Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Where will the run production come from?
For the first time in years, the Reds are entering a season with no Adam Dunn and no Ken Griffey Jr. in the middle of their order. Of those two, Dunn's production will be most missed since he was good for 40 homers, 100 RBIs and 100 runs each year. No one was added to fill that void, which means much of the run-producing load will be shifted to younger players like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce. The club also plans to supplement lost power with an increased focus on speed, defense and sound pitching.
2. Who will play left field, one guy, or two, or three?
3. Will Alex Gonzalez be healthy at shortstop?
The Reds largely bypassed the bigger names on a lackluster free-agent market and will have a variety of names in the mix for the position. It will most likely be a platoon among Jerry Hairston Jr., Chris Dickerson and Jonny Gomes, but recent signee Jacque Jones could fight his way into the battle.
Gonzalez missed all of the 2008 season with a compression fracture that required microfracture surgery. Recently, he was examined and pronounced 100 percent ready to fully participate in drills at Spring Training. But drills don't replace over a year's worth of missed games, and it will be interesting to see how Gonzalez's knee holds up. If it doesn't, Jeff Keppinger and Hairston are expected to step in and help pick up the slack like they did last season -- but neither is as strong defensively as Gonzalez.
74-88, fifth place in NL Central
Projected batting order
1. CF Willy Taveras
.251 BA, .308 OBP, .296 SLG, 1 HR, 26 RBI, 68 SB in 2008
2. LF Jerry Hairston Jr.
.326 BA, .384 OBP, .487 SLG, 6 HR, 36 RBI in 2008
3. 1B Joey Votto
.297 BA, .368 OBP, .506 SLG, 24 HR, 84 RBI in 2008
4. 2B Brandon Phillips
.261 BA, .312 OBP, .442 SLG, 21 HR, 78 RBI in 2008
5. RF Jay Bruce
.254 BA, .314 OBP, .453 SLG, 21 HR, 52 RBI in 2008
6. 3B Edwin Encarnacion
.251 BA, .340 OBP, .466 SLG, 26 HR, 68 RBI in 2008
7. C Ramon Hernandez
.257 BA, .308 OBP, .406 SLG, 15 HR, 65 RBI in 2008
8. SS Alex Gonzalez
Injured and did not play in 2008
1. Aaron Harang
, 6-17, 4.78 ERA in 2008
2. Edinson Volquez
, 17-6, 3.21 in 2008
3. Bronson Arroyo
, 15-11, 4.77 in 2008
4. Johnny Cueto
, 9-14, 4.81, in 2008
5. Micah Owings
, 6-9, 5.93 in 2008
Closer: Francisco Cordero
, 34/40 saves, 3.33 ERA in 2008
RH setup man: Jared Burton
, 3.22 ERA in 2008
LH setup man: Bill Bray
, 2.87 ERA in 2008
The new guys
Non-tendered by the Rockies, Taveras signed a two-year, $6.25 million contract to become Cincinnati's leadoff man and center fielder. The 27-year-old is one of the league's fastest and stole 68 bases last year. However, he can't steal first base. After a down year, he must use his speed (since he has no power) to put the ball in play and create havoc.
Acquired in a trade from the Orioles for popular utility player Ryan Freel, the Reds decided to go with a veteran like Hernandez over last year's newcomer, Ryan Hanigan. Hernandez could be the consistent hitting catcher the Reds have lacked for years, but his once solid defensive reputation took a hit last year. With Baltimore, he had a low caught-stealing percentage and was among league leaders at his position in errors and passed balls.
The left-handed reliever was signed to a two-year, $4 million deal and replaces departure Jeremy Affeldt. Rhodes was extremely nasty last season vs. left-handers, who batted .157 (11-for-70) against him, while right-handers batted .309 (17-for-55).
