The day I was pranked by Junior

Ken Griffey Jr. will be the first player I’ve ever covered regularly as a reporter to enter Baseball’s Hall of Fame. I got to see him up close when he was past the prime of his great career, but he still often displayed that incredible, perfect swing and some dazzling plays and moments. He also could hold court in the clubhouse with people better than anyone I’ve seen before or since.

My professional relationship with Griffey got off to an interesting start to say the least. At Spring Training in Sarasota, Fla., before the 2006 season and my first covering the Reds for after five seasons in Minnesota, I made my introductions to as many players as I could. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about meeting Junior, who I had heard could sometimes be tough to approach. He was perfectly cordial and professional, however.

A couple of days later, I received an email from Reds media relations that any reporter who wished to interview Griffey must give at least 48 hours notice and make the request in writing with an explanation about the topic included. A blank form was attached for filling out and printing.

Of course, I was incensed. I was furious. I said some words that can’t printed here. But I didn’t do anything about it. Maybe a day or two later after a Spring Training workout, I attempted to talk to Griffey as part of a group interview that was already ongoing when I arrived.

Griffey stopped talking.

“Where’s your paper?” he said.

“I don’t have it,” I replied. “Did they [the other reporters] fill out the form?”

Griffey told me they had filled out the form and reached into his locker and handed me one that was already printed. I scribbled my name and information on the form hurriedly and handed it back to him.

“Thanks,” Griffey said. “See you in two days.”

I turned and walked out of the clubhouse, feeling defeated. Once again, I was incensed. I was furious. I said some more words that can’t printed here. This time, I marched upstairs to the office of Rob Butcher, the Reds’ media relations director.

I told Rob what had happened. He immediately got up from his desk and angrily said he’d deal with this right away.

I followed Rob back into the clubhouse. I found Griffey standing at his locker with a huge smile on his face. And I noticed reporters John Fay, Marc Lancaster and Hal McCoy, and Butcher as well, were all smiling too.

Griffey gave me the look that said “gotcha.” This new guy had been had by one of the best who ever played the game.

I couldn’t help but laugh as I put the pieces together and was a good sport about the conspiracy to prank me.

At his locker afterwards, Griffey and I talked for a little bit.

“You heard some things about me before you started here, didn’t you?” I recall him saying.

I told him I had heard some things but that I had an open mind.

During the nearly three seasons that followed, Griffey was often at his locker sitting on top of a giant blank trunk that kept his equipment. He didn’t like talking about himself much, but would always discuss his three kids or football. If he talked baseball, it was usually about other players or issues that didn’t involve him. Of course, he had no problem making fun of teammates and needling reporters for a laugh.

But most of the time, when you needed a quote where had to talk about himself, Griffey would eventually talk. Sometimes he could be prickly, as advertised, but no one could say he wasn’t a good person.

Even if his quote wasn’t great, Griffey was usually professional. He was a great ambassador for Major League Baseball.

And now, Griffey is a Hall of Famer too. It was a privilege to watch him work.


Nice write Mark. Thanks for sharing. Griffey was obviously a, class act.

I grew up worshiping Mickey Mantle. When his career ended I and thousands of others had the lament of “what could have been”, based on the Mick’s many injuries. The same could be said of Junior, albeit to a lesser extent.There was a time that Junior was the best player in baseball, hands down. Sadly, that occurred when he was a Seattle Mariner, but, as you pointed out, Mark, there were flashes of his skills in Cincinnati as well.
What may not be remembered is that Junior often played hurt when a Red.While the various injuries (mostly leg), certainly slowed him down, I don’t remember him ever allibing about it, and I NEVER saw him give up on a fly ball. His skills as a centerfielder, once unparalled, were still better than most, even in the twilight of his career.
I know Junior could be a self centered pain in the rear, but none of his peccadillos diminished his great talent, and being the kind of baseball player who made it worth the price of admission. I’m grateful we had him in Cincinnati for as long as we did.

I’m jealous, Junior had the sweetest swing I have ever seen. And even though he was past his prime when he came home it was still a pure pleasure to watch him play!!!

By Mark Sheldon / | @m_sheldon | 6:40 PM ET

CINCINNATI — It’s been viewed as a formality for years, but it finally came to pass on Wednesday. Cincinnati’s hometown player and former Reds star Ken Griffey Jr. is now officially in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In his first year of eligibility on the ballot, Griffey was elected on a record 99.32 percent of the ballots with 437 out of 440 votes. The record had previously belonged to former Mets and Reds pitching great Tom Seaver, who was elected in 1992 with 98.84 percent of the vote.

Joining Griffey as a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee is former Dodgers and Mets catcher Mike Piazza, who received 83 percent of the vote. Both will be inducted on July 24 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Year….Player……Ballots cast….Votes….%
2016 Ken Griffey Jr. 440 437 99.30
1992 Tom Seaver 430 425 98.84
1999 Nolan Ryan 497 491 98.79
2007 Cal Ripken Jr. 545 537 98.53
1936 Ty Cobb 226 222 98.23
1999 George Brett 497 488 98.19
1982 Hank Aaron 415 406 97.83
2007 Tony Gwynn 545 532 97.60
2015 Randy Johnson 549 534 97.27
2014 Greg Maddux 571 555 97.20

During a 22-season career from 1989-2010 — spent primarily with Seattle and Cincinnati — Griffey batted .284/.370/.538, and his 630 home runs are ranked sixth all-time. His 1,836 RBIs are ranked 15th all-time and he hit 40 or more homers in five consecutive seasons, including a career-high 56 homers in a season in both 1997 and ’98.

“Ken made things that were not supposed to be easy, look easy,” said former left fielder Adam Dunn, Griffey’s Reds teammate from 2001-08. “There are very few players who had more fun playing the game. He loved playing, and we loved watching. Ken is one of my favorite people, both as a professional and on a personal level. He not only is a Hall of Famer on the field, but he also is one off it.”

The unanimous winner of the 1997 American League Most Valuable Player Award, Griffey was also a 10-time All-Star (and ’92 All-Star Game MVP), a seven-time AL Silver Slugger Award winner, a recipient of 10 consecutive AL Gold Glove Awards from ’90-99 and a member of the All-Century Team that was named in ’99.

