I don't know if you can call a 79-83 season a "disaster year", but for the 2010 NL Central champion Reds, it was pretty close. They finished third a season after winning the division crown, and nothing changed all that much. 2010 MVP Joey Votto raked again, they didn't get destroyed with injuries...it just kind of all went wrong. But the Reds retooled for 2012, and it's looking like a three horse race this season.
Depth Chart (3/20)
C: Ryan Hanigan
1B: Joey Votto
2B: Brandon Phillips
SS: Zach Cozart
3B: Scott Rolen
LF: Chris Heisey
CF: Drew Stubbs
RF: Jay Bruce
SP: Mat Latos
SP: Johnny Cueto
SP: Bronson Arroyo
SP: Mike Leake
SP: Homer Bailey
CL: Ryan Madson
The Reds acquired a legitimate top of the order starter in Mat Latos from the Padres for a bounty of prospects (and Edinson Volquez). The team also wanted a legitimate closer instead of Francisco Cordero, so they signed Ryan Madson, the top closer on the market, to a one-year deal. Madson was also granted a setup man in front of him, in the form of former Cub Sean Marshall. The team also brought in a pair of bench bats in Wilson Valdez and Ryan Ludwick.
In the Latos trade, the Reds gave up Volquez, Brad Boxberger, top catching prospect Yasmani Grandal, and top hitting prospect Yonder Alonso. In the Marshall deal, the team gave up significantly less in fifth starter Travis Wood, second baseman Ronald Torreyes, and outfielder Dave Sappelt. As for free agents leaving the team, former catcher Ramon Hernandez signed with the Rockies, Cordero went to the Blue Jays, and Dontrelle Willis signed with the Phililes (who have already released him).
This conversation pretty much begins and ends with two guys: top catching prospect Devin Mesoraco, and starting shortstop Zach Cozart. Mesoraco will immediately push incumbent Ryan Hanigan for playing time, and should earn the starting role before the All-Star break (unless he struggles offensively). Cozart was called up last season, and kept his rookie eligibility after an injury knocked him out for the rest of the season.
Mesoraco vs Hanigan will be an interesting battle for the catcher's position. Ludwick could push Chris Heisey for some playing time in left field, too. There's also the matter of Aroldis Chapman, and him not currently fitting into the rotation or the bullpen.
Cozart needed Tommy John surgery last season, but it was on his non-throwing elbow, and he should be ready to roll for Opening Day. Aside from him, the Reds are almost completely healthy.
Where does the future for Aroldis Chapman lie: in the rotation, or in the bullpen?
The Reds perform like they are capable of, and they crush the Fielder-less Brewers and Pujols-less Cardinals en route to a division championship.
The Reds are in a dogfight all season, and end up in the same position they were in during 2011: third place.
This is a damn good Reds team, and they're going to be in the hunt for the playoffs all season. I think where they end up depends on a few things, mainly health. Whichever team is the healthiest among them, the Cardinals, and the Brewers is going to win the division.
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