February 2012

Tomko back to where it began?

MLB Trade Rumors reported on Thursday that RHP Brett Tomko agreed to a Minor League contract with the Reds. A club spokesman had no official information of a deal being done.

Tomko, 38, split last season with the Rangers and their Triple-A club. In eight relief appearances, he had a 4.58 ERA.

From 1997-99 as mostly a starting pitcher for the Reds, Tomko was 29-26 with a 4.35 ERA in 89 games, including 79 starts. He was traded to the Mariners in the February 10, 2000, deal that brought Ken Griffey Jr. to Cincinnati. The right-hander has also pitched for the Padres, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, Royals, A’s and Yankees.

Fisher invited to camp

The Reds revealed Wednesday that RHP Carlos Fisher cleared waivers and was assigned outright to Triple-A Louisville. Fisher was invited to big league camp at Spring Training as a non-roster player. He was designated for assignment last week when the Reds needed a spot for the signing of OF Ryan Ludwick.

That brings the total to 57 players invited to camp.

Also have some added uniform numbers for you:

Fisher went from No. 46 to No. 53

Jeff Francis — No. 26

Wilson Valdez — No. 15

Willie Harris — No. 9

Going to Goodyear?

On Tuesday I received an e-mail from Scott, a Reds fan living in New York. Scott is planning an extended weekend in Arizona to see the Reds in Goodyear and had lots of good questions. Some of them I have answered in the past. And some of them can be answered by clicking here on a Spring Training section of Reds.com.

Here are few tips that I gave to Scott that might prove useful to you if you are planning a trip out to Goodyear:

*Workouts are held usually in the mornings, seven days a week. The rare exception is if there is a night game, the one scheduled day off on March 21 and on the reporting days of Feb. 19 and 24, when they will be in the afternoon. There is no published set time for the public, but they can generally start as early as 8:30-9am and end around 12:30-1pm…especially before the Cactus League schedule begins.

*The workouts are NOT held at Goodyear Ballpark, which the Reds share with the Indians. The workouts are held just under a mile away at the Reds player development complex. There is on-street parking and it is free. There is also no admission fee to see the Reds workout.

*A walking path from the street will take you to the back fields of the complex. The players rotate to “stations” at four or five different fields to work on skills like fielding, bunting, calling fly balls, etc.

*There is no formal autograph signing process except that fans must stay behind the gates or fences that have been set up. Players might sign in between going from one field to the next, but many don’t because they need to keep moving. Some might sign after workouts.

*The Reds usually take batting practice before home and away games at the player development complex. They rarely take BP inside Goodyear Ballpark or at road game sites. For most games, they hit at the complex and then take busses or their own cars to the stadium for the games.

*Reds Minor League players are due to report to camp on March 1. Even when the big leaguers are playing games, the Minor League guys are often working out on the back fields at the complex.

I hope this helps you if you’re headed out to Arizona. Soon, I will try to break out the dining guide.

Checking out the NL Central

As you may have noticed today, all of the MLB.com reporters have Spring Training preview stories running today. That would, of course, include one from yours truly. But the Reds won’t be competing in a vacuum  and for one more season, have five other clubs to contend with in the NL Central race. (Houston moves to the AL West in 2013).

So without further adieu, here are links to the division rivals’ Spring Training previews…in the order of predicted finish that I posted on Friday.

Cardinals, Jenifer Langosch: Departures won’t minimize Cards title defense

Reds, Mark Sheldon: New-look Reds ready to roll in NL Central

Brewers, Adam McCalvy: Milwaukee goes for championship in all-in year

Pirates, Tom Singer: Bucs ready to finish what they started in 2011

Cubs, Carrie Muskat: Cubs not in rebuilding mode despite wealth of changes

Astros, Brian McTaggart: Competition the theme of spring for Astros

*The Reds could use some improved results within the division but were a winning team in this area. Last season, they were 42-37 vs. NL Central clubs. The killer was the Pirates, against whom they were 5-10. They were .500 or better vs. the other five clubs which included an 8-8 mark vs. Milwaukee and 9-6 against St. Louis. The biggest problems were actually vs. NL East clubs (13-20) and Interleague play against AL teams (6-12).

*Talking TV: The Friday USA Today story about television revenue helping small market clubs was quite interesting. Of course, it spawns thoughts of a potential new Reds TV network or contract being a boon. And I really liked some of the suggested Reds programming titles I saw on Twitter. I know the Reds get great ratings locally on FS Ohio but starting a new team-oriented network like YES or NESN is easier said than done. I lived through a spectacular failure on the Twins part to start their own regional sports network and the Royals also had a short-lived venture for a couple of seasons. With Minnesota, it all came down to carriers. No major cable or satellite company were willing to carry what the club called Victory Sports One as the sides haggled over carriage fees. The bottom line was no one in the Twin Cities could see Twins games and there was a lot of controversy. Victory folded about six weeks into the 2004 season and the Twins went back to Fox Sports North, albeit at a better rate than before. I am not saying that would happen to the Reds, but one thing I always seem to read about with new channels — sports or otherwise — is the issue in getting placed on the major carriers channel lineup.

