When Walt Jocketty was hired on, I figured his number one priority was going to be to improve the team defense. His reputation from St. Louis was that he valued solid defense (evidence by the acquisitions of Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Mike Matheny, and a variety of solid defensive 2B and SS). During his tenure with the Cardinals, his teams were consistently strong on defense, and occasionally among the top teams.
The Reds, on the other hand, have been in the bottom 5 in the Majors for team defense over the last 5 years (according to UZR). Last season they were 42 runs below average on defense, leading only the Colorado Rockies (think they missed having a healthy Tulowitzki?). And while they'll be helped by the departures of Adam Dunn (-12.8 UZR) and Ken Griffey Jr. (-12.8 UZR), it doesn't appear that Jocketty is too concerned with getting good defenders to replace them. Jay Bruce (-7.8 UZR in RF, -5.1 overall) should see some improvements, but with talk of acquiring Jermaine Dye (an average of -16.5 UZR over the last 3 seasons), Pat Burrell (-12.7 UZR 3-year avg), Juan Rivera (career -6.2 UZR/150game in limited OF playing time), and Rocco Baldelli (-2.0 UZR/150 in limited playing time for his career), the Reds don't appear focused on fixing a major problem with the 2008 team.
On top of that, it looks like the plan is to continue to use Edwin Encarnacion (-9.3 UZR) at 3B and some combination of a questionably healthy Alex Gonzalez (5.5 UZR in 2007, before a lengthy knee injury) and Jeff Keppinger (-12.7 UZR) at shortstop without any sort of a backup plan in place. If Gonzalez can regain his 2007 form, he'd be a definite upgrade over Keppinger from last year, but is there a bigger question mark player on this team right now than Gonzalez?
And let's not forget the recent acquisition of the defensively challenged Ramon Hernandez (somewhere around -9 runs on defense in 2008).
I realize the Reds need some serious help on offense. Without a major bat being added this team will have a hard time scoring 700 runs. But even if they somehow get to 750 runs on offense, if they don't improve the defense dramatically, I don't see them surrendering less than 800 runs next year. Outside of Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, and possibly Chris Dickerson, the Reds have no plus defenders on the field at this point. Continuing to acquire crappy fielders is a step backward, even if they do boost the offense some.
Since 2009 is looking more and more like a longshot, I think any multi-year deals should be used on acquiring players who can provide a defensive upgrade. The Reds have plenty of offense brewing in the minors (Valaika, Frazier, Alonso being the big 3), but they have very little defensive help outside of Drew Stubbs. This will likely mean trading Edwin Encarnacion (I hate to say it, but I feel like that might be the right move at this point). I'd prefer to see EdE in LF in 2009, but even then, he'll have to make some big offensive strides to not be the odd-man out once Yonder Alonso is ready in 2010 or 2011.
Unfortunately I don't have any names of who to acquire. We've talked about Adrian Beltre (12.9 UZR in 2008), but we have no idea if he's available. J.J. Hardy (11.3 UZR) would be a helluva pickup, but I don't see the Brewers trading him right now. Perhaps there are some minor leaguers. Are there any minor leaguers that might fit the bill? I'm not all that familiar with other systems, especially when it comes to strong defensive players.