Chicken Soup for Your Reds Soul

Sometimes you're the Louisville Slugger; sometimes, you're the best LH hitter in baseball. - Jared Wickerham

I hated those books. Who am I kidding? I never read any of them.

Hapless?  No, no.  That would imply that there's actually been a move made that has enough potential to leave us disappointed should it not work out.

Napless?  Certainly not.  The Winter hibernation seen around these parts has been as well publicized as the strategic moves have been hidden.

Fruitless?  There we go.  Any effort put forth to make the Cincinnati Reds a team improved from their 2013 performance has, shall we say, borne no fruit.

There have been no hope-building moves whose possible unfortunate failure would decimate our fragile hopes akin to Ryan Ludwick's resigning prior to 2013.  There have been no moves of any circumstance, really, as there has yet to be a single player signed who projects to be a starter.  In fact, the only potential moves that have been spoken of, at all, have been an unsuccessful Brandon Phillips trade, the inability to sign Homer Bailey to an extension, and the so-far lack of a contract signed by Grady Sizemore.

Grady Sizemore has not played major league baseball for over two years.  I digress.

The Reds, as currently constructed, will not enter the 2014 season as NL Central favorites.  There may - may - be a prognosticator somewhere who will pick them to finish 2nd in the division, but said prognosticator may be on a very lonely island.  But if history is to be remembered, the 2013 Reds entered their season with a lineup devoid of holes, All Star caliber players at 7 positions and across the pitching staff, and with the expectations of pundits everywhere telling them they'd be dousing themselves in beer and champagne with several games left in the regular season.

We all know how that turned out.  We also saw the Pittsburgh Pirates finish higher than the Reds in the standings despite entering the season with the disheveled remains of Francisco Liriano's left arm as an in-ink cog of their rotation, a 36 year old "closer" who had 5 career saves to his name, and a lineup that featured Andrew McCutchen and not a single other player who could crack a .784 OPS on the season.

The 2014 Reds will begin their season as a team that will be good, has potential to be pretty damn good, but one that will need a little bit of help to make the 2014 playoffs for the fourth time in five years.  That's not comforting, but it's also an issue endemic in baseball right now.  Every NL Central team benefited from Ryan Ludwick and Johnny Cueto being out most of the year.  They were helped by the fact that Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips had the worst offensive seasons in a half decade, from Todd Frazier's inability to replicate his stellar rookie campaign, and from Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton taking up two thirds of the training room for the entire season (that's a height/weight joke).

If anything, we should have learned by now that nothing ever plays out the way it appears it should.  2012 was a dream season for the Reds despite injuries that, on paper, should have decimated the squad.  The Cardinals were the best team in the National League last season after losing nearly their entire starting rotation to injury, and the Washington Nationals missed the playoffs altogether despite sporting a rotation, a lineup, and a bullpen that should have stood head and shoulders over their competition.

Those things happen.  Those things will happen again.

Take the Cardinals, for instance.  While their pitching appears svelte, they'll be counting on young arms to throw large amounts of innings, and they'll be banking on Jaime Garcia followed two injury riddled seasons.  They'll be penciling in Peter Bourjos, whose injury history should scare everyone.  They're moving two of their best hitters - Matt Carpenter and Allen Craig - to new positions, they'll be counting upon rookies Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras to contribute at a high level (the latter of whom will also be returning from injury), they waved goodbye to Carlos Beltran and his team-leading 24 HR, and they'll again be leaning heavily on Matt Holliday despite his SLG % and WAR having been in decline for four consecutive seasons.  They are good, they are deep, and they have a never-ending deal with the devil, but they still have imperfections that could expose themselves.  They did just give $52 million to a SS coming off a steroid suspension, too.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have issues, too.  Their offensive report card, as I mentioned, features a solid A and a litany of B minuses and C pluses.  They appear to be losing A.J. Burnett, their workhorse starter who led the NL in K/9, and they've only dipped into the free agent market as far as Edinson Volquez while seeking to replace him.  Wandy Rodriguez was shut down after just 12 starts last year, and he's yet to resume throwing fully after having both elbow tendinitis and forearm inflammation cut his 34 year old season short.  Jeff Locke, so good through the first half of the season, fell apart to the tune of a 6.12 ERA in his 57.1 innings after the break and ended up leading the NL in walks issued.  Liriano, of course, has never had back to back full seasons in his 8 year career, and despite the quality of his pitching in 2013, he still managed to throw just 161 innings - the second highest total of his career.  They'll be counting on young phenom prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon to pick up that slack, and while they're two of the most talented young arms in baseball, Reds fans need not look any farther than Homer Bailey to see that sometimes great young arms need a few years to truly reach their potential.

The Milwaukee Brewers are, sadly, a shell of their former selves, and don't appear to have enough pitching to pose much of a threat in 2014.  The Chicago Cubs are prospect rich and big league poor, and are still at least one year of expected losing away from genuinely being baffled by why they're still losing.  Yea, the Central appears to be a three team race, once again, and while the expected order of finish has been shuffled this year, there's still enough variability to make things interesting.  Who knows?  Maybe this is the year Walt makes a deadline move, and maybe this is the year another GM misplays his hand like Jocketty did with Marlon Byrd a year ago.  Maybe the breaks fall in just such a way to make a minor move in August become much more important.

That, as they say, is why we watch them play the games and then yell about it on the internet.

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