Questions and projections

After Friday, it will be nine days left in the countdown to pitchers and catchers reporting. I have a camp preview in the editing process that will go up late Sunday or early Monday.

Especially after some of the debacles of last year’s camp, namely the pitching injuries to Cueto and Bailey, Arroyo’s mono and Volquez’s visa issue, I’m cautious about saying this job is locked up or that spot is filled. You never know what will go down during Spring Training. Depth and health will be key for sure but assuming all goes as planned, this is about as strong of a group entering a Reds camp I’ve seen since I started here. (This will be season No. 7 covering the Reds for me).

No doubt there will still be enough questions like — can Aroldis Chapman crack the top 5 and if he does, who is out? In my projected rotation you will see Monday, Chapman is currently out. Is Devin Mesoraco ready to step and assume either most of a good portion of the catching duties in the big leagues. I expect him to be in a similar tandem situation with Ryan Hanigan, at least at the beginning. Will Brandon Phillips ever sign a contract extension? Is Scott Rolen healthy, and just as important, able to contribute at the level he did in the first half of the 2010 season? That will be a big key. There will be a serious dogfight for the final bench spots as well.

*Here is my pre-Spring Training NL Central final standings projection:

1. Cardinals
2. Reds
3. Brewers
4. Pirates
5. Cubs
6. Astros

The Reds have no doubt been impressive in the roster improvements, and the Cardinals suffered some losses with the departures of Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan. But St. Louis is not just the reigning champion, they have a very strong team coming back. Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, David Freese, Yadier Molina and now Carlos Beltran are in the lineup. Chris Carpenter, a should-be healthy Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia are in the rotation. The bullpen is pretty solid. So far now, I have to give the Cardinals the edge. This is certainly subject to change in the coming weeks.

Odds and ends

*I was at GABP’s loading dock yesterday for the surest sign Spring Training is near — the loading up of the 18-wheeler for Goodyear. Here is my short story if you want to take a look. There is also a little video in there.

*If you haven’t had a chance, please check out the efforts from Meggie Zahneis, our MLB.com youth correspondent. In the short time since I’ve met Meggie, I’ve been very impressed with her work and even more impressed with her as a person.

*Nice effort last night by Rich Linville, who narrowly lost in the second round of “Baseball IQ” on MLB Network. Like many people, I’m sure, I was repeatedly saying “Mike Piazza!” to the TV. So close. So close.

*Emily Szink, a University of Dayton graduate from Kettering, is one of 50 finalists vying to be a contestant for the 2012 MLB Fan Cave. Through Feb. 22, fans can vote for their favorites at mlbfancave.com.

Ludwick, Francis finalized

Moves that have been in the wind for weeks finally became officially announced by the Reds.

OF Ryan Ludwick’s one-year contract with a 2013 mutual option is done. To make room for Ludwick, RHP Carlos Fisher was designated for assignment.

Ludwick had agreed to terms on his deal on Jan. 16. He will make $2.5 million this season.

LHP Jeff Francis was signed to a Minor League contract after passing his physical. He agreed to his deal on Jan. 25.

For a refresher on Ludwick/Francis — click here for the more complete story.

Jocketty denies Oswalt buzz

The topic of Roy Oswalt and the Reds being a potential match hasn’t gone away in the past several weeks, despite the denials from general manager Walt Jocketty. Rumors flared up again over the weekend as other clubs appear to be declining their interest. The Cardinals were the latest team to reportedly back off.

Speaking by phone on Tuesday from Goodyear, Ariz., Jocketty emphatically denied the Reds were in on Oswalt.

“The media has been putting us into it. I’m tired of it,” Jocketty said. “I try to be upfront with you guys. I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people. I’m not saying something couldn’t ever happen but there’s nothing to lead me to believe we will sign him.”

“I don’t know where he’s going. We haven’t had any serious discussions with him. We’ve had no contact with that player.”

On another topic — the Reds are no closer to an extension with 2B Brandon Phillips

“Not really,” Jocketty said. “We really haven’t had a chance to talk with them. Hopefully in the next few weeks, it’s something we can address.”

Jocketty said he did not believe Phillips’ side had set any deadline for talks ending before the season starts.

“I think this could go on for a while,” Jocketty said.

Super Bowl zzzzzzzzz…..

Maybe it was because I’m a Jets fan living the nightmare of a Patriots-Giants matchup for the second time in four years, but the Super Bowl last night wasn’t all that compelling for me. I’m just glad the blowouts that seemed to wreck the games in the 1980s and 90s haven’t returned in a while. As for the commercials? Meh. Nothing grabbed me. I saw the best ones (Ferris Bueller-Honda, Jerry Seinfeld-Acura) several days ago online. That sort of steals the thunder from seeing it during the game. And the ones that aired during the game were shorter than what was seen online. Had the Acura one had David Letterman at the end instead of Jay Leno (blech), we might have really been on to something. The Doritos one with the dog was cool.

