October 2009

Catching up a little

Apologies for the blog silence lately. There hasn’t been much going on and I didn’t want to waste your time by making stuff up. Once the World Series concludes next week, things should start ramping up.

In the meantime, here are some things to keep in mind:

Redsfest tickets go on sale on Monday…of course, they can be purchased at reds.com. It will be held on Dec. 4-5 at the Duke Energy Center.

Click here for more information:

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/cin/fan_forum/redsfest.jsp

A list of players expected to attend isn’t out yet but a majority of players under contract are usually on hand, as are several prospects and former players. In the past few years since Redsfest came back after a layoff, it’s been a top notch event. If you like baseball and need an itch to scratch, check it out.

I’ve been getting e-mails about the releasing of a Spring Training schedule for the first camp at Goodyear. All I know is it’s likely to come some time in November so keep checking back. Deposits for Spring Training season tickets are being accepted now.

http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/spring_training/tickets.jsp?c_id=cin

There should be another edition of the Reds Inbox next week. Feel free to click on the comment link below if you’d like to get a question in. You can also send them by e-mail or via Twitter.

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Poor Cleveland?

I’m sure the next time a sports fan in Cincinnati feels bad for one in Cleveland, it will be the first time. But you can’t help but wince a little for Indians fans when seeing the World Series Game 1 starting pitcher match-up.

Cliff Lee for the Phillies vs. CC Sabathia for the Yankees. They were the last two American League Cy Young Award winners…for the Indians. Sabathia in 2007 and Lee in 2008.

Ouch.

Of course, the Indians just had a lousy season and face a long road back to contender status.

My prediction for what it’s worth — Phillies will win the Series in seven games even though I don’t like the week-long layoff they’ll get.

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Quiet, for now

The postseason has kept the news largely focused on the teams still playing and those with managerial vacancies. The Reds have been largely under the radar.

Some stuff to think about in the coming weeks:

The 40-man roster has to be set by Nov. 20. Among the prospects that will need protection are Chris Heisey, Travis Wood and Chris Valaika. Players drafted and signed at age 19 or older get four years in the minors before they have to be protected on a 40-man roster. The wait is five years for players taken at age 18 or younger. That means the Reds can wait one more year on Todd Frazier, who taken out of college in 2007.

“We’re in the process on developing a plan,” Reds GM Walt Jocketty said on Thursday. “We have a number of players to protect on our 40-man roster, which means we have a lot of tough decisions on guys to keep on the roster or not.”

The $8.5 club option ($1M buyout) must be exercised or declined on catcher Ramon Hernandez. That doesn’t have to be decided until soon after the World Series. My take: the Reds won’t pick up the option but will try to re-negotiate for a lower-priced deal.

The shortstop situation is still fluid. Look for the Reds to scan the trade market.

Here are some other key dates:

Dec. 1, 2009
Last date for former Club to offer their free agents salary arbitration to receive compensation.

Dec. 7-10, 2009
Winter Meetings, Indianapolis. The Rule 5 Draft is Dec. 10 before everyone bugs out.

Dec. 12, 2009
Tender deadline

I was out of town when Bryan Price was named the pitching coach on Saturday. It sounds like a decent hire to me. Price was in Arizona with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren (and Micah Owings) and was in Seattle when young ace Felix Hernandez came to the Majors.

Jocketty liked Price’s ability as a teacher of young pitchers that can also handle the veterans well.

“He has experience teaching at the minor league level as a coordinator and coach and he’s had success at the Major League level,” Jocketty said. “He’s not a household name but once people see the work he does and how he relates with the pitchers, they’ll see why we liked him.”

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Weathers trade = cash

My Milwaukee colleague Adam McCalvy first reported this but the Reds have now confirmed on Friday that they received an undisclosed amount of cash from the Brewers to complete the Aug. 9 trade for reliever David Weathers.

Now 40 years old, Weathers posted a 3.92 ERA in 68 games combined with the Reds and Brewers this season. Milwaukee holds a $3.7 million option on Weathers for 2010.

The Goodyear facility

Considering I had to wear a pink construction helmet and duck machinery the last time I was out there in May, I’m liking the pictures I’m seeing from the Reds’ new facility in Goodyear, Ariz. Instructional league is underway and the Reds are holding their formal “ribbon cutting” on Friday. There are also open houses on Friday and Saturday so if you’re in the vicinity, stop over.

In the meantime, check out this photo gallery. Spring Training is around the corner, sort of.

Also — Reds assistant director of media relations Jamie Ramsey has become the latest to start a Reds blog, Better Off Red. When you have a chance, check it out.

