Not in anger and with great hope for 2013

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I wanted to wait a week before posting so as to let time heal raw emotions. Since, however, there seems to be a time-sensitive debate going on about Dusty Baker’s future with the Reds, I feel I have to weigh in. Quite frankly, I also feel exceptionally well qualified to do so since this is not a second guess. I’ve tried to tell Reds fans all season what was liable to happen, and it has.

Two things first. I’m sure we all feel good that DB passed through his medical emergency so well and wish him good health in the future. Second, it is also true that a Votto at 60-70% and no Cueto for the playoffs were serious handicaps. They were not, however, dispositive. Really well managed teams find ways to win the big games. Look at the 2011 Cardinals. At one time or another during the season they lost nearly every key player and still won the World Series.

That having been said, Walt, you cannot let Dusty Baker manage another Reds ballgame. To do so would almost kill the hope that you engendered in fans with the trade for Latos and long-term signing of Votto at the beginning of the season. For these moves you deserve to be Executive of the Year, but you also have to come up big in the present moment. It isn’t going to change; it isn’t going to get any better. Even if you start DB out on the shortest possible leash in 2013, you’re creating a potential hole to dig out of with no reason to believe he’s going to change. In fact, you have every reason to believe he won’t

There are many reasons why DB should not return, but the essential one is that he doesn’t manage, either veterans or rookies. Of course, the players, particularly the veterans, love him. He doesn’t impose any discipline on them. A DB team is a team out of control.

--You tell Brandon Phillips not to make one-handed flips, he does them anyway, and you don’t discipline him. What message does this send to so talented a player? That I can do anything I want, including trying to go from first to third on a passed ball against the arm of Buster Posey at the decisive moment of the San Francisco series. What are you doing trying to go to third on me, thinks Posey. You’re out. Let’s try to set two runners in motion against the same catcher down by three with no outs in the fifth game, thinks Baker.

--You have your all-star outfielder, Jay Bruce, drop two fly balls that result in two losses. I’m not talking about long runs, strong winds, balls lost in the sun. I’m talking about fly balls Bruce had settled under, was waiting to come down, and dropped. You tell me the last time you can remember this happening to so talented a player twice in one season. That a lack of concentration and that absence is the fault of the manager.

You insist on batting Drew Stubbs second in your lineup for nearly 100 games and yet impose no discipline on him in terms of the consequences for failing to learn to bunt. “Son, if you don’t bunt, you’re not going to play.” Result: Stubbs OPS (on base percentage+slugging percentage) for 2012 was .610, that ranked 60th out of 60 in the National League among players with 450 or more at bats. 59th was Darwin Barney at .653. Cozart, incidentally was 57th. Leading off an inning, Cozart still reached 73 times (64 hits and 9 walks); Stubbs had six, count ‘em six, sacrifice bunts batting second. Other second place batters: Scutaro 44th at .753, Harper 25th at .817, and Beltran 16th at .842. That’s a manager being incredibly stubborn and wrong at the same time. If an efficient lineup isn’t the manager’s responsibility, whose is it?

But it’s not only the veterans who have been affected; the damage is equally severe with rookies, perhaps even more severe.

--Chapman doing cartwheels off the mound after his relief performance against Milwaukee. How could he even think that this was acceptable?

--Mesarasco bumping an umpire over a ball and strike count and then saying “I was sticking up for my guys.” A rookie catcher? Huh.

--Leake left off the playoff roster because of a lack of confidence in his pitching abilities and then given the start in game four. (The correct call was Chapman and then the rest of the bullpen.) If you were Leake, would you be confused?

--Your potential rookie of the year, Frazier, on the bench because you want to start Scott Rolen, a veteran. Doesn’t matter that he’s lost his bat speed and a step in the field. He’s your guy. It’s another act of will.

And, to be frank about it, there’s also a financial component to this. Did anybody else notice how little Cincinnati’s regular season attendance went up despite going from a losing season to 97 wins? DB does not inspire confidence or enthusiasm in the fan base. He doesn’t communicate in a way that has any meaning for today’s fan. Too bad, but that the way things are.

Turning the page, this is a very good team, one verging on being great if properly managed. Consider this. It started 4-8 with the mistake of Stubbs batting second, Rolen fourth, and Marshall as closer. It lost 4 games against the AL when Chapman went into his brain freeze in the middle of the season. It lost two games when Bruce just plan dropped outfield flies. That’s 18 games. If it had only one half of these, that’s plus 5. 97+5=102, without Votto for a third of the season.

Here’s what Walt needs to do:

1. Hire Sean Casey to manage. He’s the people’s choice. You eliminate the bitter aftertaste of 2012 and energize the fans with this one move.

2. Resign Ludwick. He and Frazier deserve a joint MVP for what they did with Votto out.

3. Sign Broxton.

4. Teach Chapman off-speed pitches over the winter and move him to the starting rotation.

5. Try to persuade Rolen to come back in a utility role given his very positive role in the dugout despite declining skills.

6. Try to get something for Stubbs in the trade market. Good luck.

7. I don’t know what you do with Leake since nobody seems to think that my idea of converting him to the outfield is a good one. The fact is that he doesn’t throw hard enough to be a consistent big league winner, particularly against good teams. Another fact is that it’s not going to be Cincinnati’s choice soon. If Leake’s agent is any good at all he’s going to say “Look, kid, I can probably keep you around for a couple of years with the Astros or the Rockies as a number four or five pitcher, but your real future is as an everyday, field position player. Here’s what we’re going to do…” Unless Leake is stupid, he’s going to go along.

8. Make a big player for a real leadoff hitter and outfielder. Walt, burn up the wires talking to Boston and see what the asking price is for Jacoby Ellsbury. He’s a bit injury prone, but the Sox need help everywhere and he could be exactly the missing piece in the equation. There are other options, but that would be my point of departure. I’d talk about trading anybody on our roster with the exception of Votto, Cueto, Latos, and possibly Bailey.

That leaves the 2013 Reds looking like this, depending on whom you have to give up in a trade:

Manager: Casey (BTW, Berry has to go too.)

Starting lineup:

1. Ellsbury, or another leadoff outfielder

2. Phillips

3. Votto

4. Ludwick or Bruce

5. Bruce or Ludwick

6. Frazier

7. Hanigan

8. Cozart

9. Pitcher


1. Cueto

2. Bailey or Latos

3. Latos or Bailey

4. Chapman

5. Arroyo


Closer: Broxton or possibly Madsen (a downgrade from Chapman, but the upgrade in starters more than makes up for it and the move is reversible).

Marshall and the rest.

That team feels like a 102-105 win squad.

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