WTNYAugust 12, 2003
Rebuilding the Reds
By Bryan Smith

The 1990s Cleveland Indians were lucky enough to open Jacob's Field at the exact time the team started to succeed. This created an immense fan base, and led to one of the great consecutive sellout streaks of this generation. That's not exactly how Carl Lindner's Reds are doing things this season.

Cincinnati's new and publicly funded stadium, the Great American Ballpark, opened this season to subpar response from the community. The fans simply didn't want to see a team lacking an identity: half the team was seasoned veterans ready to win, the other half were youngsters part of some rebuilding plan. The team had one of the National League's great offenses with an outfield of Dunn-Griffey-Kearns, but one of the worst rotations, as it led Haynes-Graves-Dempster. Bob Boone made some bad decisions as manager, and Jim Bowden struggled to give the team pitching. So when July came around this season, Lindner dumped Boone and Bowden, and dealt away Aaron Boone, Scott Williamson, Jose Guillen, and Gabe White.

Dealing Aaron Boone was actually a smart move: he'll hit arbitration this year, was blocking top-prospect Brandon Larson, and yielded pitcher Brandon Claussen. I think this move does loads for the 2004 Reds, giving the team a real bona fide pitching prospect. The Guillen and White deals made some sense, as Cincinnati wasn't in the bidding for either at season's close, they might as well land some prospects. But the Williamson deal didn't make sense. Phil Dumatrait? The team couldn't even land the Sox best pitching prospect, Jorge De La Rosa, for their best pitcher?

Well, a lot of the money that was lost this season came back in those deals, giving Lindner about $5-6M more than the Opening Day payroll. Hopefully the tight-fisted owner will put that money back into the baseball team, as I believe there is a way for this team to contend soon. The young pitching of the Cubs, along with good markets in Houston and St. Louis will make this division very tough in the next few seasons, but the Reds aren't out yet. Let's examine a step-by-step way to get this team in contention:

1. Trade Sean Casey
While Casey is the team's most popular player and great defender, he's nothing more than a rich man's J.T. Snow. He will make $14.6M the next two seasons, which is more than most teams can afford for an under performing first basemen. So the team's management must signal another team's bad contract that will work better for the Reds.

Barring injury, Livan Hernandez will pitch 217 innings this season, adding another year to his deal, at $6M in 2004. While common thought of Hernandez was the paltry San Francisco version, Livan isn't a bad addition:

Since All-Star Break: 3-1 1.80 30/40 35/7, 8IP/GS

Eight innings per start! Two complete games in five starts! A 0.93 WHIP! Hernandez has become the pitcher he was in Florida again. That being said, Casey makes more money than Hernandez in 2004, and has an extra 2005 year. So while he does fill a hole for Omar Minaya's Expos, the team simply can't afford that much. The team will need to add another expensive player, possibly Mike Barrett in the deal. That trade gives the Reds an innings-eater to ease the bullpen, and a backup catcher for Jason La Rue.

2. Trade Ken Griffey Jr.
I admit that Ken doesn't have quite the trade value he did in July, but there are still teams that want him. The team that Jim Bowden said was going to acquire him in July, the Yankees, should be interested again.

I predicted in yesterday's entry that the Yankees would sign Vladimir Guerrero, but that doesn't change the interest they may have in Griffey. The team has been hesitant to go with Nick Johnson consistently at the designated hitter, and would welcome the bat of Junior. Brian Cashman should take advantage of his low trade value and get him this winter, despite the price.

What can Cincy get in exchange for their center fielder? Well since his failures in the fifth starter spot, the Yanks have itched at getting rid of Jeff Weaver. It wasn't long ago that Weaver was an ace in Detroit, and his high salary will lessen the blow of adding Junior. The Yanks would have to throw in Juan Rivera, which shouldn't faze them dramatically. Rivera is a good prospect, but New York has been hesitant to play him everyday, although he has the necessary skills.

This move would put Rivera in left field, and move Adam Dunn to Sean Casey's open vacancy at first base. It would open center, which brings me to....

3. Trade Steve Smitherman for Jay Payton
Smitherman in AA- .320/.404/.560 18HR 66RBI

Not bad numbers. I saw Smitherman play at the Futures Game, in which he ended hitting the go-ahead home run. He's very big, and has more raw power than most players in the minor leagues. He could immediately replace Payton in Coors Field, at a cheaper cost and with more potential production.

Payton still has the legs to play center, but has proven to have the bat of a left fielder. He would come into this lineup in the second hole, and make an impact right away. It would cost some money, but as I said, Lindner made some extra this season.

