Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Fla., Thursday as the Reds open still another rebuilding project, something like their fifth since the middle of 1997 and their second since the middle of 2003.
The new general manager, Wayne Krivsky, says he's a pitching and defense guy. Odd, then, that he should consider the Reds such an ideal situation. Unless he's ready, willing and able to do a complete teardown.
Sounds like he will. Quickly. If he can.
Krivsky already knows this ball club, considering that his 11 years as the Minnesota Twins assistant general manager included scouting the Reds about 35 times per season. Reds owner Bob Castellini told reporters that Krivsky's "game plan" for the Reds especially made an impression during the interview process.
No word yet about the plan's specific details, but we'll be able to read it in the walk. A broadcast interview with Krivsky on MLB.com last week turned up two fascinating remarks suggesting that he isn't going to sit around and make assessments. He's already made them.
First, an interviewer asked Krivsky how the Twins won without stars. He replied, "Offense is nice, but you need pitching and defense to be competitive. It's the easiest way to be competitive."
Later, the interviewer asked about the importance of keeping the Reds' core together, specifically naming Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena. Said Krivsky, "Certainly they all bring something to the party. As you go through the spring, various scenarios come up and I'm sure all the names you mentioned would fit on other clubs one way or another. They fit well here, too. It's just something that will play itself out in spring training. If they're all with the Reds on Opening Day, I'd be perfectly happy with that."
Yet it sounded equally like if one or all of them aren't with the Reds on Opening Day Krivsky would be perfectly happy with that, too.
The Reds aren't Wayne Krivsky's ball club. Not yet
The Reds are the anti-Twins. The Reds are a big bunch of boppers in the batter's box, butchers on the base paths and dodos on defense. Generally speaking. About their pitiful pitching, nothing needs to be said.
Remember, the Twins won the AL Central three straight times, 2002-2004, with a combined total of five everyday .300 hitters and not one player who hit 30 homers in any of those years. In 2002 and 2003, the Twins hit doubles and triples. In 2004, they didn't do as much of that, so they stole bases.
In all three years, the Twins caught the ball and threw it to the right base. And their pitching staffs consistently avoided walks.
Those weren't great ball clubs, by the way. The Twins couldn't afford a hammer who would have made them a dominating presence. But they were good enough to win incredibly weak divisions, especially due to unbalanced schedules that pitted them one-third of the time against awful franchises in Kansas City and Detroit along with a Cleveland operation in reboot mode.
In those three seasons combined, only one other AL Central club won more than 83 games. Just one of those Twins clubs won a playoff series, that coming in 2002 against the low-revenue Oakland Athletics.
But in the first two of those years, the Reds spent more than the Twins and weren't nearly as good. A glance at the payrolls from those seasons suggests that the Twins got more bang for the buck because their bucks went to pitching.
According to USA Today's salary database, the Reds spent $45 million in 2002. Their top three salaries gobbled up $21.5 million, enriching position players Barry Larkin ($9 million), Junior Griffey ($8.557 million) and Sean Casey ($4 million). Their most expensive starting pitcher, Elmer Dessens, earned $1.825 million. The Reds won 78 games.
That same year, the Twins spent $40 million. Their top three salaries, totaling $19.75 million, went to pitchers Brad Radke ($8.75 million), Rick Reed ($7 million) and Eric Milton ($4 million). Their most expensive offensive player, Torii Hunter, made $2.4 million. The Twins won 94 games and advanced to the ALCS.
In 2003, the Reds spent $59.4 million. Their top three salaries -- again spent on Griffey ($12.5 million), Larkin ($9 million) and Casey ($5.6 million) -- gobbled up $27.1 million. Their most expensive starting pitcher, Ryan Dempster, earned $3.25 million. The Reds won 69 games in a dreadful campaign.
That same year, the Twins spent $55.5 million, $22.75 million on their top three salaries, again going to Radke ($8.75 million), Reed ($8 million) and Milton ($6 million). Their most expensive offensive player, Hunter, made $4.75 million. And the Twins won 90 games, again capturing the AL Central.
Noting the above, one finds not only that the Reds aren't the first club to pay Milton a big contract but that the Twins, with Krivsky in the middle of it, perhaps overpaid for pitching, just as the Reds spent inefficiently on hitting.
The Reds took their lumps for those contracts. Between them, over the two-year period, Casey, Griffey and Larkin added up to 50 homers, 236 RBI and a .267 average in 2,109 at-bats, all for the bargain total of $48.6 million.
But the Twins didn't clean up with their pitching expenditures either, and some of the wonks criticized them for signing players to expensive long-term deals off career years. (See the Twins entry in the 2004 Baseball Prospectus). Combining the 2002 and 2003 seasons, Radke finished 23-15 with a 4.57 ERA in 330 2/3 innings, while Reed totaled 21-19 with a 4.31 ERA in 323 innings. Ferguson Jenkins would have matched those wins, losses and innings in one year, without the high ERAs.
Milton is another matter, as we know too well. After finishing 13-9 with a 4.84 ERA in 171 innings for 2002, Milton missed nearly all of 2003 following spring training knee surgery. Before the 2004 season, the Twins traded him to Philadelphia, where he won 14 games in 201 innings.
So the Reds signed him last year for three seasons at $25.5 million, expecting him to match his track record. Instead, Milton gave up more hits and home runs than ever, and now the Reds despair of another bad contract on their hands.
The good news, and the bad news, is that Krivsky is likely to make the same kind of mistake for a pitcher. But for the Reds to err on the side of pitching is divine. Just as the Reds have made errors with contracts for hitters, they've also produced a lot of offense because they've committed themselves through the years to hitters.
The Reds' problem with pitchers isn't that they've made mistakes. Their problem is that they haven't addressed pitching seriously enough through the years to make mistakes. Last year, they finally made a couple. Maybe Krivsky will make enough of them to assemble a good pitching staff.
Generally, the Reds haven't valued pitching enough to over-value it, as many clubs do. About $8 million per year for a veteran pitcher who gobbles up 200 innings and wins 13 or 14 games is pretty close to the going rate. When the pitcher isn't even that good, it's a ripoff.
But the Reds, still with much of Jim Bowden's stamp on them, fall in love with hitters. Krivsky will take a different path, along the lines of departed GM Dan O'Brien trading Casey to Pittsburgh for lefthander David Williams. Expect more of the same in spring training.
Be ready for an exciting new kind of mistake. In time, perhaps, it could be just what the Reds need to change their fortunes.