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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Out (or in?) of town

Just wanted to drop a line and say I'll be away while we're travelling back home to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. We get on the airplane in about four hours, and then will return on Jan 1st. Therefore, updates are unlikely during that time (not that I've been terribly active anyway...).

Quick word about Conine--there's a reason he was available for two minor prospects. I agree with others who have said they'd rather have a go with Eduardo Perez, but the Reds could do worse I suppose... But the talk about him getting outfield time is confusing to me, especially before the Griffey injury, as we already had a full roster out there (dunn, griffey, denorfia, and freel).

If Griffey's injury keeps him out at all next year, I have to expect that Denorfia would be our starting center fielder, with Freel getting decent playing time there in his ongoing role as uber-utility guy. Heck, that's how it should be even if Griffey's good to go! :) I think Denorfia is a good bet to give us a ~0.375 OBP with better power than Freel, all the while playing plus defense in centerfield--that's quite a valuable player!

I am worried about Griff. He generates a lot of power with his hands, and I think his hitting is already on the decline. What we saw last year from him may be about all we can hope for from him this coming season--he turned 37 on November 21. He can still be a valuable hitter, but '05 might turn out to be his last year with a 0.500+ SLG. My biggest hope is that he'll rediscover how to take a walk next year; that 0.316 OBP last year was the worst of his career. We need him back in the 0.350 range...maybe he should get his eyes checked? :)

Friday, December 15, 2006

On the Almarez's departure

Like many around the Reds' blogosphere, I'm feeling a bit uneasy about the Reds' front office right now.

First, the Larry Barton departure. Ok, fine, sounds like a case of different philosophies. Hope Barton does well in whatever he does next.

Then, no action at the winter meetings. I have no idea what was said and negotiated at the meetings, so maybe Krivsky showed restraint (for the first time?) and didn't do a bad deal. ... Even so, the team needs a revamping, and is unlikely to win anything next year at its present state while our division rivals are getting noticeably better.

Then, they re-sign Dave Weathers. Granted, he was the best pitcher in the bullpen during the last two months of last season. But he's also 37 years old and was signed to a two year contract following a year in which he had the worst hr/9 rate of his career, his worst walk rate in the past 6 years, and his worst strikeout rate in the past four years. Frankly, as valuable as he was last year, I think it was time to let the guy walk.

Then, to make space for Weathers, they release Brandon Claussen. Claussen, a former stud prospect who will still be just 27 on opening day, was injured last year, and yet put up a 14.9 VORP season as a left-handed starter only the year before. Surely he's at least worth a go in the bullpen?

And now, long-time Reds' front-office man, and now former director of player development, Johnny Almarez, has resigned. Despite amicable press releases, Almarez provided material for a scathing article by Hal McCoy in the Dayton Daily News, again citing differences with Wayne Krivsky. It's so bizarre that Marc Lancaster, who in my memory has never been more than mildly critical of a member of the Reds organization, wrote this:
After a series of unreturned phone calls to Wayne Krivsky all day, I got home from the Crosstown Shootout to find a message from him on my answering machine. The gist:

"The statement’s going to stand on its own and that’s just the way it’s going to be."

So there you go.

I didn't get too worked up about the Larry Barton story last week because it read like a classic case of sour grapes, as if Krivsky was somehow obligated to make whatever moves Barton thought were correct. This situation is different, though. Almaraz leaving -- and it was completely his choice, I'm told -- raised plenty of eyebrows around here and no doubt all around baseball. Couple that with the way this has been handled today and I think it's perfectly reasonable to question what's going on here.

Unfortunately, those statements below are the only answers the Reds have chosen to provide.
Now part of the reason Marc may be speaking his mind is that he apparently has a new gig in Tampa Bay, to which he'll be leaving shortly (we will miss you Marc!). But even so, this is just weird, and may indicate a problem in the Reds' front office. I'm not saying the Reds are experiencing something like what happened with really-bad-person-Bowden. But I'm bothered by what appears, on the outside, like the start of a "brain drain" out of our organization that may be caused by his practices as a general manager.

