Reds set for one more run
CINCINNATI — Bronson Arroyo knows he may well be strumming his guitar somewhere else next season if this one doesn’t turn out better than the last few. Aaron Harang might be looking for a spot in someone else’s rotation. Manager Dusty Baker? Could be in the job market, too.
For some of the Cincinnati Reds, this could be a last go-around.
The Reds kept their roster intact to make one more run at a winning season, something they haven’t pulled off since 2000. Their longest streak of losing in a half-century brings them to one of those fork-in-the-road seasons.
If they win in 2010, there’s reason to keep the manager and at least some of those high-priced veterans around.
If they lose…
“Is there a chance that myself, Dusty, (closer Francisco) Cordero, Harang, one of us might be here after this year if we don’t play well? Yeah, maybe,” Arroyo said. “But you’re not going to have the whole crew. You’re not going to have as many veterans around here as we do now.
“So I think it’s either get the job done now or they’re going to get pretty young, which doesn’t mean that they can’t compete, but it’s probably going to be a little tougher.”
Whether the Reds pull it off could well come down to something totally out of their control, something they couldn’t do at all last year: They have to stay healthy.
Nineteen players went on the disabled list last season. Four-fifths of the rotation was wiped out by injury or illness, along with every starting position player except second baseman Brandon Phillips. The daily injury report was more like Anatomy 101 class.
Name an ailment, someone had it at least once. Carpal tunnel syndrome. Bad shoulder. Bum wrist. Bruised chest. The flu. Inner-ear infection. Debilitating stress. Shredded pitching elbow. Bulging neck disc. Concussion. Emergency appendectomy. Broken wrist. Broken thumb. Broken toe. Locked-up knee. Sprained ankle.
Amazingly, the Reds stayed in contention for three months while the bulk of their roster was putting down roots in the trainer’s room. Baker was getting mentioned as a possible Manager of the Year candidate. The Reds had a winning record on July 4, then flamed out like a spent firework, nagged by the empty feeling that they never got to find out how good they really were.
Now, they have another chance. A last chance.
Ownership kept Arroyo ($11 million) and Harang ($12.5 million) for the final guaranteed year on their deals. Cordero stayed as well — he’s owed $12 million this year and next. Orlando Cabrera was brought in to play shortstop, filling the only hole in an everyday lineup that returns intact.
The Reds also made an offseason splash by signing Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million deal, an investment in the future that could start paying off at some point this season if he keeps his 100 mph fastball under control.
The pitching is potentially good enough to keep them in the chase.
Harang is the biggest question, 31 years old and coming off two subpar seasons. Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey fill out the rotation, with Edinson Volquez — the team’s best starter — expected back around midseason from reconstructive elbow surgery.
The bullpen should be solid again, with Cordero coming off an All-Star season — 39 saves in 43 chances.
That leaves it up to an everyday lineup that was well below average last season, when Baker was constantly trying to plug holes left by all the injuries. A core of young players — 24-year-old right fielder Jay Bruce, 25-year-old center fielder Drew Stubbs, 26-year-old first baseman Joey Votto — is supplemented by 30-somethings Cabrera, third baseman Scott Rolen and catcher Ramon Hernandez.
Baker liked the way his roster meshed during spring training, when everybody seemed to get along and hardly anyone got hurt. A lot of players showed up early to the Reds’ new training complex in Arizona and stayed late.
“It’s not unusual on good teams because you have more team-oriented goals than personal goals and you come to spring training knowing you’ve got a pretty good chance to go somewhere as a team,” Baker said.
The Reds lack a proven leadoff hitter — a problem for the last few years. Stubbs got the job based on his solid showing in his first big-league promotion last season, when he hit .267 in 42 games with 10 steals. There’s no prototype cleanup hitter, either, so Phillips (.276, 20 homers, 98 RBIs) will fill the role again.
Arroyo pointed out that it’s still a vast improvement over the cobbled-together batting orders from last season.
“What I like about this team is I feel like we’ve finally got a lineup that doesn’t have a whole lot of weaknesses in it,” Arroyo said. “We’re going to have somebody in the lineup every day that’s going to battle for an at-bat. We don’t have three and four guys that you think are going to hit .220 and swing and miss a whole lot.”
If they manage to pull off that first winning season in a decade, it would be a good argument to keep the team intact and keep going.
“Who says it’s the last chance?” Baker said. “If you win, you get another chance. If you win, there’s no way that they can get rid of everybody. I’ve seen it too many times.”