One of the beautiful parts of fielding a successful, mostly home-grown team is that the off-seasons aren't ripe with must-solve problems. While not faced with many of the decade-altering decisions of a year ago, Walt Jocketty does, however, have a few things that must be addressed.
Walt Jocketty has seen difficult personnel decisions. He's lived and breathed them as the man calling the shots for almost two full decades.
He's traded peanuts for Mark McGwire, swapped former/future Reds Dmitri Young for Jeff Brantley (when none of the three were Reds), and turned two blocked prospects and a nut-job into Mat Latos. He's won trades (see: McGwire). He's lost trades (see: Haren for Mulder). He's traded for Scott Rolen twice,for Jim Edmonds twice, and shipped Ken Griffey, Jr. away for Nick Masset.
He's worked wonders,such as signing Joey Votto to the biggest contract ever given to a LH hitter. He plucked (wisely, unfortunately) Chris Carpenter off Toronto's scrap heap and signed him through his prime years, and he locked up Albert Pujols early to a stunningly team-friendly contract.
His grizzled GM eyes have identified countless players that would go on to make or break the teams he ran.
While that's all good and comforting, so, too, is the fact that he doesn't have to put much of his experience to work between now and Red Reporter's 2013 Spring (Break!) Training visit in March. In fact, I've whittled down the bulk of the offseason into just three simple premises, and I've listed them below (in order of least to most importance).
Trust Sean Marshall
Marshall, acquired last offseason from the Cubs in exchange for Dave Sappelt, Ronald Torreyes, and Travis Wood, had a season that was, at the very least, thought provoking. After not living up to the expectations the Cubs had set for him as a Starting Pitcher, Marshall was moved to the bullpen for good mid-2009, and he proceeded to be the most dominant LH reliever in the NL for two seasons before being traded (uptraded!) to the Reds. He had held both RH hitters and LH hitters to sub .600 OPS splits for both 2010 and 2011, sported sub 1.12 WHIPs, had impeccable control, and struck out over a batter per inning. As a Red, he was primarily destined to be the team's 8th inning man, but Ryan Madson's season ending injury forced him into the closer's role...and things got weird from there.
A few rough blown saves saw Aroldis Chapman moved to the closer's role, and Marshall seemed to be relegated to an over-paid LOOGY for much of the rest of the season. Marshall actually produced the best numbers of his career against LH hitters, holding them to an obscene .410 OPS in 2012, and though his numbers vs. RH hitters weren't as good as they had been, they were still effective. His K/9 of 10.9 was a career best, and his WHIP and K/BB were also in line with his great run as a Cub. He was even much better in GABP (.479 OPS) than away (.704 OPS).
That makes the fact that his IP were down 20% from his Cub-reliever days that much more frustrating.
Lots of talk and speculation has centered around filling in the back-end of the bullpen with a Ryan Madson, Johnathon Broxton, or another high-priced arm, but Marshall has done nothing but show he's capable of that role. He's signed for 3 years and $16.5 million, and he deserved to be used in the kind of high-leverage situations that demand such a salary. Focus money elsewhere and let those guys walk; Marshall's got it.
Find a Way to Field a Productive, Versatile Infield
Thinking back on the 2012 seasons had by Miguel Cairo and Wilson Valdez makes me want to punch myself. It makes me miss Ryan Freel. It makes me long for the days when Rich Aurilia got 400 PAs as the Reds utility guy. Hell, it makes me wonder what 41 year old Rich Aurilia could've produced in 2012, actually.
Of all NL players to have at least 150 PAs, Valdez and Cairo were the two worst at the plate. Literally. With an wRC+ of 22, Valdez narrowly took the honor away from his teammate, Cairo, who clocked in at 26 and narrowly beat out oft-injured (and mercifully demoted to AAA) Nick Hundley of the Padres, who's 29 makes me drool in comparison.
Coincidentally (or not, actually), 3 back-up catchers primarily used as defensive specialists and, of course, Paul Janish litter that "top" 10 list.
The point? Well, the point is that in 2012, the Reds' infield was set to feature a 37 year old MASH Unit alum at 3B, a rookie SS coming off Tommy John surgery, a 2B with a penchant for getting banged up due to his all-out defense, and God. All that was provided to back them up was, primarily, Valdez, Cairo, and another rookie. Thankfully for those involved, Todd Frazier was a revelation, but there are numerous issues at play for the 2013 group.
God's knee shalt be fineth, we shalt assume, but He might declare that He shalt rest every seventh day for a few weeks to begin the season; Brandon Phillips' production ground to a halt (.535 OPS over his last 115 PAs), and he may need more rest; Cozart's second half was pedestrian, at best (.658 OPS); Rolen, Cairo, and Valdez will likely be gone; and Frazier hit just 1 HR in his final 31 games as his high early season BABIP regressed.
The Reds could use the 2007 vintage Placido Polanco, of course, but those players don't grow on trees...they just grow older. Somehow, some way, Walt has to improve the IF's depth and versatility while concurrently improving the bench's offensive production. Good luck with that, Walter. We'll be watching.
For the Love of All Things Great and Wonderful, Fix the CF Issue
Walt, and Dusty, have to realize that they can no longer play Drew Stubbs against RH pitching. They have to. They must. They must have to. They have to must. In no world, on no team, is he deserving enough to warrant another season of near 550 PAs. It just simply cannot happen. If it does, every man in the Cincinnati area will rip what remains of their hair out, and, let's be honest, that's not a good thing for men in Cincinnati.
Drew Stubbs still has value, however. He's an extremely gifted defensive CF who is an excellent base runner and base stealer, and he's proven he can hit LHP over the course of his career (though even his .788 OPS against LHP in 2012 was down from his career .821 OPS). There is nothing about Stubbs that says he's incapable of starting against all lefties, pinch-running in times of need, and being a LIDR when needed. In fact, that's almost the prototypical 4th OF, and he should be used as such. Of course, the only way to make that happen is to find an apt complimentary piece, and that's the most pressing need facing Reds management.
Mercifully, this year's Free Agent crop is pretty ripe with potential answers, and there are also a few other potential pieces that could be acquired via trade. Given the versatility provided by much of the other Reds on the roster (namely Frazier and Heisey), focusing in on CF is, to me at least, a much bigger issue than overpaying for a 35 year old LF. Anyone of Upton, Bourn, Victorino (Victori-yes!), Parra, DeJesus, Span (yes, even Span), Revere, or Gutierrez would do.
Just please, Walt. Make it happen. It's the top priority of the Winter.