Being a sports fan in 2011 means never having an offseason. While the players may take a few months off in between campaigns, for you and me, the off months bring a steady stream of rumors, speculation, and of course, internet arguments. And the 2010/2011 winter has been packed with all three for Reds fans.
Here's one fan's look at how the Reds have done this offseason:
Bronson Arroyo - 3 year, $35 million extension
I find myself in the minority among Reds fans on this one. While the deal on paper makes sense, as $12 mil a year is chump change for the 200 innings and 13-17 wins a year that everyone's favorite guitar playing starter brings, if there's one area the Reds are deep, it's starting pitcher. Going into 2012, the first year the deal kicks in, the Reds will be seven deep with quality starters (Arroyo, Cueto, Voltron, Leake, Wood, Chapman, Bailey), and that doesn't count anyone in the minor leagues or fringes (Maloney, LeCure, etc.). And while I agree that the young guys have growing up to do, the fact is that if the other guys don't develop into solid starters themselves, the Reds are in real trouble, Bronson or no Bronson.
The best case scenario is that by 2013, Bronson is our worst of the seven pitchers. The more likely scenario is that he's the fourth or fifth guy while others have been traded or gotten hurt. Worst case scenario is he's still our ace in two years, meaning the Reds 2010 season was the best this group has to offer. Either way you look at it, the deal doesn't seem to be the best use of funds for the Reds, whether they're paying for an ace on a non contender or a back end/irrelevant one on a contender. It's not a horrible deal, but it's certainly not a good one, either.
AAT's Grade: C
Miguel Cairo - 2 year, $2 million re-signing
Miguel Cairo is the single worst player to ever don a Red's uniform. He's a disgrace who makes Chris Stynes and Randy Milligan look like Rose and Perez. I hope he falls down the stairs, can't play, and then cries in front of his locker when the media questions his toughness and other players around the league mock him on Twitter. In other words, I can't wait for two more years of the old guy defying our expectations, and the price is fantastic.
AAT's Grade: A
Jay Bruce - 6 year, $51 million extension
According to Fangraphs, Bruce Almighty was worth 5.3 WAR in 2010. To compare, Jayson Werth was worth 5.0. Taking into consideration the fact that Bruce is still getting better, while Werth is in his prime, and it's hard to find a single thing to complain about the Reds' signing of Bruce to a contract worth literally half of what Washington signed their new right fielder for (assuming the seventh year's option is picked up). Also, it appears that Bruce is at least 75% less of a douche as Werth is, which is nice.
In a related story, I made a bet with my dad two years ago that Bruce would end up having a better career than Joey Votto by the time everything was said and done. And despite Votto's incredible 2010, I stand by that. Jay is going to be the best player on this team for the vast majority of the contract, and my only regret is that it's 'only' six years.
AAT's Grade: A+
Joey Votto - 3 year, $38 million extension
On the one hand, Joey's the reigning MVP who is better, and cheaper than Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, and Mark Teixiera. So there's that. On the other hand, this deal is 110% unnecessary from the Reds' perspective, considering Votto was already under team control over that time, and it's questionable at best whether or not he'd be awarded $38 million in arbitration.
Where does that leave us? Well, I think realistically it tells us that we have three years to enjoy Joey the Bat. And what happens in those years will have a lot of bearing on whether or not those are the last of the three years. If the Reds can go to the playoffs all three years, win World Series and draw 35,000 fans a night, there's no reason he can't sign a 6 year, $150 million deal to stay in town past 2013. If the Reds turn into the NL version of the Minnesota Twins, making the playoffs and losing to the beast of the East every year (which, for the record, is my biggest fear for our Redlegs: that no matter how good we get, we'll never beat the Phillies and their deep pockets and staff full of aces), then Joey is probably gone. And anything less than that and we may as well trade him in 2013.
The point is that I like that the Reds won't have to mess with the arbitration process, and I'm excited to see what this three year window brings for the Reds.
AAT's Grade: B-
Johnny Cueto - 4 year, $27 million extension
Consider me in the minority on this one as well - this deal is a STEAL for the Reds. Over the last two seasons, Cueto has made the leap from an erratic arm who can barely keep his ERA below 5.00 to the Dominican Matt Cain. The kid is an ace in the making, and I think, the most important player on the 2011 Cincinnati Reds. If he can take one more jump, he'll be a legit front of the rotation starter that the Reds can lean on throughout the season and into the playoffs. If he can't? Then 2010 will be hard to repeat, let alone surpass.