None of that is important now, of course. Football is done and it’s just about time for baseball.

*Pitchers and catchers report to Reds camp in Goodyear, Ariz., in 13 days. Just maybe…the Ryan Ludwick and Jeff Francis transactions will be announced by then.

*For all the rumors that briefly flared up again over the weekend, I will only believe that Roy Oswalt will sign with the Reds when he is standing in front of me wearing a Reds uniform on Feb. 19. It’s not that Oswalt doesn’t want to be with the Reds — his people have called. For now, the Reds don’t have the budget or roster space and don’t appear (at least from the outside) willing to make manuevers to create either. I think it’s a little telling that other clubs (Rangers, Cardinals?) seem to be saying something similar and Oswalt is still out there with less than two weeks left in the off-season.

*MLB.com released the Fantasy Baseball preview for 2012. Joey Votto is ranked No. 8 overall. Jay Bruce is No. 33, Brandon Phillips is No. 49 and Mat Latos is No. 62.

*National writer Anthony Castrovince has a MLB off-season quiz for you to take.

*Belatedly, Jay Bruce can be welcomed on to Twitter by going to @JayABruce. He joins familiar folk like Brandon Phillips (@datdudeBP), Sam LeCure (@mrLeCure) and Mike Leake (@mikeleake44)

FS Ohio at Spring Training

Fox Sports Ohio revealed it’s spring broadcast plans on Thursday. At this point, it looks like only one televised Cactus League game was announced — March 5 vs. the Indians at 3 p.m. ET.

FS Ohio will also begin a new weeknight series during camp – Reds Live: Spring Training 2012 that will air new episodes Monday-Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET. Replays will follow at 10 pm and the following morning at 8:30 am. Jim Day, Chris Welsh, and Jeff Piecoro will host the show from the Reds Spring Training complex with appearances by Jeff Brantley, Jim Kelch, and Thom Brennaman.

Reds Classic Rewinds will return each Monday in February at 7 p.m. ET. Here are the four games they selected, per the FS Ohio press release:

Feb 6: March 31, 2011 – Opening Day: Reds v. Milwaukee Brewers. 
After trailing the entire game, the Reds notch a walk off win when Ramon Hernandez’ slams an opposite-field 3-run HR giving the Reds a 7-6 win. 

Feb. 13:  July 15, 2011 – Reds v. St. Louis Cardinals
The Reds claim a 6-5 win in front of a sellout crowd at GABP in their first game after the All-Star Break.  A back-and-forth game is capped off with Brandon Phillips’ second career walk off home run, a 2-run shot off Fernando Salas.

Feb. 20: August 13, 2011 – Reds v. San Diego Padres
A 13-1 Reds win over San Diego at GABP! This game marked several Reds’ season-highs: most runs in a game, 13; most total bases, 35; and most home runs, 7.  It was also the largest winning margin of season, 12.  Jay Bruce collects 2 hits for the 4th straight game, with a homer, 3 runs and 2 RBI.  A few days later Jay is named the NL Player of the Week for the second time in 2011.  Homer Bailey was the winning pitcher, 7IP, 7K.
Feb. 27: May, 7 1999 – Barry Larkin Replay
Larkin went 3-for-4, with 2 RBI, including a walk-off double.

Cordero on Reds

Courtesy of my Toronto colleague Gregor Chisholm, a quote from Francisco Cordero. The former Reds closer formally signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

“I had an offer from the Reds and I think I did a great job there. I’m pretty happy with the Reds, their fans, my family loved it over there and everything was good for the four years I was there. Sometimes you just need a change and you have to do whatever is best for you. I did what I had to do in Cincinnati, I have no regrets, I feel happy, I really appreciate what they did for me there but it’s time to move on.

“The time comes and you have to know when to move on.”

After the closers market was stacked with volume, Cordero essentially ended up being without a chair when the music stopped. Not only did he not get a multi-year contract as he hoped, he didn’t get to return to Cincinnati and now he likely won’t be a closer. He is viewed as a good bet to setup for Sergio Santos in Toronto. No matter what he is saying publicly, Cordero can’t be thrilled with how his off-season turned out.

The Reds had an offer on the table for Cordero since the end of last season. They couldn’t come to terms before having to decline his $12 million option. They told him to look around but they kept talks open.

GM Walt Jocketty wasn’t willing to offer more than a one-year contract with an option for 2013. When Cordero’s side didn’t move off the multi-year demand by early to mid January, the Reds turned to the only other available closer in Ryan Madson. Surprisingly, Madson was open to taking a one-year deal. The Reds then moved on from Cordero and signed Madson for a one-year, $8.5 million deal with an $11 million mutual option for 2013.

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