April 2012

Welcome to Opening Day 2012

Welcome to Opening Day. It looked gloomy this morning but it really appears to be a nice day this afternoon.

News and notes:

*RHP Alfredo Simon, the recent waiver pickup for the Reds, threw in the bullpen yesterday and felt 100 percent. Simon dealt with a groin injury during Spring Training with the Orioles. He said it was one of the reasons that led to his being cut by Baltimore.

“They had a lot of pitching and didn’t have a spot for me,” Simon said. “I had a groin injury and they put me on waivers because I didn’t pitch that much in spring training. I knew I’d get picked up. It’s business. It happens. I’m here right now and very happy.”

*A groin injury slowed LHP Bill Bray throughout camp and limited him to 3 2/3 innings over 4 games all spring. Bray will not have his usual late inning role to begin the season.

“He’s had enough to pitch but not enough to pitch in the role we are accustomed to seeing him or with the regularity we’re accustomed to seeing,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “He’s still in Spring Training [mode]. We want to use him more in the middle vs. late right now. If something happens adversely and he’s not sharp or whatever, you have time and innings to come back vs. if it was in the eighth or ninth when you don’t have time to rebound or comeback.”

*Baker was asked if a fast start was important to the Reds this season. It would be nice but…

“It is important but it’s not mandatory,” Baker said. “It’s how you finish. Last year didn’t we start [5-0] and there were signs out we’d go 162-0? Didn’t we sweep Milwaukee right away? It’s a long race, a long run. … We have to always remember this is a long, long race. You want to stay out of extended losing streaks, win close ballgames, play as consistent mistake-free baseball as you can and stay as healthy as you can. Don’t get too high when things are good and don’t get too low when things go poorly.”

*Here’s one more picture of a guy you might recognize. (Hint: He just signed a very, very, very large contract to stay with the Reds for a very, very long time.)

The Opening Day lineup

Reds lineup vs. Marlins

Phillips 4
Cozart 6
Votto 3
Rolen 5
Bruce 9
Ludwick 7
Stubbs 8
Hanigan 2
Cueto 1

*Ludwick got the nod over Heisey, because Dusty Baker felt Ludwick was a better match-up against left-handed starter Mark Buehrle.

*INF/OF Todd Frazier was optioned to AAA Louisville Wednesday to make room for RHP Alfredo Simon, who was claimed off of waivers on Tuesday.

“That’s a very tough move,” Baker said. “It happened to me. I know how it feels from morning to afternoon. I was told in the morning that I made the team. After I hit a couple of home runs, I came back in and everybody was silent. They said ‘Dusty, they want to see you in the office.’ They told me that they changed their mind. I had already sent my car north to Atlanta and I was on my way to Richmond.”

Votto press conference at 6:05 p.m.

The Reds will be holding a 6:05 p.m. ET press conference on Wednesday to announce the signing of Joey Votto to a contract extension.

According to reports, Votto will sign a 10-year, $225 million contract that would keep him Cincinnati through the 2023 season. There is also a club option for the 2024 season.

“We recognize the historical significance of this signing,” Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said in a statement. “Ownership has committed to Joey, and we anticipate that he will continue to be one of the best players in baseball for the next decade or so. He wants to stay here, and we want him here. We have shown we are committed to building a solid foundation from within the organization.”

We will have the live feed of the press conference on Reds.com/MLB.com.

Reds claim Simon

My colleague in Baltimore, Brittany Ghiroli, has confirmed through a source that the Reds have claimed RHP Alfredo Simon off of waivers from the Orioles.

Simon, 30, is 8-12 lifetime with a 5.18 ERA in 78 games, including 36 starts. He’s been with the Orioles since 2008. Last season, he was 4-9 with a 4.90 ERA in 23 games, 16 starts.

What this means for the Reds’ 25-man roster? Stay tuned. Someone will have to go.

Votto gets BLOCKBUSTER deal

The Reds have agreed to terms on a 10-year, $225 million contract extension with first baseman Joey Votto, according to a report Monday evening by USA Today.

