Saturday, October 22, 2011

NL North Preview - Part III

Cincinnati New arrival Gerald Martin shows why it’s All Smiles in Cincy

Newly acquired first baseman Gerald Martin swats a long ball in batting practice and flashes a grin as the ball clears the wall by a few feet while he says, “Yeah, that’s an out in Seattle.”

Martin is licking his chops: the switch hitting first baseman rarely misses a pitch, and when he connects the porch in Cincinnati is nine feet closer to the plate in left center, and a full fifteen feet closer in right center. Despite the cavernous ballpark in Seattle, Martin still managed to hit 24 home runs last season but that number should exceed 30 this year.

The roster continues to resemble a circus carousel in Cincinnati, with players regularly stepping on and off the ride. The turnover isn’t even limited to the Major League roster: four of Cincinnati’s five first round draft picks in the past three seasons have been traded. This year is no different, and Spring Training will begin with a social mixer for the players so they can get acquainted once more.

Record: 63-99, fourth in the NL North

Key Additions:
1. Gerald Martin – 29-year-old first baseman via trade with Seattle
2. R.J. Manto – 31-year-old starting pitcher via trade with Baltimore
3. Gerald Taylor – 30-year-old utility player via trade with Baltimore
4. Ryan Fasano – 25-year-old starting pitcher via trade with Oakland
5. Eric Dickson – 32-year-old shortstop via free agency from Kansas City
6. Steve Gil – 32-year-old third baseman via free agency from Tampa Bay
7. Rex Howard – 27-year-old starting pitcher via free agency from San Diego
8. Mario Kemp – 31-year-old relief pitcher via free agency from Texas
9. Joe Howe – 36-year-old relief pitcher via free agency from Philadelphia
10. Four players selected in the Rule V draft.

Key Departures:
1. Sawyer Miller – 28-year-old right fielder traded to Baltimore
2. Abdul Sweeney – 27-year-old third baseman traded to San Diego
3. Tony Guevara – 32-year-old left fielder via free agency to Houston
4. Carson Podsednik – 34-year-old shortstop via free agency to New York (NL)
5. George Foster – 25-year-old long reliever traded to Oakland
6. Carson Yearwood – 37-year-old closer left via free agency (unsigned)
7. Shayne Lee – 34-year-old relief pitcher left via free agency (unsigned)

Gerald Martin’s arrival in Cincinnati is a welcome one for an offense that ranked at the bottom of the league in most of the statistical categories. The Reds are hoping that his bat will boost the team slugging percentage, which was rated 31st in the league at .366 – about 50 points below the league average. The Reds also rolled the dice when they signed switch hitting Steve Gil to a five-year, $35 million deal. Gil’s bat is All-Star quality (.303/.366/.505 career) – when he can swing it. After dislocating his should three seasons ago, he spent 75 days on the disabled list last year, much of it nursing that same sore shoulder. If Gil can stay healthy, he’s a bargain. If he doesn’t, he’s a bust. Both players should improve the bottomline: the Reds 590 Runs ranked 31st, their Home Runs ranked 29th, AVG came in tied for 30th in the league, and OBP ranked 30th. The signing of Gil has one more bonus, as it allows the Reds to move Hub Bradley to right field to replace the departed lighter-hitting Sawyer Miller.

If the turnover on offense wasn’t significant enough, the Reds once again made wholesale changes to the pitching staff. After paying a king’s ransom to retain the services of free agent Philip Payton (39 starts, 1.16 WHIP), the Reds added two workhorses to the staff in the form of R.J. Manto and Rex Howard. Southpaw Manto went 13-8 in 35 starts last year while posting a 1.24 WHIP. Howard likewise went 15-13 in 203 innings and is a sinkerball-type pitcher adept at keeping the ball in the yard, a perfect pitcher for this type of park. Joe Howe and Mario Kemp were signed to replace the departing closer Carson Yearwood and reliever Shayne Lee, but the pair doesn’t exactly allow the club to put away the brill cream. The pitching staff was a strength of the team last year, limiting opponents to 698 runs while finishing with a team WHIP that ranked 7th in the league, and the changes made to the staff should show a small improvement on those numbers.

Eric Dickson’s arrival from Kansas City improves the team’s offense while also boosting the club’s defense, as he brings with him 75 positive plays in his career. The team ranked second in the league with 88 positive plays before his arrival. The club also committed 89 errors, just a hair under the league average.

dwb’s take: There are few quick fixes in baseball, and yet Cincinnati shuffles the deck and stands to improve upon their fourth place finish in the division. If Steve Gil can stay healthy and play a complete season, the team could improve their record by as many as ten or more games and will challenge the Chicago Cubs for third place in the division.

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