Pitchers and catchers start reporting one month from today, so I'm going to go ahead and start my Reds 25-man position-by-position roster preview. We'll start today with the starting rotation, because it requires the least amount of work on my part. Both Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo have both been rumored to be traded but nothing has happened yet. Barring a trade, which at this point seems unlikely (and not just because I proposed not trading anyone), Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo will head the rotation. Harang is probably the team's "ace" and will likely start opening day although, arguably, Bronson has earned the spot.
Arroyo's been remarkably reliable in his 4 years as a Red. His first year (14 wins and 3.29 era) and last year (15 wins and 3.84 era), two really good years, sandwiched two mediocre to bad years in '07 (9 wins and 4.23 era) and '08 (15 wins but a 4.77 era). But he managed to start at least 33 games every year and pitch at least 200 innings. That's a pretty good run. There is no reason to expect anything other than 34 starts 200 plus innings pitched and an era around 4.00. 15 wins is not a stretch for him by any means.
Harang on the other hand, since a great three-year run from '05 to '07 has been anything but reliable. Just like we said last year, Harang becoming the '05-'07 pitcher is a huge key to this team's success both for 2010 and, if he builds his trade value, for the future.
Both Harang and Arroyo will make north of $12 mil. this year on the last year of their contracts, and both have 2011 buyouts of $2 mil. Look for these guys to either lead the Reds to challenge for the division or be shopped at the deadline.
Right now, Johnny Cueto is the third starter and Homer Bailey is the fourth starter. The continued development of these two pitchers (especially Bailey's roller coaster ride from top-prospect to failure back to a top prospect?) is a huge factor in the Reds' ability to contend for the division this year. If these two pitch well, combined with good seasons from the top two guys, who is the fifth starter won't matter.
Which leads to the biggest question mark for the Reds going into spring training. Assuming again no trade or signing, the fifth spot will be up for grabs among a few candidates. Nick Massett, who was just re-upped for two years, is probably not a candidate even though he was last spring. He was great in a set-up role, and will keep that role for 2010.
Perhaps the most intriguing option (besides Chapman, who I'll get to in a second) is Travis Wood. He had a great year last year and was added to the 40-man roster in November. Between AA (where he dominated) and AAA (where he was good, not great) he pitched 167.2 innings over 27 starts (8 in AAA) with a 1.77 era and a 13-5 record. He struck out 135, walking 53, and only gave up 6 home runs. Tell me that won't play well at Pretty Good American Small Park. But Wood seems like a good bet to start at AAA for a little more seasoning.
Of course, there's Chapman, but I cannont conceive of the Reds starting him in the majors. For one thing, if he earns arbitration eligibility in 2012, it alters his contract.
Another AAA guy, Sam LeCure has shown some promise, but won't be in the mix. His 10-8 season for Louisville (with 4.46 era) requires some attention, but won't be enough to get a serious look.
That really only leaves Matt Maloney and Micha Owings from the 40-man. Dusty likes Owings in the pinch-hitter role, so I see him as more likely a long reliever than a starter.
Maloney wasn't great in his '09 Reds' debut, but he did show some promise and he's left-handed, which the Reds desperately need. In 7 starts, he went 2-4 with a 4.87 era and 28/8 K/BB in 40.2 innings (not quite 6 per start). He also allowed 9 home runs. But unless he blows up in the spring, the Reds sign another starter, or Wood or Chapman are just too good in spring training to be denied, Maloney will be the fifth guy.
Overall, starting pitching has to considered a strength with this club, although the rotation is not without its question marks, the biggest of which are which Harang will show-up? and will Cueto and Bailey continue to develop?
Up next: the bullpen.