The son of Big Red Machine member Ken Griffey Sr., the 46-year-old Griffey Jr. is the first overall No. 1 Draft pick to enter the Hall of Fame. He was selected by the Mariners in 1987 out of Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati.

Ken Griffey Jr. follows his father’s homer with one of his own, making the duo the first father and son tandem to connect in the same game

With that connection in mind, Griffey requested a trade to his hometown team after the 1999 season. On Feb. 10, 2000, the Mariners honored his request by dealing him to the Reds. During his nine seasons in Cincinnati from ’00-08, Griffey ranked seventh in franchise history with 210 home runs. He hit career milestone homers Nos. 500 and 600 while in a Cincinnati uniform.

“There are only certain times in your career where you can say you had the privilege of playing with a Hall of Famer,” former Reds first baseman Sean Casey said. “As I played next to Junior for six seasons, I knew we all were watching one of the greatest to ever play the game. I’m proud to say that while he was a great player, he was an even better friend.”

The Reds traded Griffey to the White Sox during the 2008 season. Unfortunately for him and the club, he left with unfinished business. Between ’00-07, Griffey missed 453 games with injuries, including a torn right hamstring. The Reds only enjoyed one winning season, which was during Griffey’s first year with Cincinnati.

However, Griffey remains one of the more special players to ever wear the Reds’ uniform.

“The Cincinnati Reds organization and our entire city congratulate Ken on his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame,” Reds CEO Bob Castellini said on Wednesday. “Over a wonderful career that began right here at Moeller High School, Junior built his legacy while playing for the Mariners, and continued that remarkable career in Cincinnati and then with the Chicago White Sox. He represented himself, his family and those cities with the class and professionalism consistent with the ideals of Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and he continues to serve all over the world as one of our game’s greatest ambassadors.

“We are very proud that Ken’s accomplishments have been validated at the highest level by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Reds fans are thrilled to see our hometown son earn a permanent place in Cooperstown alongside the other 43 players, managers and executives who spent all or parts of their careers in Cincinnati.”

Reds shortstop great Barry Larkin was Griffey’s teammate from 2000-04, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in ’12. Griffey and Larkin will be now be reunited in Cooperstown.

“Ken Griffey Jr. had the prettiest swing I have ever seen,” Larkin said. “Not only was the swing pretty, but it was effective. He hit for average, for power, and he hit in situations. He played the game the right way offensively, he impacted the game defensively. Junior had great range, tremendous athleticism and a cannon of an arm. And he played with a smile on his face. It was an honor to play alongside one of the greatest players in the history of the game.”

Class of 2016
Ken Griffey Jr. (record 99.3% of vote)
Mike Piazza (83%)
Next closest
Jeff Bagwell (71.6%)
Tim Raines (69.8%)
Trevor Hoffman (67.3%)
Curt Schilling (52.3%)

Bagwell should be in. Any Reds fan knows that HE was the guy you didn’t want to beat you, the one you pitched around. No one ever pitched around Craig Biggio; he was a pest who hung around a long time. Bagwell’s numbers speak for themselves, and he’s never been linked to PEDs.
Hoffman should be in. Until his Majesty Mariano Rivera passed him, he was THE all-time leader in saves, he just wasn’t spectacular about it. If other relievers with fewer credentials get in, why not Hoffman?

I have read almost the entire web including listening to a number of pod casts.
I think now I have a better understanding what the reason was that 3 writers
would with hold a vote for Griffey being sent unanimously to the HOF. The reason is fairly simple; a very small number of writers will not endorse anyone that played in the PED era; plain and simple, regardless if they appeared clean and without any speculation or notoriety.

Teams (Caps) choosen…
Ken Griffey Jr. will wear a Seattle Mariners hat on his Hall of Fame plaque,
while Mike Piazza will don a New York Mets cap.

Here’s another one we might have taken a shot at a few years back…
Not a bad pickup by SF; they really aren’t happy about in-between seasons.
The San Francisco Giants announced Thursday afternoon they had agreed to a three-year contract with free-agent outfielder Denard Span. The deal, which is pending a physical, is worth $31 million — working out to $10.33 million per season, Giants general manager Bobby Evans says.

Span batted .301 with a .796 OPS with 11 stolen bases in 61 games for the Washington Nationals in 2015 amid injuries. He had three surgeries in a 10-month span, including one this offseason on his left hip. With the free-agency process taking longer than desired, Span recently published a video of him jumping over hurdles in order to “prove” his health.

Awesome story Mark. Thanks for sharing.

Bold predictions: Harper wins Triple Crown, Cubs rule NL Central in ’16
NL Central (alpha order)

Chicago Cubs

Not only will the Cubs win the Central Division of the National League in 2016, they’ll do it in wire-to-wire fashion. From opening night in Anaheim to the final day of the season in Cincinnati, the Cubs will be atop the division. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win more games (97) than they did in 2015, but it’s unlikely both the Cardinals and Pirates will win 100 and 98 again, respectively. Avoiding the uncertainty of a one-game wild-card contest is a goal for the Cubs — and they’ll achieve it, by leading from start to finish. — Jesse Rogers

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds aren’t going to be good, so they might as well try to make themselves interesting. One way they can do that? By eliminating all signs to Billy Hamilton when he’s on the basepaths beyond “Go, baby, go!” and letting him become the first player to steal more than 80 bases in a season since Vince Coleman and Rickey Henderson both did it almost three decades ago, back in 1988. — Christina Kahrl

Milwaukee Brewers

They’re going to lose 100 games for just the second time in franchise history, but where the first time (in 2002) led to heads rolling in the front office and the dugout, in 2016 that will just secure the top pick in the 2017 draft and the obligatory stories about an MLB team getting the benefit of tanking. What makes that interesting is that the Brewers have a good amount of talent already in their farm system, but it won’t be ready to make a big difference this year. They’ll be back sooner than you think. — Christina Kahrl

Pittsburgh Pirates

You’re finally going to have a reason to remember former blue-chip prospect Jameson Taillon. That might not sound like a big deal — pitching prospects blow out all the time, right? But after losing two years on the mound to injury, Taillon will be back, he’ll make his big league debut, and he’ll even steal some of the thunder from fellow rookie Tyler Glasnow as the Buccos make a big break from their “Gerrit Cole and the Retreads” rep on the mound. — Christina Kahrl

St. Louis Cardinals

Predicting that Adam Wainwright is going to prove he’s back from last year’s Achilles injury isn’t a big deal — it’s Wain-o, he looked good pitching out of the pen in September and October, and after losing 2011 to injury, he has already demonstrated an ability to recover fully from a significant injury. So he’ll win NL Comeback Player of the Year? Nah, not bold enough — of course he will. Which he’ll do by leading the National League in wins. — Christina Kahrl

IMO, last gasp for Yorman. I mean, why play him if he can’t? Stick Winker in there NOW. Do we have something to lose? If it turns out he’s not ready, send him back down & use Duvall & Co. What have we got to lose? Ah, a redundancy.

