As former Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky often said, "I don't have a crystal ball," but it's still worth trying to look ahead and see what Cincinnati will have to address in the coming season.
The following are 10 questions that could come up next season for the Reds and an attempt to answer them.
1. Will the offense be better following lackluster production in 2009?
After ranking 15th out of 16 National League clubs in batting average, it didn't seem like it could get much worse last year, so in theory, it has to get better. The good news is the Reds will have third baseman Scott Rolen for a full season. If center fielder Drew Stubbs can retain his job in center field and build on his rookie debut from 2009, the lineup flows much better. After Rolen came off the disabled list because of a concussion, the Reds finished the season 27-13. Cincinnati has yet to add any proven veteran bats, so it will fall on the younger players to pick up the slack.
2. Was pitcher Homer Bailey's late-season success for real, and will it extend into 2010?
Bailey was 6-1 with a 1.70 ERA over his final nine starts in 2009. Detractors can say that four of those starts came against a woeful Pirates team. That withstanding, the 23-year-old has clearly taken his game to a higher level and has shown the ability to be a quality Major League pitcher. Two years of struggles have changed Bailey for the better, and I have every reason to believe he will be solid from the fourth spot in the 2010 rotation.
3. Will Jay Bruce be better than last season?
After a sophomore season in which he batted only .223, Bruce has to rebound for the Reds to have a chance to be taken seriously in the NL Central (see question No. 1). Set to turn 23 before Opening Day, the right fielder was prone to striking out by expanding his own strike zone and chasing. A two-month stay on the disabled list with a broken right wrist from July 12-Aug. 13 didn't help his development. But he came back and performed better when he batted .375 (12-for-32) with four homers over his final 12 games. Bruce said he made footwork adjustments in the batters' box, and it was clear he was taking more of the bad pitches.
4. Will Edinson Volquez contribute in 2010?
Volquez recently insisted he would be ready sometime in 2010 following his August Tommy John reconstruction surgery on his right elbow. He's expected to begin throwing in January and is aiming for a June return. Barring no setbacks, it's certainly possible, but the rotation will have to go on without him to start the season.
5. Will the Reds open the season with Paul Janish as the shortstop, and can he improve offensively?
All points indicate that Janish will be the shortstop, especially since the Reds haven't added anyone from outside the organization. Defensively, it's unlikely they can improve from Janish, who has a great glove. He is also a .205 career hitter over 128 games the past two seasons. He's taken improving his bat very seriously, and his 21 doubles in just 256 at-bats last season indicate he's capable of hitting line drives, and most importantly, getting better as a hitter.
6. What will the Reds do with center fielder Willy Taveras?
Taveras is owed $4 million for the final year of his contract in 2010, and despite his dreadful '09 season, the economically challenged Reds aren't going to give up so easily in the winter. My prediction: Taveras will go to Spring Training and be given a chance to win his regular job back against Stubbs. If Stubbs wins as I'd expect, Taveras should be traded for whatever can be gotten or released. He doesn't have the skills or versatility that would serve the Reds well from the bench. If Cincinnati can get someone else to take even 25 percent of what's owed Taveras, the club would be happy.
7. What will become of the Reds' top prospects, such as Todd Frazier, Chris Heisey, Yonder Alonso, Juan Francisco and Mike Leake?
All could be making their big league debuts in 2010. Heisey, who has hit at every level on his way up to Triple-A, has a chance at the open left-field spot. Frazier, the organization's top prospect, can play four positions and is a phone call away should something happen at second base, third base, shortstop or left field. Leake impressed during his first pro exposure in the Arizona Fall League, and he shouldn't need tons of seasoning in the Minors before he can contribute to the rotation. It's harder to predict what will become of Alonso and Francisco. Both are blocked at the corner infield positions. Francisco, a third baseman by trade, will also get a look in left field.
8. Is it possible that the Reds will dump contracts of the likes of Francisco Cordero, Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo and others?
With Rolen's contract restructuring saving the team $5 million on the 2010 payroll, it should help keep players around. But if there is a slow start, quick fade, etc., moving players in the summer seems inevitable, especially when their value could be higher.
9. Could manager Dusty Baker's job be in jeopardy if there is a slow start or prolonged slide?
There have been no inside rumblings, but there are some facts that can't be avoided. Baker is entering the final season of his three-year contract, and the seat is always a little warmer for managers without the security of a contract beyond the last year. Baker and the Reds are also coming off two losing seasons. The team has nine consecutive losing seasons, and owner/CEO Bob Castellini isn't the most patient of people. Baker also wasn't a hire of general manager Walt Jocketty. The best thing for Baker is that the Reds get out of the gate quickly and stay healthy.
10. Is 2010 the year the Reds will finally have a winning season?
I will go out on the limb and say yes, especially if they can stay healthy. Granted, the margin for error is ultra thin, and everything would have to go right with the young guys that serve as the core contributors, but this team and the fans have enough reason to believe.
I've been skeptical about Cincinnati's chances before previous seasons, but despite the lack of change on the roster, there are some things to like. Although it was partially done out of economic necessity, the front office should be commended for standing pat and relying more on the farm system to fill holes. Other teams are seeking their young and promising prospects for trades, and the Reds are finally realizing there are no quick fixes for small market clubs to become contenders.
Yes, the other teams have spent money while the Reds have spent little to none. But will acquisitions such as Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins tip the scales for the Brewers or Bobby Crosby for the Pirates? Will Pedro Feliz and Brandon Lyon make the Astros titans of the division? Highly doubtful. So far, the Cubs' only addition has been subtracting malcontent Milton Bradley for an underachiever in Carlos Silva. Everyone expects super free agent Matt Holliday to return to St. Louis, and the Albert Pujols-led Cardinals will naturally be the favorite to repeat as division winners. But that doesn't mean Cincinnati is unable to be a winning club.
The Reds finished 46-34 in the NL Central in 2009, but were 16-19 vs. the East and 10-22 vs. the West. They were also 40-41 at home. If they can stop being intimidated by the West Coast, and play better in their own ballpark, it's not too much to expect a winner in Cincinnati.