In a compliment that is in no way a shameless attempt to gain favor, Jamie is a great guy to work with and his wit shown in the minor league report has become appointment reading for people in the press box. His ongoing fashion jabs at Thom Brennaman’s pants could one day result in a battle royale that will be folklore through the generations. Is that an enticing promo or what?

The next pitching coach is….???

As I wrote in a story on Monday, the Reds efforts to hire a new pitching coach are reaching the interviews stage some time this week while Walt Jocketty presides over meetings in Goodyear, Ariz.

A defined list of candidates isn’t known and unlike the Astros, which revealed their candidates for their managerial vacancy and the schedule for the interviews, Jocketty and the Reds aren’t likely to be as open about the process and will say little until there is a hire.

“We don’t have a timetable but we want to get it done sooner than later,” Jocketty said on Monday. “When we find the right guy, we’ll move on it.”

There isn’t a shortage of pitching coaches without teams — former A’s and Mets coach Rick Peterson expressed his interest already. Former Diamondbacks coach Bryan Price is also out there. As is Chris Bosio, who was the Brewers interim coach this season and until a couple of years ago, was in the Reds minor league system as the coach with Double-A Chattanooga. To the best of my knowledge, former Braves pitching guru Leo Mazzone hasn’t worked in baseball since he was let go by the Orioles. Carl Willis was just fired by the Indians but once presided over pitchers like Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia.

Of course, everyone is waiting to see what Dave Duncan does with the Cardinals.

Inside the organization, Ted Power worked with several members of the staff already at Triple-A Louisville. There is pitching coordinator Mack Jenkins. And then there is Mario Soto, who is well liked but has previously resisted the idea of being a full time coach in the Majors.

Of all the candidates, Duncan would likely be the most costly. It’d be like shelling out millions on a free agent player. You have to wonder what implications that would have on the payroll and the ability to add or keep players. Would that be worth it to you?

In the latest installment of “Fans play the GM,” who would you hire?

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Bailey honored & a thanks to you

It was just announced that Homer Bailey was named the National League Player of the Week. It’s the first time he won the award.

Bailey, 23, was 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA, four walks and 14 strikeouts over 13 innings pitched.

In a 7-2 Reds victory over the Cardinals on Sept. 29, Bailey gave up one earned run on seven hits with one walk and seven strikeouts. During a 6-0 blanking of the Pirates in Sunday’s season finale, the right-hander worked six scoreless innings and allowed seven hits and three walks and struck out seven.

In his final nine starts, Bailey posted a 6-1 record and 1.70 ERA. Sure, four of those wins were vs. the Pirates but considering his struggles in recent years, the Reds should be encouraged. All signs are that Bailey will make the 2010 rotation more solid.

I wouldn’t be shocked if we soon learn that Joey Votto is the NL Player of the Month. At least, I voted for him.

Also — I wanted to thank everyone for reading this blog and following along on Twitter. This was my first season of doing both. I hope it was an avenue to enhanced Reds coverage for you.

Even though we’re in the off-season, I will continue to churn out stories — hot stove and others — throughout the next few months. I will also keep blogging and posting on Twitter. I hope you keep checking in and commenting.

 

The Sheldon Awards

Since MLB.com reporters are mysteriously not permitted to be in the Baseball Writers Association of American (BBWAA), I have no vote for the year-end awards — either local or national. So — I will hand out my own little awards on this here blog.

This recognition and a dollar will almost get you a pack of gum.

Reds MVP: Joey Votto. No Reds hitter was as indispensible as Votto this season and that was proven during his absence for personal issues. When he was in there, no one was a bigger threat. He hit a career-high 25 homers and tied a career high with 84 RBIs entering Sunday, despite playing in just 130 games. He will be the first Reds player to hit over .300 since 2005. After his return from the DL, he missed only one game and when he was in there, no one worked harder. I give him the edge over Brandon Phillips.

Most outstanding pitcher: Bronson Arroyo. Few in the Majors were better than Arroyo in the second half. There was the string of quality starts (23 total) and the 12-straight outings of at least seven innings and three or less runs. That means the Reds always had a chance when he pitched after the All-Star break. Despite calls from panicked fans to get rid of him during the first half, he finished with a 3.84 ERA. Had he gotten some better run support, Arroyo might have been in the 18-20 wins range.

Rookie of the year: Drew Stubbs. Since he only came up on Aug. 19, he probably lacks the at-bats to qualify. But this is my award, so the rules go out the window. Stubbs made the Reds better once he became the leadoff hitter and he led the club in homers and steals and was second in runs scored since his arrival. Honorable mention must go to Daniel Herrera and Ryan Hanigan, both have been solid all season and have plenty to build on for next year.

Good Guy Award: Lots of candidates in the clubhouse but I’m going with Jonny Gomes. In his one year here, he demonstrated the meaning of solid clubhouse presence.

