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2007 N.L. Central Preview: Cincinnati Reds

Today I'll begin to preview each of the other five teams in the N.L. Central. When I'm done with that, I'll do a post on each of the other five divisions. First up: the Cincinnati Reds.

2006 W-L: 80-82
Runs scored: 749
Runs allowed: 801
Pythagenport W-L: 75.8-86.2

IN

C Chad Moeller
INF Jeff Keppinger
SS Alex Gonzalez
INF/OF Jeff Conine
OF Bubba Crosby
OF Josh Hamilton
SP Kirk Saarloos
RP Mike Stanton
RP Brian Meadows

OUT

C Jason LaRue
INF Rich Aurilia
SS Royce Clayton
SP Brandon Claussen
SP Ryan Franklin
SP Jason Johnson
RP Scott Schoeneweis

FREE AGENTS REMAINING

OF Todd Hollandsworth
RP Kent Mercker

DEFENSE

C David Ross
1B Scott Hatteberg
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Alex Gonzalez
3B Edwin Encarnacion
OF Adam Dunn
OF Ken Griffey Jr.
OF Ryan Freel

ROTATION

RHP Aaron Harang
RHP Bronson Arroyo
LHP Eric Milton
RHP Kyle Lohse
????

HOW WAS THE OFFSEASON?

The Reds locked up rotation anchors Harang and Arroyo to long-term deals, but if you already stopped to read the "In" list, you know how this offseason went. General Manager Wayne Krivsky appears to think that the way to build a championship team is to acquire as many fringy relievers and bench players as possible. The closest thing to an impact player he acquired was Alex Gonzalez, who fields well but couldn't get a hit at a Cypress Hill concert.

At least Krivsky didn't lose much, but he did lose Rich Aurilia, who somehow turned in a stellar .300/.349/.518 year in 2006. Aurilia's season was freakish, so losing the player himself isn't such a problem, but the Reds still have to replace that production somehow if they're going to continue to win games.

HOW'S THE OFFENSE?

In 2006, the Reds got surprising production from failed prospect Brandon Phillips and from veteran retreads Aurilia, Scott Hatteberg, and Dave Ross - Hatteberg improved his OPS by 149 points between 2005 and 2006, and Ross somehow slugged .579 last year. Given the list of offensive players Krivsky has acquired since he got those guys (Chad Moeller, Royce Clayton, Gonzalez, Juan Castro, and so on), I'm willing to bet that was all a fluke, and that Krivsky doesn't have some magical ability to identify fading veterans who for some reason have one last great season left in them. Anyway, Aurilia's gone now, and Ross and Hatteberg will almost certainly take huge steps backward.

With Ken Griffey Jr. slowly fading away, the offense will lean very heavily on outfielder Adam Dunn and third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. Those players are both very good hitters, but they aren't a major league offense unto themselves. Outfielder Chris Denorfia (who will probably get a bunch of playing time in the outfield no matter what) and first baseman Joey Votto could force their way into starting jobs and hit well, too, but I wouldn't count on that - Denorfia, who played most of last year at Class AAA Louisville, isn't that good to begin with, and Votto hasn't yet played at Triple-A. Besides, manager Jerry Narron let Encarnacion, the most promising hitter to come through the Reds' farm system since Dunn, split time with Aurilia last year. Aurilia played well, but Encarnacion did too, and a prospect as strong as Encarnacion shouldn't be on the bench. My thinking is that Hatteberg would really have to be horrific to lose his job to Votto, who isn't as highly regarded as Encarnacion was.

HOW'S THE PITCHING?

It's not as bad as it was in, say, 2003, but it still has a big problem with depth. Aaron Harang is a legitimate ace and Bronson Arroyo should be solid (though he probably won't place in the top ten in the NL in ERA again). The absolute best thing one can say about third and fourth starters Eric Milton and Kyle Lohse is that they're functional - and in Milton's case, that might actually be too kind. He managed a 5.19 ERA in 2006 after posting a hideous 6.47 in 2005. After those guys, the Reds have Elizardo Ramirez, Kirk Saarloos, Matt Belisle... no one especially likely to post an ERA under five. The Reds' best hope of having a passable rotation may actually rest on the golden arm of top prospect Homer Bailey, who finished last year by pitching 68 innings at Class AA Chattanooga, where he struck out 77 batters and posted a 1.59 ERA.

Things aren't much better in the bullpen. Bill Bray, acquired in last year's otherwise disastrous Austin Kearns/Felipe Lopez trade, could blossom into a solid front-end option, but after that, Krivsky's love for name-brand veterans (Mike Stanton, Dave Weathers, Rheal Cormier and so on) will be his undoing. If this were 2001 instead of 2007, those three guys might be the basis of a good bullpen, but it isn't. In the end, Krivsky will either get lucky with some combination or Stanton, Weathers and Gary Majewski, or his bullpen will be a mess after Bray and Todd Coffey.

PROGNOSIS

The 2007 Reds should be a bad team. As their Pythagenport record indicates, they weren't nearly as good as their record in 2006, and they'll have a very hard time replacing the production they got from Kearns, Lopez, Aurilia, Ross and Hatteberg. Unless Bailey comes on strong for them, their rotation isn't going to get the job done - Harang and Arroyo are a solid one-two punch, but they can't do the job by themselves. The Reds should take a big step backward, and I think they'll finish in last place, even behind the Pirates, who unquestionably had a better offseason than the Reds did.

Discussion of this preview at Red Reporter