I think I could make a lot of money at the bar using this as a trivia question…
“Name the five teams that have no HOF’ers”. I couldn’t come close to answering it.
When Ken Griffey Jr. enters the Hall of Fame this summer, he will become the first player enshrined in Cooperstown with a Seattle Mariners cap on his plaque. Mike Piazza, who’ll enter the Hall as a Met, will become only the second Hall of Famer in that franchise’s history, after Tom Seaver.

Five Major League clubs are still not represented in Cooperstown. Here they are, with our guesses at the current or future candidate with the best chance of becoming each team’s first Hall of Famer.

1. Los Angeles Angeles

By far the oldest team on this list, the Angels — who began play in 1961 — have had plenty of Hall of Famers pass through but none stay long enough or play well enough in Orange County to merit going in with an Angels logo on his cap. Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Bert Blyleven and Dave Winfield all spent time in Anaheim. But the best hope for a future true Angels Hall of Famer is probably the 24-year-old guy playing center field for them.

That might sound ridiculous, but check out the Angels’ franchise leaderboards. Trout already ranks third all-time in career WAR, and he’s signed to the club through at least 2020.

2. Colorado Rockies

The Rockies started play in 1993 and haven’t enjoyed a ton of success, so it’s hardly shocking that they have no Hall of Famers to date. They haven’t even had any cameos from Hall of Famers who did their best work elsewhere. But they have seen a handful of excellent ballplayers come through Denver. Todd Helton, the recently retired lifetime Rockies first baseman, should get a look from Hall voters. And Larry Walker, who got only 15.5% of votes in his sixth season on the ballot this year, deserves to get in sooner.

Like all Rockies hitters, Walker gets knocked for inflated offensive stats from playing home games in Mile High Stadium and Coors Field. But playing at altitude punishes Rockies players on the road, and Walker was a great player by any standard. His 72.6 career WAR — a park- and era-adjusted stat, by the way — is higher than too many Hall of Famers to bother listing.

3. Miami Marlins

Piazza played five games for the Marlins before his trade to the Mets in 1998 and he’ll become only the second Hall of Famer — after Andre Dawson — who spent any time with the Florida club. The only guy currently on the ballot with a case to go in as a Marlin is Gary Sheffield. But Sheffield, though undoubtedly one of the best offensive players of his generation, now appears a longshot to reach Cooperstown for a variety of reasons. Miguel Cabrera will someday make it, but not likely as a Marlin.

The Marlins don’t often wind up committing to any players for any extended period of time, and it’s hard to picture a guy like Jose Fernandez — already the subject of trade rumors — lasting long enough in Miami. And Fernandez, obviously, is about a full decade shy of a Hall of Fame pedigree. Giancarlo Stanton is signed through 2028, but he can opt out of his contract after the 2020 season. And if he’s on a Hall of Fame trajectory, he probably will.

4. Tampa Bay Rays

Wade Boggs spent his last two seasons with the Devil Rays, but his plaque shows a Red Sox hat no matter what it was he wanted. The franchise has only existed since 1998 and doesn’t typically have much money to spend on big free-agents, so it’s again difficult to envision the first Rays Hall of Famer. But Evan Longoria’s probably closer than you think: Third basemen are underrepresented in Cooperstown, and Longoria has good numbers for a guy who is only 30. But he’ll need to reverse his downward trend offensively and put in several more excellent seasons before he really has a case.

5. Washington Nationals

The franchise actually has a pair of Hall of Famers in Gary Carter and Andre Dawson, but both those guys belonged to the club as the Montreal Expos. Since the team only moved to D.C. and became the Nationals in 2005, there are obviously no Nationals hats represented in the Hall of Fame. Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are both a long way off from securing their Hall credentials, but both players have Cooperstown-caliber talent. They’re both also Scott Boras clients, which could delay the emergence of the Nats’ first Hall of Famer if neither stays in Washington long-term.

Reds To Re-Sign Ryan Mattheus

By Steve Adams | January 8, 2016 at 12:58pm CST

The Reds have agreed to re-sign right-hander Ryan Mattheus, whom the team non-tendered last month, per SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (on Twitter).’s Mark Sheldon reported this morning that a deal was close (via Twitter).

Mattheus will most likely receive a minor league contract, Sheldon notes, which seems like a rational expectation, given the fact that he was non-tendered despite a modest salary projection of $1.3MM from MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz.

The 32-year-old Mattheus, a client of the Boras Corporation, was designated for assignment by the Angels in May and claimed by Cincinnati off waivers. The longtime Nationals reliever went on to log 55 innings for the Reds in 2015, making him one of their most-used and most durable ’pen arms. Mattheus recorded a 4.09 ERA with Cincinnati (4.02 ERA overall), averaging 5.7 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 to go along with a 52.7 percent ground-ball rate and a fastball that sat at 92.9 mph. Mattheus did struggle against lefties, yielding a .324/.355/.515 batting line, though he was better against same-handed batters, who hit .256/.345/.301 against him.

Cincinnati’s bullpen picture is wide open after the trade of Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees, as J.J. Hoover and Jumbo Diaz are probably the only locks from the right side. Mattheus will compete with Carlos Contreras, Blake Wood, Keyvius Sampson and possibly Michael Lorenzen (though he could still be used as a starter) as he looks to earn a spot in manager Bryan Price’s relief corps.