The blockbuster deal, which comes with a full no-trade clause according to the report, would keep Votto with the Reds through the 2023 season.

If the report is accurate, Votto would be the third first baseman since the end of last season to receive a contract worth more than $200 million. But the two others — Albert Pujols with the Angels and Prince Fielder with the Tigers — were with new clubs. Pujols and Votto share the same agent, Dan Lozano.

Votto, 28, still has two years remaining on the three-year, $38 million contract he signed in January 2011. He is due to make $9.5 million this season and $17 million in ’13.

The extension also keeps Votto, the 2010 National League Most Valuable Player, from exploring the free-agent market in two years when he would have first been eligible.

Votto stunner, 25-man roster

*I haven’t been home very long and I’m not going to lie that I was stunned about the mlbtraderumors.com report that Joey Votto and the Reds are close to a contract extension that could be valued at over $200 million. I’m working on it at this very moment and have calls out. My colleague, A.J. Cassavell is in Goodyear for MLB.com and will hopefully provide an update from there.

*SS Paul Janish was optioned to Triple-A Louisville, which means the roster is set with 14 position players and 11 pitchers. Below is the 25-man roster

Starting pitchers

1. Johnny Cueto
2. Mat Latos
3. Bronson Arroyo
4. Mike Leake
5. Homer Bailey

Bullpen

LHP Sean Marshall
LHP Aroldis Chapman
RHP Logan Ondrusek
LHP Bill Bray
RHP Jose Arredondo
RHP Sam LeCure

Infielders

1B Joey Votto
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Zack Cozart
3B Scott Rolen
INF Miguel Cairo
INF Wilson Valdez

Catchers

Devin Mesoraco
Ryan Hanigan

Outfielders

Jay Bruce
Drew Stubbs
Chris Heisey
Ryan Ludwick

Utility

INF/OF Willie Harris
INF/OF Todd Frazier

Disabled list

RHP Ryan Madson
RHP Nick Masset
RHP Jordan Smith

Predictions, Pick-to-Click

*Currently, I am awaiting a red-eye flight home late Sunday night at Phoenix-Sky Harbor Airport, as my Spring Training is over after six weeks worth of camp, drills, and games, but one game short of the very end.

I thought there would be a finalized roster by now, but it appears that will be coming sometime on Monday. Don’t worry, we will have it covered.

*Recently Richard Justice did an overview of the NL Central and I was asked to contribute my prediction of the standings. What I provided was slightly different than the one I listed at the start of Spring Training.

The new prediction:

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

Why the Reds now after I had them in second place before camp opened? I think St. Louis will have a far tougher time getting by without Chris Carpenter than the Reds will moving on without Ryan Madson. Adam Wainwright is coming off of Tommy John surgery, which after watching Edinson Volquez return from his, means there could be some brilliance but also frustration. I don’t want to discount Madson, because he would have been perfect for the Reds, but I think Sean Marshall will be a capable replacement (assuming he’s given the role). The defense is the best in the division, and one of the best in the league. That will help the pitching. In the rotation, Johnny Cueto has a strong No. 2 guy behind him with Mat Latos. The lineup is well-rounded, and it seems that Scott Rolen is back, assuming he stays healthy. Zack Cozart looked very, very good this spring and he should be an asset. Of course, there’s always Joey Votto looming in the three-hole of the lineup.

*My Reds “pick to click” for 2012 is Jay Bruce. I believe that this is the year it all comes together for Bruce. It wasn’t just the weight loss, but I think the determination to work even harder than in the past. It shows he’s motivated to not just be good, but great. He wants to be consistent and not run through hot and cold spells that have plagued him since he was a rookie. Obviously, it’s not enough to simply want it. Bruce has already put in the foundation to make it happen. I look for Bruce to break the 100 RBI mark, and possibly take his first Gold Glove.

*Here is my 2012 Reds Opening Day/season preview story, the first of a few pieces that will run this week.

*Thanks to everyone that has read the volumes of dispatches on this blog and MLB.com during Reds camp.

Until next time from Cincinnati…

Francis headed to AAA

*The Reds will send LHP Jeff Francis to Triple-A Louisville to begin the season and be a starter, GM Walt Jocketty said on Sunday.

