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Playing Pepper 2012: Cincinnati Reds

Posted on February 28, 2012 at 2:30 PM
Filed Under: Cincinnati Reds | Playing Pepper
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Cincinnati Reds
79-83, third in the NL Central

Cincinnati hit a bit of a speed bump on their way to becoming the new power in the division.  After a surprising 2010 when they won the division, expectations were that they would contend yet again with their young talented core.

Instead, injuries and some inconsistent performances forced them into also-ran status much more quickly than they expected.  They spent much of the year not only following Milwaukee and St. Louis, but also the surprising Pirates.  They were able to overtake Pittsburgh, but still finished 16 games out.

However, Walt Jocketty did not rest and wait for his young core to coalesce, making some intriguing offseason moves to challenge the Brewers and the Cardinals for the 2012 title.  Thankfully, there's a whole slew of Reds bloggers ready to help us take a closer look at their team.

Shawn Weaver writes for Cincinnati Reds Blog and has been the BBA's Cincinnati Chapter President for quite a while now.  You'll find him on Twitter at coweaver.

Brian is the main writer at Reds Net Live and is also a BBA member.  His Twitter account is REDSNETLIVE.

Russell Wight can be found at Reds Country and on Twitter at russwight.  He's a BBA member like the rest of this group.

Then we have the men of Blog Red Machine.  Steve Engbloom is the senior editor over there, while Justin Suer and Matt Gahris, both staff writers, also chimed in on the questions.  You can find Steve usually on Twitter at blogredmachine.

After the jump, see what all these guys have to say about what could be one of the Cardinals' biggest hurdles to a divisional title.

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C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason?

CRB: The Reds were very aggressive this offseason, after being passive last time out. GM Walt Jocketty went out and got pieces like Mat Latos and Sean Marshall at a cost of several prospects, to parley his pieces into a winning club. The results look promising for a run at the NL Central title in 2012.

RNL: Very surprising offseason. Although we always want to see our team busy, this offseason was a change of pace from year's past. We haven't been apart of a "Win Now" approach in a long time here in Cincinnati.. So I think we did very well for a "Win Now" approach.

RC: After a slow start, Walt Jocketty kicked it into high gear with trades and free agent signings. The moves show the club's desire to win now, as opposed to building for the future. I am thrilled at the moves, especially the acquisition of Mat Latos, which should be a major boost to the starting rotation.

BRMS: Improved the team with the trades and signings. Many believe the Reds gave up too much in order to acquire Mat Latos and Sean Marshall. (Seven for two does seems lopsided), but I feel Walt Jocketty was by far the most aggressive he has been during his tenure in Cincinnati.

BRMJ: I'm thrilled that Jocketty was aggressive. We have a lot riding on Latos. I suspect the Reds will benefit in the short run and the Padres will get the better of the deal in the long run (3-4 years).

BRMM: Busy. Very, very busy. A lot of the fans were starting to get fed up with GM Walt Jocketty for his inactivity. Last offseason, we did nothing. At the All-Star break, nothing. At the winter meetings, nothing. And then the deals just kept coming. It seems like a lot of the fanbase is split on some on the moves he made because of the young talent he gave up, most notably guys like Yonder Alonso and Travis Wood, but without question, the big league roster is more talented going into this season than it was at this point last season. Mat Latos, Sean Marshall, and Ryan Madson were all outstanding acquisitions, and I think Ryan Ludwick will play a major role on this team and be more productive than he has been the last two seasons now that he's in a hitter's park and has more protection in the lineup.

C70: What do you think will be the strength of the team this season?

CRB: Defense. The club can hit, and the pitching should be improved, but the defense of the club is the telling factor and was the biggest factor in the success of 2010.

RNL: It would appear that pitching may be our strong suit this season. Especially our bullpen..

RC: On paper, the strength of this team should be the pitching staff. Latos will join Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey to form a solid starting rotation. The major question is whether that rotation will include Aroldis Chapman, who the club is considering moving to the rotation from the bullpen. Ryan Madson will take over the closer's duties. The remaining spots will be filled by Sam LeCure, Logan Ondrusek, Bill Bray, Sean Marshall, Andrew Brackman, Jose Arredondo and Nick Masset.

BRMS: The offense should be this team's strength. If Ryan Ludwick can recall his Cardinal days, it might even be a little better than last year.

BRMJ: Bullpen. Add Marshall and Madson to an already strong bullpen. Also defense.

BRMM: Offense. We've been right there at the top of the National League the last two seasons, and we haven't lost any key offensive players apart from maybe Ramon Hernandez, but he only played half the time. Now that Pujols and Fielder are in the American League, I think Joey Votto is obviously the best first baseman in the NL. Brandon Phillips is probably the best second baseman in the NL. He won the Silver Slugger and the Gold Glove last year. And the back end of the bullpen could be nasty with Marshall and Madson.

