2013 Reds: Why a repeat won’t be easy

Fred Hutchinson
Fred Hutchinson, the man for whom the Hutch Award is named, was a major-league pitcher and manager. He died in 1964 of lung cancer, little more than a month after his Reds lost the pennant on the final day of the regular season. Hutchinson was diagnosed, according to his bio at sabr.org, by his brother Bill, a surgeon in their hometown of Seattle. His battle with cancer played out publicly during the pennant race of 1964; the Reds’ sweep of the Phillies started the latter’s 10-game losing streak, and though the Reds caught them, they didn’t expect the Cards to pass both. He was renowned for his temper (according to sabr.org via The Sporting News, Hutchinson’s first argument with an umpire came just “26 minutes into his first game on the job”) and his competitiveness. As`a pitcher, Hutchinson won double-figures for six straight years; he was 18-10 with a 3.03 ERA in 1947. His career totals were 95-71 with a 3.73 ERA, 13 shutouts, seven saves and a 19.1 WAR. Injuries ended his career — as a pitcher and player representative. As the latter Hutchinson helped made gains, according to sabr.org, that now seem primitive — $25 a week expenses in spring training, a $5,000 minimum salary, All-Star and World Series contributions to the pension fund. But they were progress in the 1940s. Hutchinson was a player-manager before his 32nd birthday and the Reds were the last of the three teams (Tigers and Cards) he led; he won his only pennant with Cincinnati in 1961 and lost the Series in five games to the Yankees. The Hutch Award was created in 1965 and is awarded annually to the player who “best exemplifies (Hutchinson’s) fighting spirit and competitive desire,” according to mlb.com. Mickey Mantle was the first winner and Barry Zito the most recent; 1974 winner Danny Thompson died of leukemia and 2008 winner Jon Lester overcame cancer. “He led us to tears sharing his own struggle with cancer in a very public and heroic manner,” wrote Dan Raley of Hutchinson’s hometown Seattle Post-Intelligencer upon the occasion of Hutch’s being named the city’s Athlete of the 20th century.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: Billy Hamilton was sent to the minor-league camp after hurting his hamstring because Hamilton with a leg injury is more powerless than Hamilton batting without a bat. Hamilton made a lot of news last summer by stealing 155 bases, but that, combined with 86 walks is the totality of his game. That’s not a bad thing. He’s 22, fast and a first-year centefielder, which doesn’t say much about his work at shortstop, given Zack Cozart’s .687 performance as a 26-year-old rookie at that position. It’s also limiting — Hamilton’s power is minimal (a home run every 216 minor-league at-bats) and he’s averaged 126 strikeouts in his last two minor-league seasons. Hamilton will deliver more headlines than value in the years ahead, but he will have a little more of the latter than power. Just not too much more.

What is this man doing here? Cesar is the Izturis brother who can’t hit, which is a little like being the Kardashian with no talent. Cesar has a career .617 OPS; brother Maicer’s looks Silver Slugger worth at 101 points higher. Cesar once won a Gold Glove and a spot on the All-Star team, but hasn’t been a regular since 2010, when his .545 OPS should have scared off even the most friendly of employers. He’s been with eight teams; the Reds would do well to let someone else be his ninth.

What he said: Mark Prior, in camp with the Reds: “The first question is always health and ‘Can I be durable? Can I stay healthy?’ ” What he meant: “Why didn’t someone ask Dusty (Baker, his manager with the Cubs) that a decade ago?”

Outlook: The Reds had a two-game lead and three home games needing only to win one against the Giants in their divisional series last fall. The Reds failed badly, losing once in 10 innings and once with Mat Latos, whom they gave up most of their high-end minor-league talent to acquire, starting.

The Reds lacked more than a consonant, though they won 97 games last year, second-most in baseball. They shouldn’t be in that position again: they were just eighth in run differential in 2012 and outperformed their projected win total, according to baseballreference.com, by six wins.

They may not even outperform the Cardinals in 2013, which should displease Brandon Phillips to no end.

The Reds’ problems were mostly on offense, where they were 21st in runs scored. They addressed those by acquiring Shin-Soo Choo to play center field and dumping Drew Stubbs and his 166 strikeouts.

There’s only one problem with that: Choo has played very little center field, just 10 games in his big-league career and not at all since 2009.

The Reds also added Jack Hannahan at third base, but he won’t help much if Todd Frazier can’t slug .498 again, and Frazier hadn’t done that in four minor-league seasons since his short-season debut.

The Reds could use a Frazier-like season from catcher Devin Mesoraco. A Punxsutawney, Pa., native, he hit as if he were afraid of his shadow last year and his .212 average made Ryan Hanigan the regular. The latter hit just two homers and slugged only .338.

Otherwise, the Reds haven’t changed much, which means 30-plus starts from Bronson Arroyo (for a ninth straight year) and the aptly named Mike Leake (4.58 ERA). The Reds considered replacing the latter with Aroldis Chapman (1.51 ERA, 71.2 innings, 122 strikeouts). Too bad, since Chapman’s prorated strikeout total would be 366 or so in 215 innings.

(Baker said he wanted players “at comfort level.” He might have thought about the infielders playing behind Leake, who can’t be too comfortable).

The Reds have better pitching than the Cardinals, and the best left-handed bullpen in baseball in Chapman and Sean Marshall. They held the Cardinals to less than four runs in 10 of 15 games last year, yet lost eight of them.

They may not do that well this year.

Team song: Dusty Springfield: Wishing and Hoping


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