“I kind of told him that the other day,” Jocketty said. “There’s still a possibility he could pitch in the bullpen but we decided to send him there because we need to have a starter available in case something happens. He pitched well enough where he would certainly be that guy. He had a good spring other than that one outing.”

Francis, a non-roster invite had a 6.65 ERA in five games. He pitched seven strong innings on Saturday vs. the Giants, but his ERA was elevated because he gave up 11 runs over three innings two outings ago. A veteran starter, Francis had a chance to opt-out of his contract if he didn’t make the club, but he said earlier in camp he didn’t plan to exercise that right.

The Reds now have 11 healthy pitchers on the roster. It doesn’t mean it will remain that way when they break camp Monday.

“We haven’t made that decision yet,” Jocketty said. “We’ve got the roster pretty well figured out, but we’ll probably have it ready for you tomorrow morning.”

*Jocketty also said that Todd Frazier’s play had a part in the decision to trade Juan Francisco. However, he would not say that Frazier had made the 25-man roster yet.

“It was a situation where Juan had a pretty good spring but we just didn’t see him fitting on the club out of spring training and he was out of options,” Jocketty said. “We were looking to add pitching depth to the organization. We believe we have.”

RHP J.J. Hoover, acquired by Atlanta, was a starter but converted to a reliever midway through last season.

“We had very good reports,” Jocketty said. “We saw him again yesterday. He was 92-94 mph yesterday. He’s a sinker-slider guy. He’s a late inning guy. He’s young. He;s got three options and he’s got a power arm. Good combination.”

Baker on trade, Sun. lineup

*Today’s Reds trade of Juan Francisco brings the roster picture a little more into focus, but not entriely. There are 27 players left, meaning two more guys have to be cut by Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET. Manager Dusty Baker felt like the roster would be set out here in Arizona, but could not say for sure when.

As for the trade itself, it was clearly not because the Reds thought Francisco wasn’t a good player.

“We’re getting closer to breaking with the team,” Baker said. “We thought it was a great opportunity for us. We added to our pool of bullpen guys that we may need. I wish [Francisco] the best. I was really for the kid from the very beginning. It’s just that some of the things weren’t working out the way you wanted them to. Hopefully, he’ll find happiness and get it together in Atlanta. If things go right and stay on the proper direction, he can be a force.

“Talent has never been the issue here. If he had options, it would have been a much easier decision.”

*For the remaining guys vying for the bench — Todd Frazier, Wilson Valdez, Willie Harris and Paul Janish — the waiting game continues. If the Reds go with 12 pitchers, and big word is ‘if,’ that means only two of these four players can make the club. None of those players have power from the left side, although Harris is left-handed.

“It’s hard to have every spot [covered],” Baker said. “If you had every spot, you’d have a payroll of $150-200 million, right? Even the Yankees and Red Sox and big money teams don’t have every position covered. You try to cover as many positions as you can. Another big factor is right-left [matchups], can he play multiple positions? You need some speed. You need some mindset. You need some attitude. A lot of things that you need are variables that don’t necessary show up on the stat sheet.”

Reds lineup vs. White Sox, 4:05 p.m. ET

Phillips 4
Cozart 6
Votto DH
Bruce 9
Ludwick 7
Lutz 3
Stubbs 8
Frazier 5
Mesoraco 2

Latos 1

Francisco traded to Braves

The Reds have traded 3B Juan Francisco to the Braves for J.J. Hoover, a Minor League right-handed pitcher.

Francisco, who batted .196 with four home runs this spring, was out of options and did not endear himself to the Reds for among other things, showing up to camp overweight and for failing to properly rehabilitate a right calf injury over the winter.

Hoover, 24, went 25-19 with a 3.14 ERA in 99 appearances, including 61 starts, over four years (2008 to 2011) in the Braves farm system. He was assigned to Triple-A Louisville.

One issue the Reds face without Francisco however, is they do not have a power lefty bat to come off of the bench. We’ll see if that means other moves are in the works.

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