Just another 1×4 slat of redwood for the bullpen gate. Sadly, looks like we are going into 2016 with a number of like 1×4’s…

Read an article quoting, I believe, our assistant GM talking about a 3 man platoon in LF for 2016. There was no mention of Winker possibly being one of them. Makes me wonder if we’re going to be really serious about the rebuild with our youth. I realize Yorman is out of options, but I think lack of his development has caused it. So maybe they sit Winker for another year.

Ken Griffey Sr. says that Junior began wearing caps backwards as a kid because he would always wear his Dad’s caps and they would be too large and slip over his eyes. So he turned them around backwards so he could see the ball while playing. And thus was a style born.
Jeff Idleson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame left open the possibility of Ken Griffey Jr wearing his hat backwards on the plaque.

A three platoon really. Holy no way batman. Please we can’t be that ignorant

Actually, we all need to remember that 2016 is a “training/audition year”, so utilizing as many as we can in order to make a decision moving forward is prudent. Why spend any money on anyone when we should continue to get out from underneath meaty and unnecessary contracts while kicking the tires and seeing what we got. As is our hands are full of SP that must be groomed, stretched and paraded. Our BP is full of returnees, although eventually I see a void in this area after losing Chapman. To be honest, I see Bruce and Phillips as road blocks in the process. All said with the understanding that we are not going to compete in 2016, the Reds have already suggested this. So, for 2016 it’s train and audition, audition and train and find out what we got for 2017 and after.

One other note, as painful as it is to see our manager move players in and out, around and about, upwards and downwards…throughout the lineup, it actually will serve a purpose this coming season. But, the truth is that although we are going to sacrifice a season referred to as a “rebuilding year”, it doesn’t mean that it should carry forward into 2017 and beyond. I say this with the thought of Price being gone in 2017 and we have established a SP staff and established all 8 position players.
In other words, if you fail to plan, the plan will fail!

Agree, especially about Bruce and Phillips.

I like your “kicking the tires” analogy, Neb. Kinda like throw enough ___ on the wall & some of it will stick. Well, what if some of the tires are firm, and what if enough of it sticks? I refuse to go into 2016 with the idea that the Redlegs have NO chance to contend. Sure, there’s a bunch of “ifs”, but what IF they become reality? A few of the promising arms develop quickly in the rotation; Hamilton learns how to bunt/hit ground balls, gets moved around, and a healthy Meso drives him in. This could be a more common occurrence than you think.
Predicting baseball is a lot tougher now than it used to be – too many variables. What are we 100-1 to win the pennant? I’d put $10 down all day to win $1000 – a lot better chance than Powerball!

We’re on a roll Tootsie! From MLBTR:The Reds have signed infielder Carlos Triunfel to a minor league deal, tweets Eddy. The former top Mariners prospect, now 25, batted .264/.287/.398 in 329 plate appearances with Triple-A Sacramento in the Giants organization in 2015, splitting his time between shortstop, second and third.

Well, say what we will about Jocketty…he’s ‘all in’ on acquiring, trading for and outright obtaining a very large list of prospects. It continues to point directly at the problem the Reds have had for quite some time…the acquisitions and development of their minor league teams. I know they know this; it’s the elephant in the dugout.

MLB Calendar of Events – 2016…
Jan. 6 — Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2016 announced (6 p.m. ET)
Jan. 12 — Salary arbitration filing
Jan. 15 — Salary arbitration figures exchanged
Feb. 1-21 — Salary arbitration hearings
Feb. 18 — Voluntary reporting date for pitchers, catchers and injured players
Feb. 23 — Voluntary reporting date for other players
March 1 — Mandatory reporting date for all players
April 3 — ESPN’s Opening Day (STL at PIT, 1 ET; TOR at TB, 4 ET, NYM at KC, 8:30 ET)
April 4 — MLB Opening Day
April 15 — Jackie Robinson Day
June 9-11 — First-Year Player Draft
July 10 — Futures Game, Petco Park, San Diego
***July 11 — Home Run Derby, Petco Park, San Diego
July 12 — 87th All-Star Game, Petco Park, San Diego
July 15 — Deadline for amateur draft picks to sign
July 24 — Hall of Fame inductions, Cooperstown, NY
July 31 — Non-waiver trade deadline, 4 p.m. ET
Sept. 1 — Active rosters expand to 40 players
Oct. 2 — Regular season ends
Dec. 5-8 — Winter meetings, Washington, DC
***have a sneaky suspicion that Frazier will not attend…

Reds Re-Sign Pedro Villarreal To Minor League Deal
By Charlie Wilmoth | January 9, 2016 at 3:53pm CST

The Reds have re-signed reliever Pedro Villarreal to a minor league deal,’s Mark Sheldon tweets. Villarreal could provide a depth option for a Reds bullpen that figures to look quite different in 2015 after the offseason losses of Aroldis Chapman, Manny Parra and Burke Badenhop.

The Reds non-tendered Villarreal last month after he posted a 3.42 ERA and 2.2 BB/9 in 50 innings last season. That line also included a mediocre strikeout rate (5.2 K/9), and that inability to miss bats might have been part of the reason the Reds were willing to part with Villarreal even though he only had 1.034 years of service time and wasn’t yet arbitration eligible. By re-signing him, the Reds will get to keep him in the organization without using a roster spot or paying him a big-league salary, at least not for the time being.

Questions Abound for 2016 Rebuild Year
Posted on 01/10/2016 by TOM DIESMAN
The Rebuild

The big rebuild is in full swing with more to come for sure. At least there had better be more to come since the job is obviously only half done and there are a multitude of questions left unanswered with not much of a game plan left apparent to interested observers.

The rebuild began last winter with the Latos and Simon trades bringing back a couple of key pieces in DeSclafani and Suarez. It continued last midseason with the Cueto and Leake trades that returned Finnegan, Lamb, Reed, Mella, and Duvall. These deals added major pitching depth to a minor league system already full of good young pitching talent.

The latest rebuild activity was the trades of Frazier and Chapman that returned Peraza, Schebler, Davis and Jagielo as the notable return. These deals hinted at a change of sorts in that the Reds appeared to be targeting close to the big leagues position prospects.

That is the current state of the rebuild. The only remaining players that the Reds seem to be entertaining the idea of moving as part of the rebuild are Phillips and Bruce. Phillips will be tough to move due the Reds not pulling the trigger before he acquired this 10/5 trade veto rights. Bruce’s recent down turn and sporadic play the last two seasons will make it tough to get perceived value back in a deal for him.

