offseason acquisitions have created a major sense of improvement for a Reds team that finished 76-86 last season and fourth in the National League Central Division.

Pitching is always a coveted commodity with all major league teams and the Reds believe the re-signing of Paul Wilson plus the signing of free agent Eric Milton and the trade for Ramon Ortiz will vastly improve the starting rotation.

Signing Kent Merker, Ben Weber and David Weathers should help bolster a bullpen that tired the second half of the season and floundered continually.

"We had a lot of areas we had to address, and we think we have done that," O'Brien said. "We added three veterans to our bullpen and all three have world championship rings.

"With our starters, we added Ramon Ortiz from Anaheim and he also has a world championship ring. Eric Milton doesn't have a ring but he was in the playoffs with the Minnesota Twins."

Shortstop and third base were major areas of concern, but O'Brien said the signing for Rich Aurilia at shortstop and Joe Randa at third base will help fill the voids. Aurilia, who signed a minor league contract, will compete with Felipe Lopez for the starting job now that Anderson Machado has undergone knee surgery.

Machado injured his knee last month while playing winter ball in the Venezuelan League. Dr. Timothy Kremchek performed the 40-minute surgery Friday to repair the medial collateral ligament.

Machado is expected to undergo several months of rehabilitation, and it is uncertain when he can return.

Dave Miley thinks he has a better talent pool as he begins his second full season as the Reds manager.

"It's nice to have a lot of players who can help our ballclub," Miley said. "We had some great signings. We have some good veterans and a good mix of younger players. Having this many players competing can only make us a better team."

An area of abundance appears to be in the outfield if all parties remain healthy, something that failed to happen last season.

Perennial all-star Ken Griffey Jr. suffered yet another season-ending injury and Austin Kearns was racked with two different stints on the disabled list.

Miley said Griffey is "100 percent. He's reporting early with the pitchers and catchers."

But their injuries allowed Wily Mo Pena a chance to play and he responded by hitting .259 with 26 homer runs and driving in 66 runs.

The Reds top power producer is outfielder Adam Dunn who hit 46 homers and drove in 102. Ryan Freel also got a chance to play and hit .277 with 37 stolen bases to finish among the league leaders in that category.

Kearns attempted to play third base in the offseason to try and fill that glaring weakness, but the signing of Randa will return him to the outfield.

"Freel is our jack of all trades. He can play the outfield or infield," Miley said. "One thing we weren't able to do last year was give guys a break. I kept telling Sean Casey I was going to give him a day off and he played in 110 games. I don't foresee a problem with playing time."

Miley also said the addition of new relievers Merker, Weber and Weathers to the current staff should help rest pitchers, especially closer Danny Graves.

Jason LaRue will be back behind the plate as catcher and Miley said "he was much better defensively the last month of the season."

Casey, the team's MVP with a .324 average, 24 HRs and 99 RBIs, will again be at first base.