Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cincinnati Reds offseason moves and outlook

After running away with the division title in 2012, the Reds took a couple steps back in 2013, finishing 3rd behind the Cardinals and Pirates.  Although they earned the second Wildcard spot, they were quickly dismissed by the Pirates in the one game playoff.

Key Losses

Shin-Soo Choo, Bronson Arroyo

Key Acquisitions

Jeff Francis, Skip Schumaker, Brayan Pena

The Reds lost their leadoff hitter and centerfielder, Shin-Soo Choo, who signed a 7-year deal with the Texas Rangers and will likely lose veteran innings-eater Bronson Arroyo as well.

Of the two, Choo will be the hardest to replace.  He finished second in the NL with an .423 OBP, behind teammate Joey Votto, and second in runs scored (107) to the Cardinals' Matt Carpenter.  He was one of the main reasons the Reds finished 3rd in the NL in runs scored.

Choo's replacement will likely be rookie speedster Billy Hamilton.  Hamilton was a September callup in 2013 and managed to steal 13 bases in just 13 games.  If he can get on base consistently, 100 stolen bases is not out of the question for him and he set the minor league record for stolen bases with 155 in 2012 to surpass the 145 stolen by Vince Coleman back in 1983.

His minor league numbers (.280/.350/.378) are eerily similar to those of Coleman (.280/.358/.343) and there are questions about his ability to hit after posting a feeble .256/.308/.343 line in AAA.  However, Coleman only hit .257/.323/.334 in his final minor league season before stealing 100 bases his first three years in the majors.

One things for sure, Hamilton has game-changing speed and he will be giving pitchers headaches for years to come.

Beyond Hamilton, the Reds are also hoping for a return to health for leftfielder Ryan Ludwick, who played in just 38 games in 2013.  Ludwick was a key cog in the Reds' offense in 2012, hitting .275 with 26 homers and 80 rbi's.

Ludwick and Hamilton will be joined in the lineup by perennial All-Star Joey Votto and slugger Jay Bruce, along with veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips and youngsters Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco.

On the pitching side, Arroyo will likely be replaced in the starting rotation by Tony Cingrani, who filled in for the injured Johnny Cueto in 2013 and posted a sparkling 2.92 ERA in 104.2 innings.

Cingrani will be joined by holdovers Homer Bailey, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Cueto in the rotation, with top prospect Robert Stephenson waiting in the wings in case of injury.

The Reds pitching staff allowed the 4th fewest runs in the NL in 2013 and with the strong starting rotation and with the "Cuban Missile" Arolodis Chapman closing, the Reds will once again have a strong pitching staff.

Overall, the Reds still have the look of contenders in 2014 and should battle the Pirates and Cardinals for the 2014 NL Central crown. 

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