Sorting Out The Pitching

The Reds have accumulated an awesome array of great arms that one would expect to become a formidable pitching staff by the end of 2017. The concern here is that there are many questions remaining to be answered in regards to which arms will be filling what roles. The Reds have not inspired confidence over the recent years that they are capable of sorting through this pile of talent, evaluating the players abilities, defining the roles that they will be filling, and then developing the players for those roles. Chapman and Cingrani are recent examples of players in which the Reds waffled back and forth on role definitions to various degrees.

Can the Reds evaluate these arms and make some timely decisions on their future roles so they can begin developing them appropriately? I can see the value in wanting to maximize a pitchers value by developing them as a SP for as long as possible while they are still showing that potential. It is evident however that the Reds will soon not have that luxury any longer as they will be running out of rotation slots for the many talented arms that they have acquired. They will soon need to put their scouting and analytic resources to good use and make some tough decisions on the future path of these young arms. We’ve already heard a few of these pitchers, (Finnegan, Lorenzen, Mella) mentioned as possible relievers down the road. A key to the Reds success of forming these arms into a great staff will be their ability to make these tough decisions the first half of this upcoming season.

Behind The Plate

Devin Mesoraco’s hip and bat are big questions that need and should be answered soon. Ideally, he is healthy, catches 100+ games and continues hitting something like he did in 2014 and life is good. If he’s not healthy, things start getting ugly. The Reds have already invested ~25M in him over the next three seasons. If he is not healthy like last year to the extent he can’t play, he becomes another Sean Marshall multi-year 60 Day DL veteran. If he’s not healthy to the extent he just can’t catch any longer but can play elsewhere, the Reds may be forced into attempting to transition him to LF where he’s really never played before.

If Mesoraco is ultimately moved to LF, it’s not only can he handle it defensively, but will his bat play there? Mesoraco the hitter of 2010 (.964 OPS at A+,AA,AAA), 2011 (.855 at AAA), and 2014 (.893 OPS at MLB) play just great in LF. Mesoraco’s best OPS in his other six professional seasons is .710. Perhaps it’s the rigors and additional duties of the position that have had effect on his bat over the years, but there’s still a legitimate question about what one should expect from him offensively and will it be enough to play at a prime offensive position.

If Mesoraco can no longer catch, can the Reds get by with Barnhart and Cabrera to bridge the gap to top prospect Tyler Stephenson, or perhaps Jake Turnbull, whose ETAs are probably about 2019 or 2020? If not, they might want to look at acquiring a near ready catcher in one of their upcoming rebuild trades.

Around The Infield

Joey Votto may be the only sure thing on this team. I’m already relieved that with the pickup of Adam Duvall we already have a legitimate backup in place in case he gets dinged up or needs a day off. If only the rest of the infield was as simple.

Todd Frazier has already been dealt away and as previously mentioned, the Reds would like to deal Phillips, as the failed deal to the Nationals would attest. I’d also put forth that if Cozart proves himself healthy this spring, he is a very likely a midseason trade candidate as well. One would expect that Phillips and Cozart will start out back at SS and 2B respectively and the Reds have already stated that Suarez is expected to start out at 3B in place of Frazier. Given that though, the Reds need to make some evaluations on the pieces at hand to lay out a plan going forward should they accomplish the Phillips and Cozart deals this year.

Who is the Reds SS of the future? Suarez has the inside track as he filled in nicely for Cozart last season with some questions about his defense there. The newly acquired Peraza could be a good option here as well. He has seen more time recently at 2B, but this is more due to him being blocked at SS in other organizations by top prospects Simmons and Seager. Alex Blandino ended last season at AA and has hit well at so every level far. I believe the Reds first step is to evaluate these three players and determine the best choice for the SS position. The 2B of the future should come from the two remaining players. My current personal preference is for Peraza at SS and Suarez at 2B, but I’ll leave it up to the scouts to evaluate how their defense stacks up best up the middle.

Who is the Reds 3B of the future? Whoever loses out at SS/2B (Suarez or Blandino perhaps) should have enough bat to hold down 3B going forward if all goes well. I believe Duvall, primarily a 3B in the minors, should get a long look at 3B this spring to confirm if he can field the position well enough. Newly acquired Eric Jagielo should soon be ready as he may very well start the season out at AAA after posting a strong .842 OPS in 248 PA at AA last season. Once again, there are lots of candidates and moving pieces here that the Reds to get sorted out.

In The Outfield

Entering the season, two thirds of the OF appears set for now. Jay Bruce is the RF until when/if the Reds can trade him. Billy Hamilton appears to be entrenched as the CF. LF, as usual here lately in Reds land, is a free for all. It’s rather sad that the OF got so little attention in terms of the prospects received in the recent trades given the lack of offense the Reds have gotten from it the last few years.

Love him or hate him, Jay Bruce will in RF every day until the Reds can unload him as part of the rebuild. Should they deal him the Reds should have a game plan in place to back fill for him. Current in house candidates would be Rodriguez, Schebler, and Winker. There will be more on these guys later.

Billy Hamilton is the incumbent in CF and we all know his value comes entirely from defense and base running. We are still waiting for him to hit at AAA, much less the majors. It is my hope that the Reds consider other options in CF for 2016. I feel Tyler Holt should get a long look in CF this spring. He slashed .304 /.398 /.382 /.779 in 703 PA at AAA over the last two seasons. He’s posted a 12.7 BB% at AAA and was named twice by BBA to be the Best Defensive OF in the Cleveland Indians system so he can play some defense in CF as well. I’ll gladly trade off a little defense and some SB for someone that may very well be a real leadoff hitter. Yorman Rodriguez is worth a mention here as well if he can ever put the whole package together and Phil Ervin may be the CF of future and he should start next season at AA.

Who plays LF? This year’s LF may just be a placeholder until Jesse Winker, who will start out at AAA this season, is deemed ready. The best candidate may very well be newly acquired Scott Schebler. Yorman Rodriguez, who is out of options and had some success at AAA last season, will get a long look as well. Adam Duvall, a CI throughout the minors, began getting a look in LF last season and will most likely be in the mix as well. As mentioned above, Mesoraco could be a wild card here also. The Reds evaluators have some more big decisions to make on prospects in the OF as well.