Biggest surprise: For my year-end story that will be out this week, I put Gomes but Nick Masset and Daniel Herrera would have definitely been solid choices. Dusty Baker was in agreement when he was asked.

“Probably Gomes, Nix, Danny Herrera and Masset big time,” Baker said. “Masset, probably the biggest. He’s elevated himself to a different role, a more important role through performance.”

Biggest disappointment: Willy Taveras. No explanation really needed but a .275 OBP and 18 walks doesn’t cut it for a leadoff hitter who was signed to a two-year, $6.25 million contract last winter.

Looking ahead to 2010:

I’d understand why if it didn’t happen, but I’d like to see Paul Janish open next season as the starting shortstop. His glove is sensational and he will never cheat with his effort. If only he wasn’t batting .213. With Stubbs instead of Willy Taveras leading off and more offense from behind the plate, the Reds might be able to handle a lower offensive production from Janish. He could also get better as he gets more experience.

Johnny Cueto made the next step but now must get his arm rested and ready for 200 innings. Last night, Cueto hinted he would do winter ball again in December. But there is an “extreme fatigue rule” in place. For any pitcher that pitches 170 innings in a season, it’s up to the club. Cueto pitched 171 1/3 innings this year.

“It’s our decision,” assistant GM Bob Miller said. “We’ll evaluate it.”

Unless it’s a few innings to tune up for Spring Training, Cueto should skip winter ball. But obviously there is a lot of pressure in the home country — in this case, it’s the Dominican Republic.

Don’t underestimate the message that no one has named Jay Bruce outright as the right fielder next year. While it’s his job to lose,  he needs to show up ready to rock and blow everyone out of the water at Spring Training — because he’s more than capable of doing it. Like he says, he needs to be a hitter and not a slugger.

If the Reds eventually want to name Dave Duncan their pitching coach, that’s their choice. But it will be an expensive choice — almost like adding a free agent player. There are some good choices inside the organization like Ted Power and if he wanted the job, Mario Soto.

Goodbye, George:

George Grande revealed on Sunday that he was doing his final Reds TV broadcast after 17 years. He informed Fox Sports Ohio and the team earlier this week that he was opting out of his contract.

“I wanted to spend more time at home, basically,” Grande said. “I love the Reds, what I do and I love my job. I just need to be home on a regular basis, not just four or five days a month, to keep up on things.”

Grande said he would still do work with Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame.

“If there is something that comes along where I don’t have to travel on a regular basis, I will do that too,” Grande said. “I’m not leaving to take another job. I’m leaving to spend more time at home. If something happens, fine. More than anything, I will miss the people. I will miss everybody I worked with. We’ve all been pretty lucky and fortunate — the broadcasters and writers, everybody – to have a great relationship. The people I worked with made 17 years a joy.”

It’s sad knowing George won’t be back. There isn’t a nicer guy in the business. He might have been the most positive person I’ve ever met. If he’s ever had a bad day, you wouldn’t know it. Best of luck….

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Phillips 'very, very happy' with '09

I wish I had more for you today, but it’s been a rather quiet day at the yard — especially compared to Friday.

Talked to Brandon Phillips, who has been stuck at 95 RBIs for the past seven games. Once he crossed 90, he shifted his focus to 100 RBIs. He’s in a 0-for-12 skid at the moment.

“Everybody has said ‘you still have time.’ It’s nice to see that the team really wants me to do it,” Phillips said. “There’s always other years to do something like that.”

Especially considering the broken right index finger he played with in the first half, this has been a very good season for Phillips. He entered today batting .275 with with 20 homers, 95 RBIs and 25 steals. He’s improved his walk total each of the last three seasons and cut down on his strikeouts (44 walks and 74 strikeouts in 2009). His on-base percentage is .329, an improvement from 2008.

“I showed people that I could hit fourth,” Phillips said. “I showed I’m very versatile hitting in the lineup. I’m just very, very happy with myself with the year that I had. I’m having fun. If it wasn’t for the teammates hitting before me, I wouldn’t have as many RBIs as I have this year.

“This year really showed me the type of hitter that I am. It’s all about learning from the mistakes and making adjustments during the game and throughout a series.”

Phillips also reached 150 games for the second time in three years. He was the only regular position player to not spend time on the DL.

Reds lineup:

Stubbs 8
Janish 6
Votto 3
Phillips 4
Rolen 5
Gomes 9
McDonald 7
Hernandez 2
Cueto 1

Count me as oddly wistful that the Twins are leaving the Metrodome as they play their final weekend there. Having covered games there for five seasons from 2001-05, it was a terrible place for baseball but a lot of fun, great and wacky stuff happened there. Balls bounced off the “baggie” with no rhyme or reason, the white roof made fly balls a total adventure and the noise during a pennant race game could be deafening. Before going to FieldTurf, they had the most dreaded Astroturf around. 