Gomes was non-tendered by the Rays after a rough 2008 season, during which he batted .182 with eight homers and 21 RBIs in 77 games. Gomes is still 28 and as a Minor League signing, he could be a bargain if he can return to the production levels that once made him a rising young star in Tampa Bay.
A late signing last week to a Minor League deal with a big league camp invite like Gomes, Jones was once a solid contributor for the Twins and Cubs but took a steep decline in recent years. Last season with the Tigers and Marlins, the 33-year-old batted .147 in a combined 42 games and was out of baseball by June. Jones did play well this winter in Mexico, which helped earn him an opportunity with Cincinnati.
Also signed last week to a Minor League deal with a big league camp invite, Ward should be a primary left-handed pinch-hitter off the bench and can play first base and left field. In 2007, he hit a career-best .327, with a .436 on-base percentage. Last season, the 33-year-old dipped to a .216 average and .319 OBP in 89 games. Ward does have 11 career pinch-hit home runs -- so there is some pop in the late innings available.
Prospects to watch
The organization's top-rated prospect and 2008 first-round Draft pick will have his first Spring Training in a big league camp. Alonso, a first baseman, has a reputation for strong power, and it should be interesting to see how he fares among Major League competition.
An outfielder who was the Reds' 2006 first-rounder, Stubbs burned through three levels last season to reach Triple-A and is showing signs of putting it all together. The Reds have continually worked with Stubbs to not expand his strike zone too much. The 24-year-old could be up during this season should there be an outfield issue at the big league level.
The shortstop was the organization's 2008 Minor League Player of the Year winner and has hit at every level he's played. The 23-year-old batted a combined .317 with 18 home runs and 81 RBIs last season at high Class A and Double-A. He has a chance of reaching the Majors before 2009 is over.
Another shortstop that can hit, Frazier batted .291 with 19 home runs, 74 RBIs and a .368 on-base percentage at both levels of Class A last season. The 22-year-old could be a contender for the 2010 roster if he continues to progress.
On the rebound
A 16-game winner in 2006 and 2007, Harang is likely motivated to erase the bad memories from a lost 2008 season (6-17 record), where little went right.
Will Gonzalez's repaired knee enable him the same dynamic range and defensive ability he was known for? As stated above, it will be something to watch for at this year's camp.
He should be fully healed after fracturing his right index finger in September and having surgery. Phillips is the reigning NL Gold Glove winner.
The outfielder had a piece of bone removed from his left ankle during a late September surgery and will need to be 100 percent to have a chance at that vacant left-field spot.
Once the organization's top prospect, Bailey's season-ending right knee ligament sprain was the capper to an all-around rough 2008. He was 0-6 with a 7.93 ERA at the big league level but also endured a 21-start winless streak at Triple-A.
The first free agent to change teams, Affeldt smartly signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Giants before the market collapsed.
An all-out playing style was respected, but injuries caught up to him. Freel played in just 123 games for the Reds over 2007-08, but will be missed because he gave it his all in a fashion like few others.
The pinch-hitter and backup catcher was not retained and recently signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals.
Although regarded to have good pitches, Belisle could not consistently put together good games. Efforts to make him a starter were not successful, and the cord was cut. The right-hander is at Rockies camp this spring.
The center fielder endured one of the worst offensive seasons in Reds history and the scorn of fans.
A solid backup-type catcher who was overused in 2008, Bako offered little offensively, but pitchers liked working with him. He is back with the Cubs after signing a big league contract.
The reliever ran out of chances after going 2-6 with a 7.38 ERA in 88 games for the Reds after a July 2006 trade with the Nationals. Majewski will be at Phillies camp this spring on a Minor League deal.
Signed as a fifth starter, Fogg went 2-7 with an 8.23 ERA in 14 starts and was also used out of the bullpen. The right-hander returned to the Rockies on a Minor League deal.
The well-liked lefty reliever is headed for retirement to spend his post-baseball years with family and on Columbus-area golf courses.
The utility player refused an outright assignment and elected free agency.