The Decision Makers

It also seems imperative that the decision makers in the front office make some changes in how they are managing the team as well. This is the year of the transition. Walt Jocketty has announced he’ll step into an advisory role following the 2016 season, ceding the day-to-day operations to Dick Williams. So the big question here is, will we begin seeing some changes in the way things are done this season with Dick Williams preparing to take over the helm?

The Reds actually participated in the major league portion of the Rule V draft this year for the first time since Walt Jocketty became GM. They picked up a LH hitting OF in Jake Cave and a LH RP Chris O’Grady who both currently have a half decent shot of sticking with the Reds for the 2016 season. This is a small thing, but definitely an encouraging step for the Reds to be utilizing an avenue of obtaining talent that appeared to be long forgotten by them in recent years.

What’s next, could the Reds start paying more attention to the Waiver Wire? The waiver wire can produce some decent finds from time to time. The Reds have picked up Alfredo Simon, Ryan Mattheus, and Tyler Holt up off waivers. It just seems that the waiver wire has become over Jocketty’s tenure to be another underutilized tool to pick up players to enhance the roster, supply depth and fill roster holes. I’m sure we don’t want to see its use reach the level of the Bowden/Krivsky days but it sure seems like a long forgotten tool now.

Will roster depth be addressed? It’s become obvious in recent years with all of the injuries that have befallen the Reds that roster depth has become a real problem. Maybe this issue will be addressed as a byproduct of the rebuild with all of the upper level talent being added in the recent trades. But it has become apparent that the current organization was ill prepared to produce replacement level players to back fill for the MLB roster when needed. Brayan Pena filling in for Joey Votto at 1B is the shining example here.

Will there be some sanity brought to roster management? The Jocketty tenure as GM is littered with sad examples of the Reds on field managers having their hands tied by being left shorthanded on the bench. First off, the Reds need to get back to being able to manage the bullpen such that they only need to carry 12 pitchers on the roster. There is this role called long reliever. He’s a guy that actually goes out there and pitches for 3-4 innings after you get a starter knocked out in the 3rd inning. With a 12 man pitching staff, you can carry 4 reserves on the bench besides your backup catcher. Ideally 2 of them would swing LH, the other two RH, and between all four can cover each of the 7 IF/OF spots defensively. Then if there if some semblance of roster depth in place, we can actually put a guy on the DL when he’s hurt and can’t play and be able to call up a reasonable replacement. Far too many times, players who were hurt and unavailable for a week or better sat on the bench taking up the roster spot and leaving the bench shorthanded.

The Conclusion

It’s been a really tough off season thus far as a Reds fan. Not only are we undergoing a rebuild, but it’s been set back by things like off field shenanigans and blocked trades. Our beloved team is currently a jumbled mess in transition. While we search constantly for answers to what and how the team will look like in the near future we are forced to wait patiently as possible and trust in the Reds front office to utilize their scouts and analysts to sort through the many scenarios and provide us with the best team possible going forward. The waiting is the hardest part.

Hey Reds, about that $30 million?
Posted on 01/11/2016 by STEVE MANCUSO
The Reds’ front office isn’t generating much news these days. It’s tedium and Ryan Mattheus on the Ohio River. That’s the sleepy nature of rebuild-reboot-recycle, at least as practiced on Joe Nuxhall Way. As a result, Reds fans have become serial users of the off-season snooze-button. Sure, we delight that the Cardinals are in trouble for cheating and the possibility that Major League Baseball will hammer them. But a fan can’t live on schadenfreude alone.

If you blinked (or more likely, covered your eyes) you missed the flicker of drama. The Reds traded two popular players for “near-major-league-ready” prospects. Otherwise, fans have been left to stew, hoping that “near” in that phrase modifies “ready” and not “major league.”

Oh, hey! On Saturday, the club recycled Pedro Villarreal on a minor league deal. Don’t everyone rush off to buy season tickets all at once.

With idle hands being what they are, how about instead we spend some of Bob Castellini’s money! Let’s take stock of where the 2016 payroll stands and how that impacts what might come next.

The $30 Million Surplus

When we last worked through the math, the Reds projected baseline payroll was $104.3 million. Since the end of October, that amount has been reduced by:

Trading Todd Frazier and replacing him with Eric Jagielo (saving $7.65 million)
Trading Aroldis Chapman and replacing him with a league-minimum salary pitcher (saving $12.3 million)
Releasing Jason Bourgeios and replacing him with Scott Schebler (saving $300,000)
Again, this baseline projection assumes the Reds fill available roster spots with players earning league-minimum salaries. Those three moves represent a savings of about $20.3 million, which puts the up-to-date estimate for the Reds 2016 payroll at approximately $84 million. Trading Jay Bruce (would save $12 million) and/or Brandon Phillips (would save $12.5 million) would lower that number further.

The past two seasons, Reds CEO Bob Castellini authorized an Opening Day payroll in the neighborhood of $114-17 million. The Reds didn’t end up spending that much last year because of the mid-season trades of Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake.

That means compared to recent payroll, the Reds have a $30 million surplus. That’s not the Powerball, but it’s not nothing.

The $30 million figure would be even higher if you assume a straight-line projection of the payroll increases we’ve seen since 2009. Remember new local TV contract revenues begin in 2017.

If you’re cynical, you might suspect Reds ownership will simply pocket the reboot-rebuild-recycle windfall. That’s possible and their right to do so. But Bob Castellini has earned the benefit of the doubt that he won’t. Year after year, Castellini has shown Reds fans the money. He’s backed up “we’re going to win” bravado with payroll walk. The Reds payroll-to-revenue ratio (52%) was sixth highest in baseball last year. This confidence might prove misplaced, but Bob Castellini strikes me as a guy who burns with competitiveness and will invest that money back into the club, in the direction his front office wise guys point him.

It’s frustrating to watch other organizations spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on free agents. But money doesn’t leverage championships through brute force like it did a decade or more ago. The connection isn’t zero, but the correlation between payroll and wins continues to decline. Those enormous contracts, because they fall well along a player’s aging curve, don’t bring equally big winning in lockstep. In a sense, they’re great equalizers — even truer in an era of drug testing and enforcement. The players producing the most WAR are twentysomethings, a few in their early 30s.