He's got the talent, he's shown the improvement, and he's tantalizingly close to the upper echelon of the NL. If he can make that one leap, this deal will be the ultimate underpay, especially in that fourth year. If he doesn't, it's still below market value for your second or third starter. Barring a catastrophic injury suffered at the hands of a deranged Jason LaRue fan with a blunt object, all the hullabaloo about this deal being bad will be a distant memory.
AAT's Grade: B+
The New Guys
Dontrelle Willis - 1 year minor league deal
If Dontrelle Willis pitches significant innings for the Reds in 2011, I'll eat my Tom Browning Florence Freedom bobblehead. I'm already excited for the D-Train taking innings from the other Reds in Spring Training, Mark Sheldon's write-up about a tantalizing redemption story, and then the inevitable DFA right before the season.
AAT's Grade: F
Jeremy Hermida - 1 year minor league deal
You'd think Hermida would get a similarly snarky response as Dontrelle Willis. Not so fast! Were you aware that Hermida's best season (.870 OPS, HR every 27 ABs) is eerily similar to our own Jay Bruce's 2010 (.846 OPS, HR every 23 ABs)? This is the perfect no risk/high reward signing; if he's terrible, he'll never see the field in the Reds' suddenly deep outfield and we won't have to worry about it. If he shows an ability to live up to his talent, he could suddenly steal the left field job and give the Reds yet another young (26) stud to build around the next five years. It truly is a perfect minor league deal.
AAT's Grade: A
Edgar Renteria - 1 year, $2.1 million signing
I don't like Edgar Renteria. I don't know why, really; he's never done anything to me. Maybe it has to do with the fact that he's played for the Cardinals, Braves and Red Sox, three teams I despise. Maybe it's because his batting stance always reminds me of Garry Sheffield's, who I similarly disliked. Maybe it's just because the Reds never had a good shortstop for so long and I sought to diminish the abilities of others.
Regardless, I know now why I don't like him: I know he'll be good for 400 ABs in 2011. I know he'll take playing time from Paul Janish, who I believe can play every day at the position, post around a .750 OPS, and win a Gold Glove at short. I know he'll take playing time from Miguel Cairo and Juan Francisco and Chris Valaika and any number of other Reds who can do what he does on the field at this point of his career. And I know he's coming to camp expecting to be the starter.
I don't like this signing, Sam I Am. I don't like it one bit.
AAT's Grade: D
Fred Lewis - 1 year, $900,000 signing
Take everything I said in the previous section, and the opposite is true in this one. I LOVE this move. I don't know why I like Fred Lewis, but I always have. And oh by the way, he just so happens to fill a hole that the Reds have had for more than a decade. If he can repeat his 2010, when he had an OBP of .332, I'll be happy. I he returns to his 2008/2009 form, when he posted OBPs of .351 and .348, respectively, I'll be ecstatic. If he surpasses both of those (a distinct possibility in GABP), he'll be the deal of the offseason and fill the one offense hole the league's best offense had in 2010.
Best of all? With Lewis leading off, that means Drew Stubbs and Brandon Phillips aren't. In other words, for the rock bottom rate of $900K, Walt upgraded three spots in the every day lineup. Beat that, GM with the impossible to spell name north of the border!
AAT's Grade: A+
The Unfinished Business
If they sign him for 3-4 years for less than $20 mil, I'll give it an A. Any more, in years, or cash, and I'm not real happy. He's obviously talented, but take away his 2008 first half and he's basically been a league average starter, both before and after his elbow injury.
I like Voltron and think he can be one of the league's better third starters. But I'm not convinced he's reliable enough to commit to the way the Reds have Cueto.
Finally, in one of the most under-reported stories of the offseason, despite committing $151 million is contracts (and counting) this offseason, Walt is taking the Reds into 2011 with a LOWER payroll than he did in 2010. What does that mean?
It's obvious: the Reds can, and will be players at the trade deadline in July.
I think Walt smells blood in the NL Central water; the Cardinals are worse than they were at this time last year. The Brewers improved, but if they can make up 15 games in the standings against the Reds, I'll eat my Mike Napoli Goodyear Tires-sponsored bobblehead; the Cubs, Astros and Pirates have either gotten better or treaded water. Now is the time to create enough separation so that when the 2011 Reds face off against the Phillies in the playoffs, they're coming to Cincinnati three or four times. And the Reds are rich in minor league talent and financially able to get whatever ace du jour is available halfway through the season to put them over the top.
2010 was fun, but for my money, 2011 is going to be better. And this time next year, when I'm wearing my 2011 World Series Championship Reds hat, every Red's grade will be an 'A.'