There were a lot of characters that worked there behind the scenes, too, and the press box was low enough and had no windows. You were right in the mix with the fans and had a great view. Fans often just came over and said hello and chatted before games. It just stunk having to go inside when it was 75 degrees and perfect weather outside. But you loved knowing that there was never, ever a rain delay and no freezing your you know what off in April for the opener.

Believe me when I say there was never a better home field advantage for any club. And in the years I was up there, the Twins won a lot of games. They claimed three-straight division titles from 2002-04. 

Jim Caple at ESPN.com wrote a great story to send the place off. Check it out. That being said, I can’t wait to see Target Field in Minneapolis. I just won’t go there in April or September.

Dusty Baker had a nice line of the day about reliever Arthur Rhodes and his previously mentioned broken big left toe came up again.

“He already limps naturally sometimes,” Baker said. “He walks like Fred Sanford. They always say ‘Dusty, show us how Arthur walks.'”

The Brewers won their afternoon game from the Cardinals. That means there’s no chance for the Reds to finish in third place.

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No winter ball for Bruce

Busy news day all around the clubhouse, beyond Dick Pole being out as pitching coach.

Jay Bruce has changed his mind about playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Bruce has batted .316 (12-for-38) with four homers and 16 RBIs since returning from a fractured right wrist, but said that had little to do with the decision.

“I didn’t think I would get back and get this much playing time,” Bruce said. I don’t feel like winter ball would benefit me.”

Bruce, who was saying as recently as last week he would head to the Dominican for a month in late November, entered the night with 378 plate appearances and batting .220 with 22 homers and 57 RBIs. He’s played 15 games with nine starts after his activation from the eight-week stint on the DL.

“It has to do with feeling comfortable,” Bruce said. “It definitely helps that I’m having quality at-bats, playing a lot and getting that done. I’ve gotten some considerable at-bats since I got back.”

If you were wondering why reliever Arthur Rhodes hasn’t pitched since Sept. 22, there is a reason. Rhodes has a broken big left toe, Dusty Baker said. Apparently it happened way back on Sept. 4 in Atlanta when Rhodes jumped for a ball during batting practice.

“We didn’t want to take chance of him doing something mechanically different and hurting his arm,” Baker said.

Amazingly, Rhodes has pitched eight times since the injury — including on Sept. 4.

Edinson Volquez watched batting practice and is still unable to pick up a baseball. But he was pretty pleased with his progress from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

“It’s unbelievable the way I feel,” Volquez said. “Eight weeks later, I feel like nothing happened. I feel normal. I feel like can pitch right now but I have to wait.”

Volquez isn’t expected to pitch for the Reds again until around the All-Star break next season.

After the season, Volquez planned to remain in Cincinnati for four weeks and workout at Dr. Tim Kremchek’s clinic. After that, he will continue to rehab as the Reds academy in the Dominican Republic.

Baker and Walt Jocketty were asked about the chances for Paul Janish to be the starting shortstop next season. Neither committed to naming him the main man now but he seems to be in the running, especially if a better hitting shortstop can be found.

“I haven’t really come up with a definitive decision yet,” Baker said. “He’s shown signs of improvement, big time. We know he can play shortstop. The fact he has 20 doubles, that’s very impressive in a short period of time. Now if we can contiunue that but also try to get osme of the others in between. He’s working on it – staying out of the air, going the other way. He experimented with a heavier bat and chjoking up. He’s a bright young man and he and we will help him figure out how to be better.”

“I think he’s shown a lot of improvement,” Jocketty said. “A lot depends on our total offense. If we can pick up the offense in the other positions, maybe we can sacrifice a little bit more at short for the better defense. But we’d like to see him keep impreoving with offense.

“Our defense has always been strong on the right side. Now with Scott [Rolen] and Janish, it’s very strong on the left side. I think the pitchers like that a lot.”

Jocketty’s comment is pretty much what I thought would be a factor. To me — if the offense improves, especially at  the leadoff spot, Janish has a superb chance of being the Opening Day shortstop in 2010. But that means Willy Taveras can’t be the main center fielder and leadoff man next year. Jay Bruce has to take a step forward. You can’t have two or three guys hitting in the .220 or less range. If Ryan Hanigan can show a tad more offense or Ramon Hernandez is brought back, that would help Janish’s cause too.

Reds lineup:

Stubbs 8
Janish 6
Votto 3
Phillips 4
Rolen 5
Bruce 9
Balentien 7
Tatum 2
Lehr 1

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