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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Reds make real pitch to repeat title

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Major League Baseball offseason means one thing--changes are coming. Teams shuffle around rosters, lineups, rotations, sign free agents and waive players.

While virtually every team is making moves, the Cincinnati Reds' moves are making the headlines.

First, the Reds inked Jonathon Broxton to a three-year, $21 million deal, setting the stage for a potential shakeup amongst one of the most potent pitching staffs in the league. Signing Broxton, who spent 2012 working as a middle reliever for the Reds, likely means he will step into the closer role.

Now the Reds already had a solid starting rotation, decent middle relievers, and an almost unhittable closer in "The Cuban Missile," Aroldis Chapman.

So it made sense to keep things as they were in 2012. But signing Broxton to such a big payday means one thing--Chapman is likely headed to the rotation.

He spent most of last spring training as a starting pitcher and actually posted the team's lowest ERA, so it's not like the man hasn't done it before.

If he can deliver in a starting role, the Reds will have three ace-caliber pitchers in Johnny Cueto, who posted a 2.78 ERA during the regular season, Mat Latos, whose ERA was 3.48, and now Aroldis Chapman, whose ERA was an astounding 1.51 ERA over 71.2 innings pitched with 122 strikeouts against just 23 walks.

If Chapman can make the adjustment from closer back to a starter, the move could be one of the best involving pitchers in all of baseball.

Now with a pitching staff primed to deliver, Cincinnati had to make some moves to keep the already potent batting order in a position to compete.

With super sluggers like Joey Votto who fits the three-spot, and Brandon Phillips who bats second, the Reds needed some help in other areas of the lineup.

Enter Ryan Ludwick, who joined the Reds after stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, and St. Louis Cardinals over the previous few seasons.

The left fielder found his offensive resurgence in 2012 with the Redlegs while providing adequate defense.

While not posting a team-high batting average, Ludwick provided a solid bat for the Reds and could fit in several spots in the order.

On Dec. 10, the Reds signed him to a two-year, $2 million contract.

Provided he can repeat his .275 batting average, .365 on base percentage, and 26 home runs, Ludwick gives the Reds some peace of mind towards the heart of the order.

The lineup in 2012 went as follows: center fielder Drew Stubbs, second baseman Brandon Phillips, first baseman Joey Votto, and Ludwick batting cleanup.

Not a bad cast of characters batting two through four.

The only problem with that part of the lineup was the man leading off--Stubbs.

While known for his exceptional defense and ridiculous speed, Stubbs was also known for something less than stellar--his strikeouts.

In 2012 alone, Stubbs batted an anemic .213 with 166 strikeouts.

Those numbers killed the Reds in the postseason.

So it stood to reason that General Manager Walt Jocketty would be shopping for a lead off bat for the upcoming season.

On Tuesday, news broke of a nine-player, three team swap that sent Stubbs to Cleveland in exchange for Shin-Soo Choo.

Choo, who is a career .289 batter provides the top of the Reds order with exactly what they needed.

Cincinnati will undoubtedly miss Stubbs' defense, but what Choo could bring to the order far outweighed what Stubbs added defensively.

And though it's only a one year deal, that gives the Reds a chance to groom minor leaguer Billy Hamilton time into an outfielder.

Hamitlon, who played short stop in AAA Louisville, is definitely a player of the future for the Reds considering his 155 stolen bases throughout the 2012 season.

While not known for his power, the man has to be doing something in order to get on base to steal 155 times.

So Cincinnati has stellar starting pitching, power in the lineup from Choo, to Votto, to Jay Bruce, and second year short stop Zack Cozart, and one of (if not the) best bullpens in the league. The ingredients are there, but it will depend on other moves on how the Reds fare.

Cincinnati, however, wasn't the only team making deals and signing players. Kevin Youkilis was inked to a deal in New York and the Dodgers went out and bought several superstars last season before the trade deadline.

Those were all big moves, but none of them will likely have the impact the Reds' have made. Jocketty has been extremely tactical in his choices and he's making some solid decisions.

So with the moves of signing 2012 acquisition Broxton to a new deal, signing Ludwick to a new deal, and trading Stubbs for Choo, Jocketty is making moves to not only allow the Reds a chance to repeat as National League Central champions, but make a deeper run in the 2013 playoffs.

-- Chris Siers is sports editor of the Times-Gazette. Email him at sports@t-g.com.

Chris Siers
The Extra Point
Chris Siers is sports editor of the Times-Gazette.