Reds Surge Past .500; Four Key Moves To Make

This might be my last Reds blog for a while considering the fact our favorite baseball team has no chance of making the playoffs and because football is almost here. So, I’ll effort my best to make it a good one.

First off, credit goes out to the Redlegs for not completely mailing in the rest of the season once it was obvious to everyone that they were eliminated from playoff contention. You know, kind of like how the Pittsburgh Pirates did. Or maybe that’s a bad example and the Pirates just stunk all along and had a lucky first half. But I digress.

On July 28, the Reds fell to a season-worst five games under .500 (50-55), but have played very good baseball since then, going 17-11. They now stand at 67-66 overall, a mere 13 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers who must be getting nervous. (So yer tellin’ me there’s a chance! No, actually I’m not.)

No one is catching the Brewers in the NL Central, but there’s a very good possibility the Reds will pass the St. Louis Cardinals for second, who are currently 2.5 games ahead of the Reds at 70-64. The Pittsburgh Pirates are fourth at 62-71, five games back of the Reds.

And since draft position doesn’t really matter all that much in MLB after a certain point, I’m rooting for the Reds to finish this season strong. If this were football, I would be hoping they would tank every game so their draft position would be as good as possible. But it’s completely different in baseball … and there’s the whole thing about Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals being aliens sent to Earth to pretend as though they invented the game of baseball. So, it’s always fun to beat them. And more-importantly, it could catapult the Reds into a good 2012 campaign.

Speaking of which, let’s take a look at the four key moves the Reds need to make this offseason in order to improve the team and make them the favorites in the Central:

1. Find an everyday left fielder. It’s too bad the Yonder Alonso experiment didn’t go well in left because he can definitely hit and would have been nice going into 2012 knowing that the Reds had Alonso as the starter, as well as Chris Heisey and Dave Sappelt as backups.

However, the team has decided that Alonso doesn’t have what it takes to play defensively in LF and have pulled the plug on the idea. And that’s saying a lot considering this is a team that has put up with the likes of Jonny Gomes, Adam Dunn and Dimitri Young patrolling left field.

Therefore, this team needs to find a LF that can bat in the middle of the lineup – preferably a right-handed hitter since the two-top hitters on the team are left-handed hitters in Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Could you imagine a legit right-handed cleanup hitter that would also play passable defense in left? That would make this team extremely dangerous – and they’re already a potent offensive club. A lineup of Brandon Phillips leading off, followed by Zack Cozart in the two hole, Votto third, the new left fielder cleanup, Bruce fifth (or cleanup against righties), Scott Rolen sixth (yes, he’s back for one more year – the over/under for games he’ll start is 50), Drew Stubbs seventh, and Ryan Hanigan/Devin Mesoraco eighth would put fear into nearly every pitcher outside of Philadelphia.

To make this happen, the Reds will either need to make a blockbuster trade, or sign a LF via free agency. The former option is the most-likely. Speaking of which…

2. Package Alonso, Homer Bailey and Edinson Volquez for a LF or top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Easier said than done, but maybe this will be the offseason that Reds GM Walt Jocketty actually makes a trade to improve this team. The Reds have a surplus of young talent in the organization and it’s time to package a few of their top prospects together in exchange for a big-time player.

That player would have to be a left fielder (see above) or perhaps even a top-shelf starting pitcher. The Reds would love to go into the 2012 season with a top-three rotation of Johnny Cueto, James Shields and Mike Leake, for example. Getting someone like Shields from the Tampa Bay Rays would be tough, but perhaps Alonso, Bailey and Volquez would be enough.

Listen, I like Alonso, but there is nowhere for him to play with Votto around for at least two more years. That is unless you’re in the camp that believes the Reds should trade Votto for someone like Jose Bautista, which I am not. (And trust me, there are a lot of Reds fans that think the Reds should trade Votto since he can be a free agent after the 2013 season. However, I think the Reds should do the exact same thing the Brewers did/are doing with Prince Fielder. Milwaukee is having a magical season and the Reds have the chance to have a couple themselves if they hold on to Votto. And the Reds would always have the option of trading Votto in July of 2013, but dealing him now would be completely foolish.)

So, with Alonso’s stock relatively high now, I think this offseason would be the time to deal him for something the Reds need – which is a left fielder or starting pitcher.

I would certainly love to see a Reds’ rotation that included Cueto, Shields, Leake, Aroldis Chapman and Bronson Arroyo. (The Reds have Arroyo under contract for another two years – he’s not going anywhere. And I think he’ll rebound with a solid season next year.)

They would also have Travis Wood as insurance, and perhaps Dontrelle Willis if they decide to re-sign him. And just in case you didn’t catch that mention of a certain Cuban Missile (sans the crisis), let me make this clear:

3. Make Chapman a starter. He’s either going to be a starter or closer and I think he should be a starter. I want him pitching 150-plus innings per year, not 50. Plus, he was always a starter while pitching for the various Cuban national teams that he participated on.

This is a guy that throws 100 MPH (on a bad day) and was signed to a 6-year, $30-million contract. It’s time to make him a starter and see what happens. They can always move him back to the pen if need be.

4. Find a closer. If the Reds aren’t going to make Chapman their closer, that means they need to find one. There is no way in the world that Cincinnati will pick up the $12 million option on Francisco Cordero next year – even though Cordero has been solid this season. This will be Coco’s final year with the Reds and it will be time to find his replacement.

Could that be an in-house option like Logan Ondrusek? Or maybe even Nick Masset? (Although the thought of Masset in that role leaves me uneasy to say the least.) Also, Triple-A reliever Brad Boxberger might be ready for the Show next year and he’s another candidate to be the long-term starter for the Reds.

But for 2012, I think the answer might be to find a veteran closer on the free agent market and sign him to a one-year deal. Perhaps they can find one they can sign for around $6 or $7 million that would give them the same production they’ve received from Cordero. That would free up money to address other needs, while not completely ignoring the important closer’s role.

The bottom line is that the Reds are not far from being a formidable team, but Jocketty needs to get off his ass and make some good moves (and internal decisions) this offseason.