It is clear that this offseason will be one of the most interesting for the Reds in quite a while. There are a bunch of decisions to make, and almost none of them have easy answers, and it is clear that maintaining the status quo (again) is not an acceptable course of action. So we wait to see how Jocketty will manage the roster construction of our favorite team at this seemingly critical juncture in our team's trajectory.
But there were plenty of decisions to be made during the past offseason and during the course of this disappointing one, which is what I want to discuss here. What were the decisions and options that Jocketty faced, how well did he handle them, and what were the results?
First, the signings. Jocketty made a good number of them actually, for better or worse (and it was both).
- Fred Lewis: personally I think this was a decent signing. Lewis was cheap, filled a position of need, profiled as a decent fit for a top-of-the-order hitter, with decent speed and defense and maybe even a little pop. Of course, what you hope for and expect is not always what you get, and in the results department, the Lewis signing cannot be called a success by any standard. So while the process was sound, the results were poor, and you have to take the good with the bad. I give Jocketty a C- on this signing.
- Edgar Renteria: grading this signing is tough. First of all, the Reds definitely needed a SS, and the market by and large was barren. And the Reds would have been in a tough spot indeed if Renteria had not been on the roster. However, if Jocketty expected more than he's gotten out of Renteria, he was misguided, and perhaps also did not do all of his homework or else failed to communicate clearly during the courtship process if he expected Renteria to play anywhere on the diamond but SS and operate as a somewhat versatile player. The process here was understandable but flawed, and the results were underwhelming but still valuable. It's a strange situation to assess. C-
- Jeremy Hermida: it's difficult to understand what the plan was here. Hermida was ostensibly signed as an OF insurance policy, and yet when the Gomes project predictably went up in flames, the policy was ignored. Despite hitting as well as any hitter in our system, Hermida was never given a chance to help the big club. It's not that I think that was necessarily wrong, but then why did Jocketty sign him at all? More depth doesn't hurt, but the bottom line is he provided nothing to the Reds. D
- Dontrelle Willis: and here's the one that worked out. I was not enamored of the signing when it happened, but I was wrong, as Willis has been far better than I expected. That doesn't mean Willis has been "good" per se, and my prediction was that if Willis was in our rotation it meant we had a disappointing season, which is unfortunately true, but Willis has proven to be quite useful and a shrewd pickup. If this team is disappointing, it hasn't been Willis' fault. B+
The FA pool by and large didn't provide much to the Reds. But some players were extended or re-signed and kept off the FA board altogether.
- Jonny Gomes: strategically, this move made very, very little sense. Most likely, it was a case of rewarding loyalty and preferring the comfort of a known entity. Those tendencies of Jocketty have essentially proved to be a major shortcoming in Jocketty's M.O., especially with regard to this 2011 team. Gomes is just one example. There are so many reasons why Gomes didn't make sense: he's below average, his track record is enough to prove that that is what you will get, Lewis and Gomes on the same roster makes no sense, and most importantly we had a plethora of options staring us in the face that were younger and cheaper AND all-around better. Combined with the knowledge that Baker was bound to overuse Gomes and not minimize his weaknesses, it was a bad signing. D
- Miguel Cairo: this is another very tough one to grade, and the grade depends on how you evaluate a number of other players in our system. First of all, it's clear that Cairo has provided good production for this team, and at a reasonable price too. But banking on a repeat of last year's breakout seemed optimistic, even though it happened. Giving him two years seemed unnecessary. And his spot on the team causes a bit of a quandary as far as roster construction. At the end of the day, this signing comes down to how you view Frazier's ability, period, which Jocketty and Baker have both shown to not be very high on. But Cairo has been good enough that I can't give less than a B, even if the process was questionable.
- Bronson Arroyo: it seems that just about everyone has converted by now to the idea that this extension was foolish. It was. Arroyo is untradeable, our highest-paid pitcher, and probably the worst of the 5 that will be in the rotation at any given time. And this was year one of three. A bounceback year is not out of the question, but if you get an ERA under 5, that's about as good as should be expected. F
- Joey Votto: the thing is, unless Joey goes to Barry Bonds level ridiculousness, Jocketty only got fair value on this deal and didn't buy any extra team control. All the risk has been assumed by the team here. A fair market deal for a player already under team control is not a win. C
- Jay Bruce: Bruce is a good player. He's young, productive, home-grown, (most of) the fans like him, and by all accounts a good teammate and a good guy. And it appears that Jocketty also negotiated something of a discount on his contract. It's not a steal, but it's the kind of deal the Reds need to make with their young guys in order to sustain a competitive team. A-
- Johnny Cueto: in the same mold as the Bruce signing, but I think this one is actually a little bit better. The only way this goes poorly for the Reds is if Cueto can't stay healthy. A-
- Edinson Volquez: if I am giving credit for the deals Jocketty made, it feels unfair to leave out the deals he offered but were (moronically and thankfully) turned down. If Volquez had accepted his deal, it would be bad for the Reds. D-
Trades (or the lack thereof).