Look, I'm a fan. I want the Reds to win. I don't care all that much if the general manager is a nice guy, or if he gets along with his personnel. Billy Beane, by all accounts, sounds like a terrible person to work for if you believe what Ken Macha said after he was let go from the Athletics. But Beane has been highly successful in surrounding himself with smart people, and making smart decisions that keep his teams consistently competitive. So when I see respected front office personnel leaving the Reds, I worry. If something about how Krivsky is conducting himself is resulting in a working environment that is not conducive to making the moves necessary to help the Reds win, that's a problem.

Hopefully all of this is just getting blown out of proportion. Maybe what we're going to see as a result of all this are new people in the front office who can work more efficiently and productively with Krivsky. But I can't help but feel a bit nervous about my team's leadership.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jason LaRue to the Royals

Some rather belated coverage of the LaRue deal...

The Kansas City Star reported that the Royals expect to pay roughly $2.5 million of LaRue's $5.45 million salary next year (hat tip to Austin Kearns at RedsZone). That means the Reds are kicking in ~$2.95 million and LaRue in exchange for the Royals' player to be named later.

Recent Stats on LaRue:

LaRue's season was one of the most disappointing that I've ever seen. After a career year in 2005, LaRue stumbled into the season with a knee injury and never recovered, ultimately losing the starting catching job to another guy having a career year, David Ross. Based on most standard evaluations of player performance, LaRue was awful last year (-4.3 VORP). It's not unheard of for catchers to fall off the face of the earth at age 32, so many people justifiably feel that Jason is probably done.

But, as discussed here last summer, there are some really strange things about LaRue's batted ball data. His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is an absurdly low 0.220, which is far below what we'd reasonably expect from a MLB hitter--even when they're struggling horribly. Furthermore, his batted ball data are largely in line with what he did in prior seasons, his strikeout rate was down, his walk rate up, and even his HR rate is slightly higher than in prior season. Therefore, there's the distinct possibility that LaRue was swinging the bat reasonably well and just encountered some miserable luck last season. If you believe J.C. Bradbury's PrOPS statistic--and I (cautiously) do--LaRue's performance with the bat (batted ball data) would typically be sufficient for a career-best OPS of 0.861!

The truth probably lies somewhere in between the two extremes. I do expect that LaRue will bounce back, though probably not all the way up to the 0.800+ OPS range. He'll be 33 next season and has caught a lot of games over the years, so it's a bit much to expect he'll come anywhere near his '05 performance again. But I see no reason why he can't hit in the mid-high 0.700's next season (see his 2004 season, maybe with a bit higher OBP and a bit lower SLG), all the while providing a good throwing arm and (mostly) acceptable performance as a backstop.

That's not a bad pickup for a player to be named later and $2.5 million, so I think Kansas City did well for themselves in this deal. I have little doubt that this is the best the Krivsky could expect to get for LaRue after Jason's miserable season. But it might have been better to wait until next year, see if he gets hot, and then try to unload his contract. As it is, we're paying $3 million next year for a catcher who is not even on our team. If the basic rule of trading players is to buy low and sell high, the Reds didn't do well here.

Even so, I liked this deal better when it was made on November 20th, because it freed up a spot on the 25-man roster and seemed to guarantee that Javier Valentin would actually get some plate appearances next season. ... but then Krivsky signed Chad Moeller a week later. More on that later.

20,000 Unique Visits

On Baseball and the Reds recently passed 20,000 unique visits, nearly half of which (currently 9,883) are hits from returning visitors! I just wanted to say thanks for reading! I have a great time running this blog and I really appreciate everyone who stops in to read and comment--you help keep this hobby fun, interesting, and challenging! :)

Things have been a bit slow lately, and that's primarily because I've been involved in some other hobbies--not to mention a fairly demanding research schedule at work and a 6 month old at home. But I plan to put something together on the Reds' latest acquisitions and signings tonight or tomorrow. This Hamilton signing is really intriguing, though it could end up a disaster for the 25-man roster this season...

I'm sure it'll really start hopping around here as we get closer and closer to Pitchers and Catchers, and that's only two months away!