Pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, Arizona, tomorrow. A lot has happened for the Reds in the last month since we started our 25-man roster preview with starting pitchers. The Reds signed O-Cab, Arredondo, Miguel Cairo, and Kip Wells, and traded T-Virus and Rosie for Aaron Miles. They still might be in the market for a free agent pitcher and may still sign Jonny Gomes. But we're going to assume the roster as is entering training camp, and pose and answer the five biggest questions for the Reds this year.
1. Which Aaron Harang shows up?
I think this is the single most important question for the Reds. There are issues in left field and with the fifth starter, but without Harang as the ace of the staff the Reds won't compete. They may not compete with him as the ace, but they have no chance without him. The national media will focus on how Chapman's doing and who the fifth starter will be, but Harang is the key.
In '06 and '07, Harang was 32-17, with a 3.75 era in 466 innings with 434 K's and a 1.208 WHIP. In '08 and '09, he was 12-31, with a 4.52 era in 346.2 innings with 295 K's and a 1.396 WHIP. The difference is stark. If the '06/'07 Harang shows up, look for the Reds to be competitive in the division. If he's the opening day starter, that's a good sign.
2. Will the Young Guns continue to develop?
Again, the Reds have some holes, but how those holes are filled won't matter if Votto, Bruce, Cueto, and Bailey don't continue to develop. If those four take a step forward, look out. The Reds know what they're getting from Arroyo, Cordero, Phillips, O-Cab, Rolen, and Hernandez. Those guys are all veterans with good, if not great, track records. Add four top developing stars, and that's a very solid team. Add four struggling prospects, and the team is out of it before the all-star break. There is no reason to think Votto won't continue his solid performance, and all of the fantasy magazines believe Bruce will have a break-out year. So I guess it's up to Bailey and Cueto to answer this one.
3. Where are the Reds at the trade deadline?
The Reds have a lot of competitions to decide in spring training. They need to settle on a fifth starter and a left fielder (or a platoon in left). But the answers to those questions won't matter as much as the answers to 1 and 2 above. If the guys in the left field and fifth starter roles struggle, there is plenty of depth to replace them. But if the guys at the top struggle, the Reds won't compete. For 2011, the Reds are only committed to Cordero, Rolen, Phillips, Chapman, Masset, and Alonso, with a few buy-outs. If the Reds are out of it near the trade deadline, look for a fire sale. If the Reds are in it, they have the flexibility to add a guy without killing the payroll and/or the future. They also have depth in their prospects to make a deal.
4. Who are the final pieces in the 25-man roster puzzle?
Aaron Miles is set to make $2.7 mil. this year. That's about the same as what the starting outfield (even if Balantein and Dickerson platoon) and three fifths of the rotation will make, combined. So he's on the team. Is that too much to pay for a super-utility guy? On this team, yes. But not when you consider that Jockety was able to unload Taveras to get him. And he's an upgrade over any other candidate for the super-utility role. Hanigan will be the back-up catcher, and the fifth starter winner will decide the final pieces of the bullpen, but these decisions aren't critical. As indicated, there is plenty of depth if a spring training performance leads to a surprise role on the team that doesn't pan out.
5. Who will date Dusty's daughter this year?
In '08 it was Cory Patterson. In '09 it was Willy Taveras. I have not bashed on Dusty as much as most, but I was ready to give up on him when I made it to the park late in the year last year and saw Taveras leading off and Janish batting second. Dusty cannot think unconventionally about his line-up. Just because a guy is fast doesn't make him a lead off hitter. And just because a guy has no power doesn't make him a second place hitter. Guys in the top spots have to get on base. Period. Inevitably, someone on this team will struggle and Dusty will not have the flexibility to adjust.