After a disappointing 2011 season following the team’s first division title in 15 years, the Cincinnati Reds have a laundry list of issues to address this offseason and only a little bit of money to do it. The first fix will probably be aimed at 2011’s most glaring underperforming position: the starting rotation.
After dominate performances in 2010 by Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto, together with a lot of luck with pitchers springing from the minors in Travis Wood, Mike Leake, and Sam LeCure, the starting rotation looked to be the strong point for the Reds in 2011. This was not the case, however, as the team battled injuries and career-worst seasons leading to another sub-.500 record and the offseason need to add an arm to a (pardon the pun) hit-and-miss rotation. My 2012 projected starting rotation is below, nearly guaranteed to change as the season moves along.
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Johnny Cueto — Cueto emerged last season as this club’s bona fide ace. His 2.31 ERA would have been second-best in the majors had he finished with enough innings to qualify for the title. The fact he didn’t have enough innings was due to a strained lat muscle that kept him from finishing the season.
Bronson Arroyo — Coming off his first season since 2001 in which he’s posted an ERA over 5.00, and less than 200 innings since 2004, Arroyo looks to rebound as the veteran workhorse of this generally young Reds rotation.
Edinson Volquez — Simply put, he was utterly embarrassing in 2011. It’s agreed in many baseball circles that Volquez has the stuff to be an ace in nearly any rotation, but control issues in his first full season after Tommy John surgery made him a here one day, gone the next starting pitcher. The Reds organization is patient with Volquez because of his ability, but some may say enough is enough. While many Reds fans would like to see Volquez dealt for a top-level prospect, I think the Reds give Volquez another shot this year, considering they’ve invested so much in him already.
Homer Bailey — Will 2012 be the year Bailey finally puts it all together? When he’s healthy, signs point to yes. In 22 games in 2011, Bailey pitched 132 innings and posted a 4.43 ERA. Not dazzling numbers by any means, but when Bailey can string a number of starts together in a row he learns the subtle nuances of being a professional pitcher. Aside from health issues keeping him from perfecting his craft throughout his short career, Bailey has also had problems conducting himself as a professional on and off the field. As he got older (he’s only 25), he learned how to handle the media better, now it’s just a matter of getting the innings so he can handle opposing batters better.
Mike Leake — Surprised everyone in 2010 during his rookie season when he went straight from college to the majors. That year he went 8-4 in 24 games while posting a 4.23 ERA. His innings were monitored because he had never pitched a professional season in his life. In 29 games this year, he went 12-9 with a 3.86 ERA. He pitched nearly 30 more innings in 2011 than in 2010, but his innings were still watched closely, and he finished the season early. Leake, still just 23 years old, handles his business on the mound like a 10-year veteran. I’ve heard comparisons to Greg Maddux, which is more than a slight compliment. His stuff isn’t overpowering, he’s just smart and crafty enough to be a success at this level, at least in his first two years. Look for Leake to be one of the best options for the Reds every fifth day in 2011.
Notice no big free agent names on this list. While starting pitching remains one of the main areas in which the Reds need to improve, none of the big free agents out there fit the Reds’ budget. There was a James Shields–Joey Votto trade rumor floating around for about a day until Reds general manager Walt Jocketty angrily shot that down. But it’s not like the potential isn’t there: All five guys named above are capable of All-Star seasons. In 2011, the Reds just need to hope their starting five decides to show up healthy and ready to pitch their team to another playoff season.