Trading for Scott Rolen
OK, we're cheating a little on this first one. The Reds acquired Rolen from the Blue Jays on July 31, 2009. But this was a move with a firm eye on 2010.
Jocketty, who had Rolen with him on the Cardinals when they won a World Series, wanted the third baseman's veteran experience and presence to help a younger clubhouse. Rolen quietly did that, and he also had a renaissance season after being nagged by injuries in previous seasons at Toronto. He made the All-Star team for the sixth time and is a good bet to claim an eighth NL Gold Glove. And how's this for presence? Since the trade, the Reds are 97-63 when Rolen starts.
Pretty much a no-brainer. The first baseman was healthy on the field, improved defensively and continued to evolve as a hitter right into high consideration for the NL Most Valuable Player Award.
Signing Orlando Cabrera
A late free-agent move that came near the end of the offseason, the Reds felt they needed the 35-year-old Cabrera to stabilize the shortstop position offensively. He was also sought for his leadership and playoff experience. For the sixth time in seven years, with five different teams, he will be going to the postseason.
Cabrera had some key catalyst moments once he shifted to either the leadoff or second spot in the lineup. He may have lost a step to age, but he still made most of the plays on the diamond.
Re-signing Jonny Gomes
Gomes produced 20 homers and 51 RBIs in 2009 but spent all winter unemployed. The Reds signed him the day before the full-squad report date at Spring Training.
By May, Gomes earned the everyday job in left field. He established career highs in at-bats and RBIs. At a mere $800,000, he proved to be the ultimate bargain.
The Reds lack a true No. 1 shutdown ace, but has anyone been more ace-like for them than Bronson Arroyo? Quietly, the right-hander has knocked out a career high 16 wins. That gave him at least 15 wins for the third straight season. For the sixth consecutive season, he surpassed 200 innings.
With the Reds' rotation getting younger with Johnny Cueto, Travis Wood, Edinson Volquez and Mike Leake, among others, Arroyo was a dependable veteran presence that could be counted on to deliver every fifth day.
Patience was a virtue
Credit goes to Baker for not succumbing to constant public demand to give up on slumping players. Three in particular were outfielders Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs and right-handed setup man Nick Masset.
Bruce dipped into a miserable summer swoon and batted just .200 in July. Amid complaints he should be benched in favor Chris Heisey, Bruce went on a tear since late August and didn't let a two-week break with a sore right side stop him. The nail in the critics' coffin? Bruce sent the first pitch he saw in Tuesday's ninth inning over the center-field fence to clinch the division title.
Stubbs has had a roller-coaster first full big league season and saw his average careen down to .228 at the start of August. Speculation had him being demoted, but the club valued his speed and defense too much. Stubbs responded with a late-summer push that helped him become a 20-homer, 20-stolen-base player.
And then there is Masset, who gave up a grand slam in his first game and had an ERA over 11 after one month. There were cries from fans that he should lose his eighth-inning spot. But he never lost his job and regained his mojo on the mound. Masset went on a shutdown stretch for much the summer.
Doing nothing at the Deadline
Although Jocketty made an unsuccessful run at lefty starter Cliff Lee before the All-Star break, the Reds ultimately stood pat at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. It sent a signal to the clubhouse that there was confidence in the team. Coincidence or not, Cincinnati went 19-8 in August.
Leake given a chance
It was bold and unconventional when the Reds made right-hander Mike Leake the first pitcher to go straight from college to the Majors since 1995. Sure, he struggled in the second half and has been shut down with arm fatigue since late August. But his first half was a boon from the rotation's fifth spot, as he went a respectable 8-4 with a 3.78 ERA in 22 starts.
Setting up in the bullpen
Sure, Reds relievers had their rough moments. What bullpen hasn't? But the aforementioned turnaround of Masset, plus the stunning stretch of 33 straight scoreless appearances by 40-year-old lefty Arthur Rhodes shortened games after starters departed. Rookie Logan Ondrusek was vastly improved after his second callup.
And what better late-season, late-inning weapon could there have been for the Reds than a 105-mph-fastball-throwing Cuban defector? That would be 22-year-old lefty Aroldis Chapman, who was signed for $30.25 million in January. Although he didn't start with the club and was converted from starter to reliever while in Triple-A with this stretch run in mind, Chapman came up on Aug. 31 and somehow lived up to the incredible hype.
Everyone got involved
Baker wasn't afraid to keep his role players engaged and deftly picked spots where players could be successful from the bench. Heisey slugged seven homers, including four as a pinch-hitter.
Miguel Cairo ably stepped into both corner-infield spots when Scott Rolen or Joey Votto had injuries or needed breaks. Laynce Nix became a clutch left-handed pinch-hitter. And Paul Janish picked up the club for a month at shortstop when Cabrera was on the disabled list.