Continuing with our 25-man roster preview, today we tackle the infield. Four of the five spots are set, with one caveat, how many games will Ramon Hernandez start at catcher?
The Reds re-signed Hernandez to a one-year $3 mil. deal (with an option) to catch. Hernandez managed to play only half of the games last year due mostly to injury, and played quite a few of those games (rather well defensively) at first base, filling in for Joey Votto. Hernandez was one of the Red's bigger moves last off-season when they brought him over from Baltimore for fan favorite Ryan Freel. Hernandez looked great in spring training, driving the ball to center and the gaps, but he never really put it together for the Reds during the year. He batted only .258 and slugged only .326, but did have an OBP of .336, striking out only once more than he walked. He hit only 5 home runs with 37 rbi's. Bringing him back at only $3 mil. was not a terrible move, though, especially on a one-year deal. If healthy, he could have a much more productive year, and his defense (with no real back-up for Votto) is an asset.
The back-up will be Ryan Hanigan who perhaps hit the least-productive .263 ever. He recorded an OBP of .361 in 251 at bats over 90 games, but managed only a .331 slugging percentage and only 11 rbi's. That is major futility. But he did serve as Bronson Arroyo's personal catcher. Interestingly, I wonder if Hanigan will be the opening day starter if Arroyo is given the assignment on the hill? Hanigan is still earning close to the minimum.
Joey Votto returns at first base. His continuing development as a star will be a big story for the Reds this year. He hit very well last year with a .310/.388/.536 line with 25 home runs and 84 rbi's in just 469 at bats over 131 games. He's no Albert Pujols, but his three-year average in the majors is .310/.388/.536. Not bad. Votto is not arbitration eligible until 2011. Hernandez will be the back-up.
Brandon Phillips returns at second base. Phillips had a typically productive year, with his home runs down some, but his rbi's up. That was mostly due to his hitting out of place in the clean-up spot. As usual, he played a great second-base. He'll make just shy of $7 mil. this year and over $11 mil. next year in the last year of his deal. If the Reds are out of it by the deadline, don't be surprised if they shop BP. Interestingly, it has long been rumored that BP would switch to shortstop. The Reds have a glaring hole at short (I'll get to that in a minute) that BP could fill nicely. BP started as a shortstop with the Indians and was a big-time prospect there. The Reds have a lot of options for second (which I'll also discuss in a minute) but few viable shortstop options. But for whatever reason, this shift has not happened and there is no indication it will happen this spring.
The Reds traded for Scott Rolen last year at the deadline and, when in the line-up, he seemed to help the team. Bad luck (he got hit by a pitch that led to a concussion and a lengthy stretch on the bench) kept us from getting any kind of extended look at him last year. But there was no question that his defense was an improvement over Edwin Encarnacion's at third. Rolen's slash stats were down as a Red over his Toronto stats, but he was more productive with the rbi's, something the Reds desperately needed. Rolen was set to make $11 mil. this year on the last year of a three-year deal, but the Reds restructured the deal, adding on money for 2011 and 2012 (with a $5 mil. bonus at the back end) for lowering his deal to $6 mil. for 2010. We'll discuss how the Reds might use that extra money here in a minute. (It didn't go to Chapman, because that deal is also back end loaded.)
That just leaves shortstop as a question mark, but boy it's a big one. Right now, the job belongs to Paul Janish who, when he wasn't pitching for the Reds last year, did a nice job of helping the Reds prevent runs. But his bat left a lot to be desired. Over two seasons with the Reds and 336 at bats, he's hit just .205 with a .582 OPS.
So what to do? Perhaps they'll take some of the Rolen money and find a free agent like Orlando Cabrerra, who is rumored to be looking for around $3 mil. Or try another prospect such as Todd Frazier, who will play some shortstop in spring training, his original position. The Reds also have Adam Rosales and Chris Valaika, both of whom were drafted as shortstops. Frazier is the better hitting prospect, batting .292 last year with 16 home runs and 71 rbi's at AA and AAA combined. Rosales is not an option because he hit just as poorly as Janish and is not as good with the glove. Valaika has played mostly second, but again, the Reds don't seem inclined to move BP to short, to make second base available for Valaika. That is also true for lefty hitting Drew Sutton who came over from the 'Stros for Keppy. He played some last year for the Reds and showed some promise, but I'm not sure he can handle shortstop.
Look for the Reds to play a lot of guys there in spring training and in the minors, but go with Janish on opening day, hoping he can hit. Look for Rosales to make the team as the utility infielder (he can play several spots) and Sutton to take the other spot because he's a lefty. Of course, a free agent signing could change all of that, but it would have to be a relatively cheap guy. The Reds could very well be waiting to see if I guy like O-Cab could fall to them on a one year deal at or below the $3-4 mil. range.
Odds and ends: Yonder Alonso, the Reds' top prospect may be ready this year, but he's parked behind Votto right now. So far, there's no indication that the Reds are seriously considering him for left field (or Votto for left) and there is no reason to have him in the bigs and riding pine. He needs to be playing every day. He could be part of a blockbuster trade at the deadline if the Reds really need a top guy, but I think he'll spend the year in the minors and the Reds will see how he does.
The Reds also have top prospect Juan Francisco, but he's a thirdbaseman and behind Rolen. Look for him to see some time in left field in spring training as the Reds try to get his solid bat (albeit with a poor eye) in the lineup.
The Reds reportedly will also look at Zach Cozart at short during spring training, but he's like Janish, good glove, no stick.
Up next: the outfield.
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