- Phil Rogers
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Dusty Baker, who was hired out of the ESPN booth in October, will become Cincinnati's fourth manager in four years. Jerry Narron was replaced by Pete Mackanin at midseason and GM Wayne Krivsky decided to pursue Baker even though Mackanin guided the Reds to a 41-39 record in his time as manager.
No matter who the manager was, Cincinnati wasn't going to win in 2007 -- not with a starting rotation that had a 4.86 ERA, the second-highest ERA in the National League, and a bullpen that had the highest ERA (5.10) in the league.
The Reds were solid at the front of the rotation with Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, but Narron and Mackanin were forced to improvise elsewhere. Closer David Weathers certainly inspired little fear.
Cincinnati was also devastated by injuries, playing without six regulars, including Ken Griffey Jr., in September. Despite that the Reds scored enough runs to be dangerous, climbing to the edge of contention in the weak NL Central race before fading down the stretch.
Two starting pitchers: Baker took the Cubs to the playoffs with a staff that had three young pitchers in Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in 2003, and arrives with the responsibility of overseeing the start of right-hander Homer Bailey's career. But the in-house quality falls way off after Harang, Arroyo and Bailey. Two middle-of-the-road veterans capable of making 30 starts with a 4.50 ERA would be huge pieces to this puzzle.
Closer: Weathers was serviceable in the role, but could be expensive to re-sign as a free agent. The available options include Todd Coffey and starter Matt Belisle, but an upgrade would be well-received in the clubhouse.
Catcher: David Ross is a very interesting player. In only 311 at-bats he hit 17 homers but he batted .203, which contributed to the Reds' catchers ranking 13th in the NL in OPS.
In the picture: You hope that Baker received some assurances about spending in addition to his salary of $3.5 million, a stunning figure for this low-revenue franchise.
Krivsky figures to sort through the possible bargains after the big-ticket free agents have signed, putting guys like Josh Fogg, Odalis Perez, Steve Trachsel, Luis Vizcaino, David Riske and Octavio Dotel in play.
Adam Dunn: The boom-or-bust outfielder who hit 40 home runs last season is the biggest card in Krivsky's deck. He is eligible for free agency after 2008, so it seems wise to think about dealing him for pitching now. Jay Bruce, who is considered one of the top prospects in the minors, is in the wings to step into Dunn's spot.
Ken Griffey Jr.: He played 144 games last season, his most since 2000. That could create a market beyond what has existed in recent years. But he profiles as Baker's type of player, and the priority here is finding a way to seriously contend in the next year or two, before St. Louis has had time to reload.
LF-RF Jay Bruce: Big and powerful, with a strong arm, Bruce seems ready to begin playing a major role for the Reds. He was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2007, when he hit .319 with 26 homers. His immediate future depends on whether the Reds trade Dunn or Griffey.
RHP Homer Bailey: Another highly regarded prospect, the former first-rounder got a taste of the big leagues last season. He projects as a front-of-the-rotation starter and should open 2008 in Cincinnati, hopefully with a commitment to stick around even if he struggles early.
1B Joey Votto: A left-handed hitter with power, Votto made an impact in September. He's considered more of a hitter than an athlete and figures to drive in runs in bunches.
RHP Johnny Cueto: Pitching at three levels, Cueto compiled a 170-34 strikeout-walk ratio in 161 innings. He pounds the strike zone with all of his pitches, including a mid-90s fastball. He could join Bailey in the season-opening rotation if he shows that form in spring training.
Krivsky made the boldest move of his tenure as GM by hiring Baker, who he hopes will provide the credibility that makes Cincinnati a more attractive destination for free agents. But the bandbox nature of Great American Ball Park very much works against him in signing pitchers.
Krivsky will have to build his staff the way that the Colorado Rockies built theirs, through the farm system and trading for young pitchers. The key to this winter for Krivsky will be to make the right trade for Dunn.
Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com. His book, "Say It's So," a story about the 2005 White Sox, is available at bookstores, through Amazon.com or by direct order from Triumph Books (800-222-4657).
The hiring of Dusty Baker as manager brings optimism to the Reds, but trading Adam Dunn could have the biggest impact on the team in 2008.