It's Hot Stove time, and the Reds have already exchanged Ryan Freel for Ramon Hernandez, a move I like. Other than that, the Reds seem content to let things play themselves out.
Cincinnati never made overtures to the Manny/Sabathia/Texiera-level free agents, which is a good thing. Ownership seems to think the Reds are a few moves (and more game experience) away from being a contender in the aging NL Central. Something tells me that most of the teams angling for the big-money free agents are going to be disappointed. Maybe not Barry Zito-level disappointment, but not happy either.
It's easier on the eye to watch a young team develop while adding complimentary pieces than to watch teams that — with or without their $100 million men — don't seem likely to win the World Series.
The Reds have reportedly narrowed their list of potential right-handed hitting outfielders to three candidates — Jerry Hairston Jr., Willie Taveras and Rocco Baldelli. But if the Reds go out on a limb and take a shot at Baldelli as they did with acquiring Josh Hamilton, they could be rewarded in similar fashion. It's worth a shot.
Hairston is a good teammate, and he played extremely well last year for Cincinnati. He played the way the scouts who were so high on him in Baltimore thought he would. I bet those scouts have long since been fired and wondered aloud why Jerry started playing well at the age of 32.
While last year was certainly a good one for Hairston, I think the Reds should be cautious of going down the D'Angelo Jimenez route with this one by keeping a player around for a long time because he had half a good season for you.
The Reds need to take advantage of the rare opportunity to sign a player at a bargain rate and watch him develop into a star. I'm not talking about Taveras. He's decent, but not what you want in a tiny ballpark. Sure he steals bases, but the Reds aren't really a small-ball team. Taveras has seven home runs in nearly 2000 at bats. I don't care if you steal 50 bases, any outfielder that plays in the Home Run Factory known as GABP should be capable of routinely hitting balls over the fence.
Chris Dickerson can steal bases and hit for power. Taveras is talented, but great leadoff men do not have OBP's that hover around .300. "You can't steal first base" is as old and corny as it gets with baseball sayings, but with Willy it's the truth. Sign him, but if he's hitting .250 he's only marginally more valuable than 2008 Whipping Boy Corey Patterson.
Certain rubes commenting on local message boards seem to think Baldelli isn't worth looking into, even though out of the three candidates he has the biggest upside by far. If you are willing to take a player with a truckload of talent and baggage like Josh Hamilton, Rocco shouldn't be a risk-reward issue at all. Look what getting Hamilton got Cincinnati — a dominant young pitcher who has supplanted Aaron Harang as the staff's ace.
Baldelli looked like a star in the making early in his career. Forget for a second that he's 27 years old. Yes, his 2005 season was derailed by a torn ACL and an elbow that required Tommy John surgery. Yes, he has a mitochondrial disorder that people like me have only a basic understanding of. All these things are true. So was the tape-measure blast he hit in Fenway Park in last season's ALCS that gave Tampa Bay the momentum to win that series.
Hairston or Taveras wouldn’t be terrible moves, but they won't be the right ones either. With Dickerson and Jay Bruce taking up two thirds of the outfield, I think most of the offensive burden will be on those two players. Laynce Nix, if healthy, could emerge as a solid fourth outfielder. Norris Hopper, if healthy, can produce the same (if not better) than Taveras.
Get Baldelli, ease him into the lineup, and if he remains healthy don't be surprised in the least when he starts hitting 30 home runs a year while batting over .300 and playing excellent defense. His career has shown incredible signs of talent, promise and potential. He's not 32.