Despite having a wealth of talent on their roster, the Cincinnati Reds finished four games under .500 last season. Injuries to the pitchers played a role, and the club pulled out all the stops to address that issue in the off-season.
The Action: General manager Walt Jocketty gave up four players, including 17-game-winner Edinson Volquez and blue-chip 1B prospect Yonder Alonso, to get starter Mat Latos from the Padres. They also acquired lefthanded reliever Sean Marshall from the division-rival Cubs in a deal involving starter Travis Wood, and got veteran infielder Wilson Valdez from the Phillies for lefty pitcher Jeremy Horst.
Ryan Madson was signed a one-year contract worth $8.5 million, and the club also picked up free-agent outfielder Ryan Ludwick and lefty starter Jeff Francis.
It’s A Lock: Dusty Baker is known as a manager who likes to ride his starting pitchers, and he has plenty of horses this season. Latos is a big part of a deep pitching rotation which includes Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey. If one of them should falter, there’s 100-mph southpaw Aroldis Chapman and dark-horse Francis.
With longtime closer Francisco Cordero gone to Toronto, Madson was signed to a one-year deal; he should prove to be a fine ninth-inning pitcher when healthy. He also has one of the league’s better setup men in Marshall to get the ball to him.
The right side of the infield is solid with two-time All-Stars Joey Votto at first base and Brandon Phillips at second base. In the outfield, Ludwick and Jay Bruce should be steady producers at the corner spots, and Chris Heisey will be useful as the utility outfielder.
Hedge Your Bets: Center fielder Drew Stubbs has to improve his rather anemic production on offense. Meanwhile, the catching position has Ryan Hanigan and up-and-comer Devin Mesoraco; they’re counting on Mesoraco to stay in the majors, but that’s far from certain at this point.
The left side of the infield is unsettled, with Scott Rolen returning from yet another injury stint; this time it was off-season shoulder surgery. If (or when) Rolen should break down, high-strikeout power hitter Juan Francisco is waiting in the wings. Zack Cozart has the job at shortstop, but can he keep it? If not, Valdez and Paul Janish provide only adequate cover.
The Payoff: The MLB futures betting currently shows Cincinnati to be the team to beat in the National League Central division. Their pitching looks formidable, but it’s Baker’s handling of this team which will ultimately decide how successful they will be.