Smart decision-making, not wallet size, matters more than ever. That’s what the Reds face with the $30 million surplus — decisions.

Let’s analyze the pluses and minuses of the options. Keep in mind the strategies aren’t all exclusive. There’s enough money to choose a few.

High Draft Picks

The Reds own the #2 pick in the amateur draft in early June. Based on past years, the signing bonus will be around $6 million, maybe a little more. By comparison, last year the Reds paid the #11 pick, Tyler Stephenson, $3.1 million. The Reds also have the #1 Competitive Equity pick. It takes place at the end of the first round, after all the Qualifying Offer losses and gains are worked out. Last year, it was pick #37. The Astros paid a $4 million signing bonus to that player.

Pros: Kris Bryant

Cons: Danny Hultzen and Tyler Kolek

Seriously, this is how the Reds should and will spend some of their loot. If they don’t, it’s time to cheer for another team. Did I mention Kris Byrant?

Long-Term MLB Free Agents

The Reds could sign a free agent to a contract that extends beyond 2016. As examples, this could be a mid-priced player like Dexter Fowler ($56 million/4 years), or a more expensive player like Justin Upton ($120 million/6 years).

Pros: Player would be on the roster in 2017 and beyond, when the Reds plan to be competitive. Also, adding an impact free agent would help the Reds sell tickets be better on the field in 2016. Imagine Votto-Mesoraco-Upton-Bruce in the middle of the order for 2-3 years (Upton’s career OPS is 40 points higher than Todd Frazier’s, including a season hitting in San Diego). The Reds first round draft selection is protected this year by virtue of being a top ten pick, so relative to signing a QO free agent in a later year, the lost draft pick hit is smaller.

Cons: The better the Reds are in 2016, the worse their draft pick will be in 2017. The surplus would be “wasted” in part on the 2016 season. If the Reds sign a free agent with a Qualifying Offer attached, they would lose their competitive balance pick. If they wait and sign a long-term free agent next year, there’s a decent chance the draft selection will still be protected.

There is positive value to the Reds being better than otherwise in 2016, although the focus should remain on 2017 and beyond. An unexpected collapse in the market for a top player like Upton (28) might make the needle point in the direction of Makes Sense. Otherwise, there are better uses of the money.

Long-Term International Players

Think Raisel Iglesias ($27 million/7 years). His signing bonus was $5 million, spread out over several years.

Pros: Younger and cheaper than MLB free agents.

Cons: Less proven then MLB free agents.

Recent scouting successes with Aroldis Chapman and Raisel Iglesias offer hope the Reds can acquire meaningful help from international players. The key, as always, is finding the kind of player that has value – like a position player with power and plate discipline. In a related note, signs point to the Reds improving their overseas scouting.

One-Year Free Agents

The Reds could acquire good players who end up seeking a one-year deal. The club’s goal would be to trade them at the July deadline for attractive prospects. This strategy comes straight out of the Cubs recent rebuilding playbook.

Pros: Jake Arrieta and Addison Russell. Limited financial risk with a one-year contract. If successful trading the player, the cost is just a half-season salary.

Cons: The signee might have a bad first half or get injured. The Reds might botch the flip strategy. They might fall in love with the player based on a couple good months and talk themselves into keeping him (cough, cough, Bronson Arroyo). By the middle of 2016, with Homer Bailey back and innings limits largely resolved for the young guns, there’s no place in the rotation for another veteran taking up innings. The Reds need to sort out all their young arms. In fact, that’s the most important goal for the organization in 2016. The same could hold true signing an outfielder.

This could be a promising strategy for a hitter and/or a pitcher — even a closer. But only if you’re talking Jason Hammel not Jason Marquis. Can’t cut corners or fall victim to in-group bias.

Add Money to Future Trades to Improve the Return

If and when the Reds trade Jay Bruce and/or Brandon Phillips, they could sweeten the pot by offering to pay salary in exchange for better prospects. The Phillies did this last year when they unloaded traded Marlon Byrd to the Reds.

Pros: Better prospect improves odds of helping the Reds in the future. Nothing better to do with the money. One-time expenditure. Might make trade easier to sell for other team.

Cons: Prospects are uncertain things. It takes a trade partner to agree. Trades are already delicate enough to add complexity.

I thought the Reds might have tried this already, with either the Frazier or Chapman trades. Maybe they did. Spending a few million to boost the prospect quality is big-time worth it.

The Lockbox

The Reds could commit the surplus to future payroll. For example, say they took $25 million from 2016 and divided it equally between the 2017 and 2018 payrolls.

Pros: Other ways to spend the money aren’t promising. An extra $30 million in 2017-18 payroll would make a big difference in the Reds ability to sign impact free agent players.

Cons: There’s no such thing as a lockbox, sucker. Reds will already have more revenues in those out-years with the new FSO contract and because MLB is taking in money faster than they can count it.

See above comments re: Bob Castellini and burning passion for winning. If he says the money saved this year will be spent on top of what was already planned for 2017 and 2018, I trust him. Payroll would jump from $90 million this year to $145 million in 2017 and $155 million in 2018. I’d love to write the column with suggestions of spending that bankroll.

Gritty Acquisition of Grit

The Reds could sign veteran players to multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts for the purpose of grit transference. Likely former Cardinals or former Reds. It’s Jocketty’s signature move. Think Skip Schumaker and Jason Marquis.

Pros: Reinforces that special Reds brand.

Cons: Think Skip Schumaker and Jason Marquis.

No, no, no, please, no. Seriously, I would rather the Reds set the money on fire at home plate (imagine the promotional value) than pay for veteran grit. That’s not how any of this rebuilding or rebooting works. Of all the depressing, horrifying parts of the rebuild-reboot-recycle, “recycle” is the worst. Jerry, the worst.

Castellini might not have the winning combination down yet, but there is little doubt that he is sincere, committed and willing to put his money where his mouth is…
“The Reds payroll-to-revenue ratio (52%) was sixth highest in baseball last year.”

Footnote: Lorenzen chose #21 (Todd’s old #), in honor of Roberto Clemente.

