After 4 days and nights at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, the Cincinnati Reds' Winter Meetings contingent returned home on Thursday with nothing more than a Brad Paisley song stuck in their heads and some collective indigestion from the fried bologna sandwiches at Robert's. Those of us who were eagerly anticipating trades and signings that would set up the squad for a third NL Central crown in 4 years were a bit disappointed, but the truth is this is merely the first real foray into a very long off-season, and the Reds have done nothing to truly make their fans worry.
In other words, Black Friday deals are great, but everything's always cheaper the week after Christmas.
What Actually Happened
If you needed any assurance that Walt is a patient man, you were rewarded this week. We should remind ourselves of the most recent off-season, of course, since it's the one that set up the 97 win season in the first place. The Latos trade, the Sean Marshall trade, and the signing of Ryan Ludwick all took place well after the Winter Meetings, so by no means should we view the off-season as over and defined.
We know what the Reds went into the off-season looking for: versatile IF, a viable LF, a closer to let Chapman move to the rotation, and potentially a CF compliment to Drew Stubbs who is competent hitting RHP. So far, Jonathan Broxton was signed to be the closer, and a 2 year offer currently sits on the table for Ryan Ludwick that he continues to mull over. I fully expect Ludwick to be re-signed before the end of this weekend.
Considering the CF Free Agent market this year was well supplied, well demanded, extremely active, and lucrative early, it's probably wise that Walt sit back and let time take its course. The Reds were never going to have the money to overwhelm an agent into signing early, so there's zero surprise in seeing B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan, and Shane Victorino sign. Watching Denard Span and Ben Revere both be traded likely wasn't easy, but the price-tags for both (top 100 pitching prospects and/or established cheap starters) were not to Walt's liking, so that was that.
The utility/back-up IF market also took shape rather early, and potential targets like Eric Chavez and Jeff Keppinger were signed for rather lucrative deals. Neither of these should be surprise, either, as both were coming off solid 2012 campaigns.
What We Learned
I personally came to three distinct conclusions about the 2013 Reds after watching things go down this week.
First, and foremost, the Reds like their team, and they should. Assuming Ludwick re-signs, the 97 win division champs will bring back every pitcher and position player from the Division Series roster save for Scott Rolen, Miguel Cairo, and Wilson Valdez; those three combined for -2.9 bWAR in 2012 and will be 38, 39, and 35 years old next year. When Jack Hannahan is potentially the biggest Free Agent being discussed (by importance, not by weight), you're either in really good shape with your roster, or you're the Marlins.
Second, the Reds seem to be a bit cautious with their pitching staff after the 2012 staff's fantastic season. It's absurdly rare to make it through a season using just 5 starters (sorry, Todd...you don't count), and with 4 of the 5 setting career highs in IP, there's a bit of worry about depending on just them to get you through 2013. Popular belief had it that since Aroldis is scheduled to transition to the rotation, one of the other SP would be available as trade bait, but that may be overstating it. Having Mike Leake as the long man in the rotation or in AAA makes seeing if Cueto and Bailey can stay healthy (and if Aroldis can be an effective starter) less worrisome, and I think Walt is happy to have that as insurance.
Third, I think the Reds have a lot more confidence in Drew Stubbs than we do. Stubbs has seen his production take a steep nosedive since his breakout 2010, and last year he was particularly exposed against RHP to the tune of .186/.259/.282 in 395 PAs. That's bad, for sure, but he's still only scheduled to make about $2 million in 2013, and considering Shane Victorino (who is 4 years older than Stubbs) just signed for nearly $40 million dollars after hitting just .229/.296/.333 against RHP in 472 PAs, the price for marginal improvement has become unbearably expensive. Perhaps the Reds see his .290 BABIP in 2012, down from his career .323, and hope that will improve enough to make him a valuable enough 500 PA 7/8 hitter; if that's the case, for that price, I'm fine with it, too.
What We Can Expect
I still expect the Reds to upgrade their OF with a LH bat that is superior to Xavier Paul. While many, many such players just changed teams, players such as DeJesus, Fowler, Crisp, Granderson, and Ellsbury are still rumored to be available, and I fully believe Walt will wait out the market in an attempt to pull the wool over a more desperate team's eyes as the season approaches. The Reds have a surplus of young, cheap SP and young, cheap SS, and there are numerous teams still clamoring for both.
On the utility IF front, there will undoubtedly be at least one and probably two signed. I said the moment Placido Polanco was cut loose by the Phillies that I thought he'd be a Red, and I'm still pretty confident that will happen; regardless, someone of his ilk will be, whether it's him, Jack Hannahan, Casey McGehee, or another Miguel Cairo-esque clone. The need for a Paul Janish/Wilson Valdez type will likely materialize last after the other deals and moves are in place, and may well be solved by Didi and Cozart both making the 25 man roster. Regardless, I don't expect anything more than the Horst/Valdez trade of last year to fill that last spot.
Uneventful? Yeah, the Winter Meetings were wholly uneventful. I'll admit, I haven't been that disappointed by exchanging phone numbers in Nashville since freshman year of college. However, when you don't have much that needs changing, not much is going to change. The lack of success in the 2011 season has often been based upon the lack of movement after the 2010 season's success, but there's a big flaw in that logic: the lack of movement after the 2010 season kept the core in place to have the success in 2012. Sometimes, not overreacting is key, and I'm pretty sure despite the lack of movement, Walt and his awkward shirts will be resting easy until they head to Goodyear.
Oh, yeah, one last thing. Screw you, Cy Schourek.