Free Agency Report: National League, Part IV
Happy New Years to all our readers! We wish you multiple fantasy victories in 2009 and will do our best to help you achieve them. Because of some “down time” during the holidays, we’ve managed to squeeze another entry this week in our Free Agency Report. Want the rest of the series?
American League Part I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII , IX and X. National League Part I, II and III.
While they showed modest improvement under new manager Dusty Baker in 2008, there is plenty, and I mean plenty of room for more improvement for the Cincinnati Reds.
After all, despite a two-game improvement over 2007 fueled by an improved pitching staff, Cincy’s run of sub-.500 seasons has reached eight. To find the Reds’ last playoff appearance, you’ll have to go all the way back to 1995 (although the team did lose a one-game playoff for the Wild Card in 1999).
In looking at the numbers, there was no real strength in Cincinnati’s game, but at least the Reds were middling in stolen bases and quality starts, ranking ninth in each of those categories.
Brandon Phillips was unable to touch his breakout 2007 season (check out how pathetic his second half was), but he still topped 20 steals for the third straight season.
The real revelation for the 2008 Reds was Edison Volquez, whose breakthrough season was perfectly timed considering the man Cincy gave up to get him – Josh Hamilton – had a pretty damn fine season himself. Volquez had 20 quality starts among his 32 starts, establishing himself as a solid No. 2 starter behind “ace” Aaron Harang (who had an awful season). Just 25, Volquez looks like a future ace.
On the downside, the Reds were dead last in the NL in batting, which is about where they deserved to be after giving Corey Patterson almost 400 plate appearances. Fortunately, Patterson is no longer their problem.
Taking over for the departed Patterson in centre field will be Willy Taveras, signed to a two-year deal. This move somewhat addresses Cincy’s need for a right-handed hitting outfielder, but the club better hope Taveras bounces back from a nightmare 2008 season. Other righty outfielders who remain on the team’s radar include Jermaine Dye, Rocco Baldelli and Pat Burrell.
Cincy has also beefed up behind the plate, trading Ryan Freel and some minor leaguers for Ramon Hernandez.
The bullpen, a real strength last season, has been bolstered by the addition of veteran southpaw Arthur Rhodes, who is coming off his finest season in almost a decade.
Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn are gone, and as if this wasn’t already an offseason of change for the Reds, they are faced with an alarming nine free agents to deal with (one of which they have re-signed, one of which accepted arbitration, one of which has retired and two of whom have already been signed by other teams). Several of these players – especially among the bullpen – were key contributors in 2008.
It’s clear this team could use another solid stick in the batting order if it hopes to finally get back on the winning side of ledger. It’s pretty obvious neither Taveras nor Hernandez will provide the answer here, so unless the Reds have an ace up their sleeve, the offensive improvement will have to be organic. But with youngsters Joey Votto and Jay Bruce poised to take over more offensive responsibility, an improved lineup is a very realistic proposition.
Jeremy Affeldt, LHP: After enjoying a fine season as a LOOGY in 2007 with the Rox, Affeldt took the next step with the Reds, proving he was a valuable reliever capable of getting both lefties and righties out. He improved his control, chalked up the highest K rate of his career and parlayed it all into a two-year deal with the Giants.
Paul Bako, C: Bako wound up seeing more action than at any time since his rookie season way back in 1998, and actually had a pretty decent year – for him. Never known for his bat, Bako had career highs in runs, homers, RBI and walks. His reward? Another move, this time (probably) back to the Cubs with whom he spent the 2003 and 2004 seasons. He’s expected to sign a $500,000 deal to back up Geovany Soto, a job that should offer far less PT than Bako garnered in 2008.
Josh Fogg, RHP: Although he managed to up his K rate a tad, the fact that Fogg was battered harder than ever doomed him in 2008, and caused him to lose his rotation spot for a spell, before an injury finally put him out of his misery. After his strong season for the Rockies in 2007, Colorado may look to bring Fogg back on a minor league deal. Baltimore is another team that could use some help.
Jerry Hairston Jr., OF: Hairston missed a good chunk of the season with injuries, but was never better when he was in the lineup, showing a nice combination of gap power and speed. The Reds would like to re-sign him and install him in left field, especially if they can’t find a big RBI producer. If Cincy does manage to land a power hitting outfielder, Hairston will probably return to a utility role, assuming he re-signs.
Mike Lincoln, RHP: After having been out of the bigs since 2005, Lincoln made a strong return, acting as a workhorse set-up man out of a solid Cincy pen. The team rewarded him last month with a new two-year, $4 million deal.
Kent Mercker, LHP: A back injury limited Mercker to just 15 appearances, and although his peripherals were weak, his bottom line results were good. Last month, the 40-year-old lefty called it a day. He spent most of his career as a reliever, but did make a 150 starts and pitched 1,325 1/3 IP in total. Mercker won 74 games, saved 25 and compiled a lifetime 4.16 ERA.
Corey Patterson, OF: Patterson got plenty of chances in Cincy last season, and while he showed flashes of pop, his speed and average plummeted to the point where he was borderline useless for fantasy purposes. The fact that Patterson was given as much PT as he was speaks volumes about the state of the Reds’ offense in 2008. He could only garner a minor league deal from the Nats.
Javier Valentin, C: Valentin put up a decent season in a back-up role, but is not expected back in Cincy after he was non-tendered. He could be a good fit sharing catching duties in Toronto.
David Weathers, RHP: Ageless reliever Weathers turned in yet another fine season in the Red pen, although his walks were up a tad. He decided to take the Reds up on their offer of arbitration, so he’ll return for a sixth season in Cincy.
Next: We’ll travel over 1,000 miles west to check in on the Colorado Rockies’ offseason to date.