4. Release Jimmy Haynes, Paul Wilson, and Ryan Dempster
Dead weight. What was the team thinking signing Haynes to a two-year, $5 million deal? Haynes has proven very ineffective this season, as have the gambles of Paul Wilson and Ryan Dempster. While they eat innings, I'd rather have a youngster pitch five strong than have Wilson get lit up through seven. Plus, it would open a hole for...

5. Sign Bartolo Colon
I know you're thinking, "There's no way that Colon would sign with the Reds!" Normally, I would agree, but if Colon continues at this pace, it will be a very disappointing season. He may be inclined to sign an expensive one-year deal, as Ivan Rodriguez did a year ago, so that he can boost his value the next season.

Colon eats innings like he does food, and can throw in the triple digits in every inning. I believe he's a better pitcher than his win total indicates this season, as the White Sox haven't scored enough runs. Bartolo would go to the top of the rotation, and really soften the bullpen. The same could be said for Livan Hernandez and Jeff Weaver, so it will leave the relievers fresh.

The fourth spot of the rotation should go to Brandon Claussen. He has recovered from Tommy John surgery miraculously, and without his fastball dominated every level he's faced. Claussen is hardly a fourth starter, but in this rotation his expectations would be low. It would give the Reds a leftie in the rotation, and right now Claussen is likely their top prospect.

Finally, the fifth hole is yet to be determined. Jose Acevedo has done great in a few spot starts, but now sees himself on the DL. Chris Reitsma is seemingly in the competition every season, and has great stuff. He never wins the battle, and will finally end up in middle relief. Other competitors are Aaron Harang, recently acquired for Jose Guillen, and Josh Hall, who's made one good start this year. My belief is Acevedo will get the job to start, with Hall making a few starts in Louisville first.

6. Leave Ryan Wagner in the bullpen
The next great closer is in the Major Leagues. Ryan Wagner was the Reds first-round pick THIS season, and has already logged eleven big league innings. He shows a plus fastball, and a great slider, and the Reds are undefeated in the games he has appeared in. Wagner set a NCAA record for K/9, shattering the record that his namesake Billy Wagner once set.

There's talk the Reds will stretch Wagner out this offseason in the hope of making him a starter, a move that seems unnecessary. I have diagrammed a good rotation, not in need of help. But, with Scott Williamson getting dealt, the team will need a closer. That's where the Wagner comes in. I love the idea of having Wagner pitching the eighth and ninth to close out games, and his endurance is good enough to do so.

If they do move Ryan to the rotation, it will invoke memories of 2000. In 1999, the Rookie of the Year went to the Reds' own Scott Williamson. Scott had thrown 93.3 great innings in the 'pen, grabbing 12 wins. The team moved him to the rotation the next season, which looked like a good move. But, Williamson was able to throw only two-thirds of one inning in 2001, thanks to arm problems due to moving to starting. While converting Wagner seems to be good for everyone, its not good for Wagner's right arm.

Around Wagner in the bullpen will be failed starters Danny Graves and John Riedling. Both are effective pitchers the first three innings, but are annihilated when hitters get to see them a second time. They would be great middle relievers, and Graves could go back to short relief. Joe Valentine, whom was also acquired from the A's for Guillen, will be in the running for set-up man. No one will question his stuff, but Valentine struggles with command. Don Gullet is a revered pitching coach, and will surely work to fix those problems. Finally, the team should sign a leftie, as they did with Felix Heredia and Kent Mercker, for cheap off the free agent market. Graeme Lloyd may come in a minor league deal, or they could re-sign Heredia.

Let's recap. Here's the lineup and rotation for my 2004 Reds:

1. D'Angelo Jimenez- 2B
2. Jay Payton- CF
3. Austin Kearns- RF
4. Adam Dunn- 1B
5. Brandon Larson- 3B
6. Juan Rivera- LF
7. Jason La Rue- C
8. Ray Olmedo- SS

1- Bartolo Colon
2- Livan Hernandez
3- Jeff Weaver
4- Brandon Claussen
5- Jose Acevedo

CL. Ryan Wagner

Now tell me that team can't compete. I'll be back tomorrow with my first minor league report on this site. Be sure to check back.

I'd like to thank Dave Pinto and Michael Blake for mentioning my site yesterday, and all those whom e-mailed a 'Good Luck'. I'd also like to give a shout out to Christian Ruzich, who let me write a guest column on the Cub Reporter as a debut for my site. If you haven't read it, here's the link. Thanks everyone.