Where do the Cincinnati Reds go from here?
The knee-jerk reactions should have subsided by now, the shock and awe of how fast the National League Division Series championship slithered through the clutches of the Cincinnati Reds.
The Reds won the first two games in San Francisco and were afforded three tries at home to win one game. Even after losing the first two, confident manager Dusty Baker said before the third game in Great American Ball Park, “I can’t remember the last time we lost three straight at home. So I feel pretty good about us.”
Indeed, the Reds had not lost three straight in GABP all season. But it happened in Game 5 of the NLDS and the Reds were sent home for a long winter’s nap.
It happened. It’s now unpleasant history for Reds baseball fans. But just think about it, put it in perspective — they could be Washington Nationals fans, walking around this weekend with Cardinal beaks stuck in their hearts.
To brighten the mood, fans should remember the good times, the 97 wins that tied the Nationals for most in baseball, the second playoff appearance in three years after none for 15 years, the Homer Bailey no-hitter, the Aroldis Chapman buzz, the Todd Frazier run for Rookie of the Year.
And then think about next season and what needs to be done to take the next step toward the World Series.
Is Dusty Baker coming back as manager or will he walk away? It is believed the Reds have offered him a short-term contract but he is seeking a long-term deal. The Noisy Minority wants Baker to find an out-of-state job, but The Silent Majority appreciate what he did this year against all odds as body after body went down in battle.
To steal a line from broadcaster Marty Brennaman, “In 40 years, I’ve never seen the perfect manager.” Nor have I, nor has anybody, nor will anybody ever see one. Baker, though, is perfect for this team, a solid blend of veterans and young, developing players.
The priority for general manager Walt Jocketty this winter is to see if the Reds can re-sign outfielder Ryan Ludwick, one of the few players who showed up for the last three games. Ludwick stepped up his game when Joey Votto went down and eventually filled the shaky clean-up hole in the batting order.
The Reds and Ludwick have a mutual $5 million option for 2013, but Ludwick is a free agent and with the season he spliced together other teams will be at his door with contracts with large numbers on them, seeking his signature.
While the Reds may not be able to match some of the offers, perhaps they can come close enough that Ludwick will return for a slight discount in appreciation for the Reds enabling him to resurrect his nearly dead career.
“This is really a good group of guys here,” said Ludwick. “I thoroughly enjoy it here, I’ve said that many times. Right now, though, I just want to go home and regroup from the last day and try to take the sadness off.”
If Jocketty re-signs Ludwick, the left field and clean-up spots are plugged, permitting the GM to concentrate on his continuous and lengthy pursuit of a prototypical leadoff hitter. That would enable Brandon Phillips to be relieved of duty at the top of the order and dropped to his most comfortable spot, No. 2.
And the domino effect would be completed by dropping Zack Cozart from No. 2 to the lower part of the order, where he belongs.
Michael Bourn is a free agent. But is he affordable? He certainly would plug the leadoff spot. And center field, where he has won a couple of Gold Gloves over many talented competitors.
As much talent as Drew Stubbs has hidden away in his fleet body, that talent refuses to reveal itself in Cincinnati. It probably is time for him to try his luck in some other venue if Jocketty can put together a trade that isn’t a giveaway so both the team and Stubbs can move on.
And then there is free-agent pitcher Jonathan Broxton. Before Jocketty can deal with him, a decision must be made on Aroldis Chapman — bullpen or rotation?
The Grand Plan last spring was for Chapman to be in the rotation and he was the best pitcher in spring training. But injuries to Ryan Madson, Nick Masset and Bill Bray took the Grand out of the Plan and Chapman was needed in the bullpen, where he became one of baseball’s best closers.
Does he stay or does he go, as far as the bullpen is concerned? If they want Chapman in the rotation, he needs to begin preparing now. And they would need to sign Broxton to be the closer, his natural spot. He saved 23 games for the moribund Kansas City Royals in half a season before they traded him to the Reds and he became Chapman’s set-up guy.
Broxton made $4 million this year and it might not be a hard sell to get his signature on a Reds contract for a couple of years.
There appears to be an opening at third base because Scott Rolen’s contract is up and he more than hinted that his strikeout to end the season is probably his last major-league at-bat.
The opening is there for Todd Frazier, who made one start there during the NLDS. Does he get that chance or do the Reds go hunting?
Although Baker didn’t use him much when Rolen was healthy, Baker said of Frazier, “He is going to be an everyday player for a long time to come.”