Top NL pitching rotation…
Buster Olney
ESPN Senior Writer
New York Mets

Rotation candidates: Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Bartolo Colon, Zack Wheeler

Of the National League’s top five hardest-throwing starters with at least 140 big league innings in 2015, the Mets have three of them: Syndergaard, whose fastball averaged 97.1 mph; Harvey at 95.9 mph; and deGrom at 95 mph. No. 4 starter Steven Matz, who has less time in the majors and is the least developed of the New York starters, generally checks in at 94-96 mph as well.

There are a ton of relievers who throw this hard these days, but few starting pitchers can maintain high-end velocity three times through a lineup, and the Mets are lined up to have four guys who can do that, with Zack Wheeler, MLB’s fifth-hardest throwing starter in 2014, expected back sometime in 2016 after he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

But as the Mets’ starters demonstrated on their journey to the World Series last fall, their excellence is rooted not only in how hard they throw, but in the quality of their secondary stuff and their ability to command those pitches. DeGrom, Syndergaard and Harvey ranked 9th, 10th and 12th, respectively, in the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

They’re all young, could be together for at least three more seasons and seemingly have a chance to be remembered as one of the best rotations of this generation. The Mets have the best rotation in baseball now, and there really isn’t a close second.

The thing that amazes me is the Reds have promoted for years the strength of their farm system and the incredible pitching talent we had coming. But it didn’t come to the front and we end up trading for pitching prospects that we hope are major league ready. Something is wrong with our player development or it’s a case of smoke and mirrors.

Yes, it’s a bit of a problem when you can’t even fill a LF position since 2008 when regular Dunn roamed the field. Imagine…7 years/seasons of platooning. And to be honest, only Winker is thought to be a ‘lock’ for making it to the bigs. Not a very good sign nor ratio, for sure; as we have noted, if Rodgriguez doesn’t find a position and apply himself, he’ll be another that will probably be dealt away after 7 years of coaching in the minors.

Here’s a look (August 2015) at Red’s up and coming:
Top 10 prospects…

Name Level ETA
1. OF Jesse Winker AA 2016
2. RHP Robert Stephenson AAA 2016
3. LHP Amir Garrett A+ 2017
4. C Tyler Stephenson ROK 2019
5. RHP Keury Mella A+ 2017
6. RHP Nicholas Travieso A+ 2017
7. SS Alex Blandino A+ 2017
8. SS Blake Trahan ROK 2018
9. LHP Cody Reed AA 2018
10. RHP Antonio Santillan ROK 2018
Additions: LHP Brandon Finnegan (no longer has prospect status), RHP Keury Mella, LHP Cody Reed, LHP John Lamb, 1B Adam Duvall

Losses: None

The Cincinnati Reds added multiple prospects for starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, but they could have really altered the perception of their farm system by fully committing to the rebuild.

As it was, the Reds acquired left-handers Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed and John Lamb for Cueto and right-hander Keury Mella and first baseman Adam Duvall for Leake.

Finnegan is no longer a prospect, but the 22-year-old has tremendous upside. Even if he doesn’t stick as a starter, the southpaw has the strikeout stuff to become a lockdown closer and was the centerpiece of the Cueto deal.

The addition of Mella was an underrated move considering Leake’s rental status. The 21-year-old has an electric arm and could be in the big leagues as early as 2017.

No, the Reds farm system isn’t as good as it could be. But it’s better now, and that’s an important step in the right direction.

Not sure that Cody Reed won’t turn out to be the “centerpiece” of the Cueto trade.

Cody Reed | Rank: #
7 (Preseason: 19)
Team: Pensacola Blue Wahoos (AA) ETA: 2018
Position: LHP Age: 22 DOB: 04/15/1993
Bats: L Throws: L Height: 6′ 5″ Weight: 225 lb.
Drafted: 2013, 2nd (46) – KC

Scouting grades: Fastball: 65 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 45 | Overall: 50
Reed went from throwing in the mid-80s in high school to reaching the mid-90s after two years at Northwest Mississippi CC, earning him a second-round selection and $1,198,500 bonus in the 2013 Draft. Even after going 3-10, 5.62 in his first two pro seasons, he undeniably had one of the highest ceilings among Royals pitching prospects and he had begun taking significant steps toward reaching it in 2015 when the Reds acquired him as part of a three-player package for Johnny Cueto at the Trade Deadline.

Reed works with a 90-94 mph fastball that peaks at 96 and has some sinking and cutting action. He has greatly improved his changeup this season, and at times it’s his second-best offering.

Reed always had the athleticism to repeat his delivery but struggled to do so before 2015. Now he’s more aggressive and filling the strike zone with ease, showing the potential to become a mid-rotation starter with three solid-or-better pitches.

Reds To Sign Cuban Infielder Alfredo Rodriguez
By Jeff Todd | January 11, 2016 at 6:11pm CST

6:43pm: Cincinnati president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty said that team and player “do not have a deal,” as C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweets. As Rosecrans adds, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean an agreement isn’t in place, as most executives would decline to confirm such an agreement before it’s final. And Jocketty did admit that Rodriguez “is a player of interest.”

6:11pm: The Reds have struck a deal with Cuban shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez that will pay him $6MM, according to’s Jesse Sanchez. Rodriguez, 21, left Cuba back in May in hopes of pursuing a career in the major leagues.

Importantly, as Sanchez, explains, the signing will put Cincinnati into the max penalty for international bonus spending. The club had been just within its allotment after its prior signings, but is now set not only to pay a 100% tax on its overages but also to lose its ability to sign an international player for over $300K for the next two signing periods. With that bullet bitten, it’s fair to wonder whether the Reds will pursue additional players before this July 2 period closes.

Ben Badler of Baseball America provided an explanation of the youngster’s abilities when he left Cuba. The key takeaway is that Rodriguez is a polished defender who has a long way to go with the bat.

Rodriguez won the Rookie of the Year award in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, based largely on his impeccable glovework (and the defection of leading candidate Yusnier Diaz). Indeed, he hit just .265/.301/.284 over 304 plate appearances on the way to earning the award. Rodriguez also has good wheels, according to Badler, which certainly could boost his odds of eventually cracking the majors.

No bat. Just what we need.

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