C70: Aroldis Chapman was pretty strong out of the pen last year.  Is the idea still to make him into a starter and, if so, is that the right decision?

CRB: Yes. The investment in Chapman, and his talent, make him much more valuable as a starter. He has the ceiling of an ace, only his durability is in question. He likely starts the season in triple-A to build up his stamina, then comes to Cincinnati in midseason.

RNL: Yes the idea is to make him a starter. Even if you have to have him start the year in AAA I still think in order for us to get our money's worth he needs to be in the rotation and not in the pen.

RC: The club seems to be set on making him a starter. If he isn't ready by the end of Spring Training, there is even a possibility he could begin the year at AAA Louisville. Personally, I think this is a mistake. Having someone that can regularly top 100+ mph come out of the bullpen to face a pinch hitter coming in cold off the bench is a tremendous advantage. I also am concerned about someone throwing that hard for 6-7 innings, especially someone who has already suffered from shoulder stiffness. I hope I am wrong, but will remain skeptical.

BRMS: That was the prevailing thought when the Reds signEd Chapman. During his first season, he was in Louisville in order to prepare to be a major league starter. The magic of 2010 saw the brass move him into the pen, a move to this day I say was not a good one. If Chapman had been kept on course to be a starter, the starting staff had potential to be better last season than what it was.

BRMJ: His arm did not respond to pitching frequently. As a result, I don't think the Reds have any choice but to use him as a starter.

BRMM: I think that is the idea, and I think it is the right decision. At least, I think it's worth a shot. We essentially replacEd Chapman with Marshall in the lefty setup role, so we have the flexibility to experiment with Chapman for a while. If it works out, then the Reds will have a really solid rotation and they might be able to deal a guy like Homer Bailey at the deadline.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact this season?

CRB: Devin Mesoraco will be handed the catching job. If he is successful that will be a big boost to the team. Likewise, Zack Cozart is slated as a starter, at shortstop. He will have to produce more than 2011 incumbent Paul Janish for the Reds to move forward.

RNL: I think Cozart could make a big impact for the team this season. He played well before he got hurt and hopefully he can do great things for us.. I also like Billy Hamilton and think he could be a huge addition if we need outfield help down the stretch.

RC: There are two prospects that will have to make an impact this year if the Reds are to be successful. Zack Cozart will be starting at shortstop on Opening Day. Coming back from Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow, Cozart is 100% and hopes to solidify his role as the team's starting shortstop for years to come. Devin Mesoraco will share catching duties with veteran Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan is the better choice at this point, but will be counted on to help groom the young Mesoraco.

BRMS: There are two that have to have an impact: catcher Devin Mesoraco and shortstop Zack Cozart. Cozart is penciled in as the starting shortstop. His defense is solid, but there could be concerns regarding his bat. Can't gauge much off 11 games. You know what they say, small sample size. Mesoraco might not have the pressure that Cozart faces but he will play a key role in splitting time with Ryan Hanigan.

BRMJ: Zack Cozart

BRMM: There are two, and both will make a huge impact on the team because they both could start on Opening Day. First is shortstop Zack Cozart, who hit .324 in 38 plate appearances in Cincinnati last year before he hyperextended his non-throwing elbow making a tag at second base. He's an above average defensive shortstop, and he looked very impressive at the plate in a short time. 

Second is catcher Devin Mesoraco, who will likely split time this season with Ryan Hanigan. Mesoraco struggled at the big league level last season, but hit .289 with 15 home runs and 71 RBI in Triple A. Baseball America ranks him as the top prospect in our system, and the No. 2 catching prospect in the game behind Jesus Montero.

C70: Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited for in 2012?

CRB: I am bullish on the 2012 Reds: I like them to take the division. That should be exciting.

RNL: They will finish 1st in the Central this year and hopefully they will make the World Series and potentially beat whomever they play.

RC: Spring Training is a time for optimism and promise and it hasn't been this high in Reds Country in a long time. There is no "building for the future" mantra. The team is built to win now and I expect them to. Anything less than a division title would be a disappointment. After that, anything can happen.

BRMS: Would you expect a Reds guy to state anything but first? Didn't think so. 

I'm just excited for another season of baseball. Tired of all this NFL and NBA stuff...

BRMJ: First. The Cards will miss Pujols a lot more than people think. Same for Milwaukee and Prince. I think 86 wins will win the Central.

BRMM: I think the Reds will finish either first or second, a couple games ahead of or behind the Cardinals. Even though St. Louis lost Albert Pujols, they will gain Carlos Beltran and Adam Wainwright. Beltran's health will ultimately go a long way in determining who wins the division. 

I'm probably most excited about seeing Mat Latos pitch. Between Latos and Johnny Cueto, the Reds have two very talented young starters locked up for a few more years.

My thanks to all of these great bloggers for taking the time to chat about the Reds.  We as Cardinal fans know what Jocketty can do when he puts his mind to things and there could be some more heated and tension-filled games between the two squads as they jockey for position in the division!

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