- Jonny Gomes: Jocketty got something out of the trade. It's possible that Chris Manno turns into a useful bullpen piece sometime down the road. C+
- Ramon Hernandez: I am not happy about this. Maybe there was no one out there who wanted Ramon, but I don't buy that. Jocketty should have gotten something out of this, but instead Ramon turned into a pumpkin on our watch and our dime, and Jocketty is left with another decision about offering Ramon arbitration. Considering that the Reds have the best catching prospect in all of baseball fully ready to take Ramon's place makes this even worse. All possible outcomes seem less optimal than trading him at the height of his value would have been. D-
- Potential SP trade targets: we didn't get any, despite a stacked minor league system and real depth of talented young Major Leaguers at a bunch of positions. And a glaring need for a quality starter. It's always difficult to judge trades that weren't made, because we don't know what other GMs necessarily want or don't want, but it sure seems like it would have been beneficial to be in on someone. I'll never live down Dan Haren, for example. Doing the exact same as every other GM in the league could have done gets you a C.
Roster management has been something I feel Jocketty has not done a good job with. I hate to accuse him of being lazy, but it seems that he has taken the easy way out on more than one occasion, deferring to veteran players and Baker's wishes, and perhaps trying to save face on a few poor investments, instead of putting the best team on the field.
- SS: the most obvious example. It was abundantly clear by the start of June that the Janteria platoon was going nowhere fast. The two-headed SS monster had slashed .226/.279/.262 through May 31. I don't care how critically anyone views minor league performance, there is no way Cozart would not have been a clear and significant upgrade over the two incumbents, yet his call-up was delayed for well over a month beyond this (admittedly arbitrary) date. Still, the start of June represents two months of playing time for Janish and Renteria, which was plenty to prove that they weren't going to cut it. Also, Cozart is 26 years old and not a premium prospect, there's no reason at all to be playing the arbitration clock game with him, especially since we were supposed to compete this year. F
- LF: Having Gomes on the roster at all was probably a mistake. Heisey is a clear upgrade in every facet of playing baseball that people have discovered how to measure. Lewis wasn't a bad idea, but with so many other options, why not cut bait a little sooner? Yonder Alonso and Todd Frazier both need reps, and LF would have been a fine place for them to be getting them; definitely over Lewis at least. C-
- 3B: Let's get this out of the way - Jocketty should not have been counting on Rolen for much if anything over 100 games. It turns out we got 65, and those 65 were really bad. The trade and sign was great last year, but we're paying for it now and next year. With this in mind, it is my personal opinion that Jocketty should have handled third base a little differently. Jocketty seemed content to let Miguel Cairo be basically a full-time 3B once Rolen went down (and END also happened to be injured). I don't think that role is optimal for Cairo or for the Reds, who have the aforementioned Frazier who was hitting well (as usual) in AAA. Despite sporadic playing time, Frazier has also hit better than Rolen did this year. C
- SP: Again the caveat that this is tough to gauge. Arroyo was going to be in the rotation barring only injury. The thing is, plenty of opportunity presented itself to put Arroyo on the DL. I understand that Jocketty wants to recoup something on this investment and letting Arroyo try to right the ship is just about the only course of action for that. He just had better not let this continue into next year. Edinson Volquez was given what seemed like quite a long leash considering how bad he'd been. As it turns out, his replacements weren't waiting to set the world on fire either. However, Dontrelle was sitting in AAA for a long time before getting the call, while Wood, Volquez, and even LeCure were sucking it up in the rotation, Bailey and Cueto were injured, and Maloney got a start. Oh and Chad Reineke. That guy is terrible, and Willis definitely should have gotten the call if Jocketty was that desperate. At the end of the day, Jocketty didn't have nearly as many viable options as most people thought, so much of the struggles weren't the result of roster mismanagement. B-
- Aroldis Chapman: this one deserves a mention of it's own. Should Chapman be a starter or a reliever? Was using him exclusively in the bullpen this year a sound tactical decision, or a blunder that sets his development back? Personally, I am not going to give Jocketty a grade on this particular subject, as I feel there are simply too many unknowns. I am not one of the steadfast believers in the Chapman-as-a-starter camp anymore, and if the plan is to let Chapman take over for Cordero next year, I really won't be up in arms about it (though that does mean that Chapman's contract might be an overpay rather than a potential bargain). If that is NOT the plan, it's hard to spin this year as anything but a waste, though. For now, I'm withholding judgment.
Looking in on organizational moves and decisions from the outside obviously puts us in a situation of serious information asymmetry. Jocketty has access to a great deal of information that I don't have access to, and undoubtedly this information affects roster and personnel decisions. With that in mind, it doesn't mean that an analysis of roster decisions is impossible, it just means that I am viewing these decisions through the prism of the information that we have - namely publicly available statistics and the limited scouting information available outside of the organization.
I have to say that this year I have not really been impressed with Jocketty's overall guidance of the team. His drafts have been better than we've had in a while, I would say, but the winning part of this team isn't coming from Jocketty's acquisitions or transactions. This particular report card is pretty bad. In addition to the signings themselves not working out all that well, they have the added consequence of preventing us from getting a better read on our young players who had to sit behind them on the depth chart. That is information that would be pretty useful in the decision-making process that is imminent this offseason. This year has obviously been more difficult than last, as things haven't broken in the Reds favor as much either. All this said, I don't think Jocketty is a bad GM. It's awfully difficult to ignore the fact that he's brought the first division championship to Cincinnati in 15 seasons, and in only his second full season on the job. And the team is still more competitive than it had been for the majority of those 15 years, with a brighter outlook as well.
I think this offseason will be very telling as far as what direction the Reds are heading, and I am very anxious to see what moves and what decisions are made. There are so many different perspectives that it should be a lot of fun, unless of course Jocketty sits on his hands again. I think a losing record will spur him to make a bigger splash than last year, though.