Friday, October 12, 2012
What's next for Cincinnati, Oakland?
By Jim Bowden
|Jarrod Parker developed into a solid starter for Oakland, one of several surprises this season. |
No one ever plans on how they bow out of the playoffs, but the way it happened certainly wasn’t expected from the Cincinnati Reds, with their powerful lineup and dominating pitching staff. On the other hand, the Oakland Athletics ridiculously exceeded expectations this year, and while reaching Game 5 of the ALDS must be seen as a win for them, they can expect more of this success next year.
Indeed, the common denominator is the fact both are set up well to continue their success in 2013. Neither team looks as if it needs any major overhaul or personnel changes. So what’s next for the Reds and A’s?
Athletics general manager Billy Beane has to be executive of the year for how he rebuilt the A’s -- not just in the offseason but during the season, too. It was an amazing 10-month makeover in which the A's were transformed into the American League West champs with one of the lowest payrolls in sports.
Last November, they literally had no outfielders listed on their major league roster. So Beane traded for Josh Reddick and Seth Smith, then signed both Coco Crisp and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, adding speed, power and defensive efficiency.
And how about the infield? Here is what the A’s infield was supposed to look like at the start of the season:
C: Kurt Suzuki
1B: Daric Barton
2B: Jemile Weeks
SS: Cliff Pennington
3B: Scott Sizemore
By season’s end?
C: Derek Norris/George Kottaras
1B: Brandon Moss/Chris Carter
SS: Stephen Drew
3B: Josh Donaldson
Talk about fixing the truck while it’s rolling. The question is: Can Moss, Carter and Donaldson repeat their seasons, or were they flukes? Track records on the three don’t offer any indication they will repeat, but if they can, the A’s are set in the infield, especially considering their shoestring budget.
Likewise, the pitching staff was supposed to end up with Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy, Dallas Braden, Tyson Ross and Brian Fuentes as the closer.
However, the A’s finished the year with a rotation of Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone, Brett Anderson and Travis Blackley. That’s four rookie starters. Beane also completely revamped his bullpen, led by new closer Grant Balfour and hard-throwing setup relievers Sean Doolittle (a former A’s first-base prospect) and Ryan Cook.
This team has been built to last, hopefully into a new stadium in San Jose. The A’s will have to make a difficult call on Drew’s $10 million club option. Although it's a bit of an overpay, it's only one year, so the risk is low. They will definitely pick up Balfour’s bargain option ($4.5 million) and say goodbye to Colon. They would like to re-sign McCarthy, but Beane will have a tough time competing in what should be a busy market for McCarthy. Beane likely will not want to tie up that much money without a new stadium, instead relying on his depth of young arms.
They also might explore dealing Weeks while going with Pennington at second base, but you shouldn't expect a lot of changes. As the A's proved this year, they have the pitching depth to compete in the AL West, and they will try to do so again in 2013 with a similar ensemble.
Like the A's, the Reds don't need a ton of retooling, but their first big decision is on manager Dusty Baker, whose contract has expired. Baker's first priority certainly has to be his own health after suffering a mild stroke just before the postseason. If his desire is to return and address unfinished business by finally winning a World Series, the Reds should begin their offseason by rewarding Baker with a multiyear contract.
When it comes to their players, the Reds have done a tremendous job in signing their best to long-term contracts. That kind of foresight not only has saved the club millions of dollars on players such as Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, but in turn eliminated potentially high-risk arbitration cases.
The Reds’ rotation of Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake is expected to return intact and the league’s best bullpen only will lose free agent Jonathan Broxton. The infield is set with Votto, Phillips and Zack Cozart, with Todd Frazier most likely replacing aging free agent Scott Rolen. Young catcher Devin Mesoraco will continue to develop behind starter Ryan Hanigan.
However, it is in both center and left field where the Reds need to make major adjustments. They must find a leadoff hitter. Record-setting minor leaguer Billy Hamilton is expected to be that leadoff hitter in time, but he requires more development. They also need to figure out where Hamilton, currently a shortstop, will play. He's getting reps in center in the Arizona Fall League, which suggests a future at that position.
Though they probably are willing to vest their side of Ryan Ludwick’s $5 million mutual option, sources told me Ludwick will decline his side and instead accept the $500,000 buyout. The 33-year-old Ludwick hit .275/.346/.531 with 28 doubles, 26 home runs and 80 RBIs and should be able to get a two-year contract north of $5 million per season on the open market.
Possible free-agent targets
Nick Swisher: Swisher might hit 30 homers at Great American Ball Park. His defense is slightly better than Ludwick’s and his high energy and enthusiasm would fit in the Reds’ clubhouse.
Michael Bourn: Baker tells me every year that Rickey Henderson isn’t going to walk through his clubhouse door any time soon. There’s not a Rickey Henderson in the free-agent market, but Bourn would solve their leadoff woes. Of course, the Reds still have Drew Stubbs, whose greatest asset is center-field defense, so they'd have to move him if they signed Bourn. Signing Bourn also potentially could block Hamilton, if center is indeed his future position.
B.J. Upton: His 12 home runs in September might signify a breakout year in 2013. He’s no leadoff hitter, but his speed, power and defense would fit the Reds’ lineup.
Melky Cabrera: If the Reds can get past the positive PED test and suspension, they could steal Cabrera as an undervalued free agent and he would fit in left for them.
Cody Ross: Reds scouts have always liked Ross, who is a similar talent to Ludwick.
Possible trade targets
If the Reds aren’t able to address their needs from the free-agent market, they might be interested in making a deal. They might try to swap Stubbs and his high strikeouts for either speed or more power. The Minnesota Twins, trying to rebuild, could move veteran Josh Willingham, who doesn’t fit in their plans. He could replace Ludwick in left field. If the Nationals go out and sign a true center fielder -- as has been rumored -- that could make Michael Morse expendable, but it would take more than Stubbs to get him. The Reds' farm system isn't loaded with talent, so they might have difficulty swinging a prospect-for-veteran deal.