Thursday, October 29, 2009

Goodbye Sarasota, Hello Lynchburg...

Baseball America via John Fay breaking the news that the Reds are close to moving their high-A team to Lynchburg, breaking the final ties with Sarasota.

Reds to Sell Sarasota Affiliate to Pirates

The Pirates are in the process of purchasing the Reds’ high Class A Sarasota affiliate and relocating it to their spring training complex in Bradenton for the 2010 season, a pair of sources confirmed on Wednesday. The Reds’ high A affiliate would play next year in Lynchburg, which has hosted the Pirates since 1995.

Baseball America correspondent, and Cincinnati Enquirer Reds beat writer, John Fay first reported the deal on his Reds Insider blog.

The two organizations would essentially swap player-development contracts in 2010, a provision that is in the PBA and simply requires all four teams to approve the deal. Such an approval would essentially come down to Lynchburg, since the Reds own the Sarasota affiliate. (The Red Sox and Astros pulled off a similar swap in 1999. Boston swapped its low Class A Battle Creek affiliate for the Astros’ affiliate in Augusta.)

The Reds reasoning for the sale seems to be simple. They will debut their new spring training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., in 2010, and thus no longer have a need for a team in the Florida State League. Whether they seek to relocate out West to the California League after their affiliation with Lynchburg expires after next season remains to be seen.

It would seem that the Reds best opportunities in the Cal League would be in Bakersfield (Rangers) and High Desert (Mariners), a pair of clubs looking to relocate to new homes since their local municipalities have declined to upgrade aging ballparks. Lake Elsinore (Padres), Lancaster (Astros) and Stockton (Athletics) are each locked into PDCs through the 2012 season. The Giants have an ownership stake in San Jose and the Angels and Rancho Cucamonga are a geographical match and have been affiliated since 2001, negating any possibility of the Reds moving there. That leaves Inland Empire (Dodgers), Modesto (Rockies) and Visalia (Diamondbacks) with PDCs expiring after the 2010 season.

Completion of the Sarasota sale is pending approval of the Florida State League, Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball. Both the National Association and the FSL have received the necessary paperwork.

Both sources are confident that the Pirates’ McKechnie Field in Bradenton will be up to Minor League Baseball standards, essentially noting that if it is good enough for spring training it will likely meet PBA facility standards. In addition, the Pirates recently installed lights at the ballpark. However, part of the approval process is to provide MILB an opportunity to inspect the ballpark, one source said.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Quick Look Around the Winter Leagues

Time to take a quick spin around the winter leagues and check in on some of our prospects.

Danny Dorn

Grabbing the headlines today was Danny Dorn, who ripped 3 homeruns and drove in 6 runs for Caribes de Anzoategui of the Venezuelan Winter League. He now has a slash line of .293/.408/.610/1.018 with an 8/5 K/BB ratio. I still love Dorn's swing and his approach at the plate, but sadly he may never get a legitimate look at the MLB level with the Reds. It's unfortunate that he got off to such a slow start last year, as there was an opportunity for playing time in the Reds outfield. Professional sports careers are frequently determined by timing. For the superstars, timing really doesn't matter, as they'll push their way to the majors. They have the ability to make their own opportunity. However, for the fringe players or even the potential solid regulars, it often comes down to opportunity and timing. The window can close in a hurry and never open again. Over the course of MLB history, how many All Star caliber players have withered on the vine for want of an opportunity? I would imagine more than a few. Unfortunately, last season may have been both the opening and closing of Dorn's window into the Reds organization. Ultimately, I think he'll get a shot at the MLB level, but it will probably be with another organization.

Yonder Alonso

Yonder Alonso continues to struggle in the Arizona Fall League for the Peoria Saguaros. In 36 ABs, Yonder is hitting a paltry .222/.262/.389 and frankly it couldn't matter less. At this point, Yonder just needs more playing time to recover from the hamate bone injury and regain his timing and confidence. He's getting the swings he needs, which is what's truly important, regardless of what he does with them.

Chris Heisey

At the opposite end of the spectrum you have Chris Heisey, who simply continues to pound the ball. He's hitting a robust .396/.473/.771/1.244. He's certainly turning heads and earning more and more respect, but you have to wonder if that's a good thing. Heisey has thrived on proving people wrong and maybe he needs the extra motivation that a chip-on-the-shoulder provides. His constant need to push back against the weight of low expectations has elevated him above Danny Dorn and others.

Juan Francisco

Juan Francisco hasn't carried over his 2009 level of performance into the winter leagues. He is currently scuffling along at .185/.290/.296/.587, so maybe he's tired after a long season. He actually has 4 walks on the season, but the small sample eliminates any importance that might be placed on that walk rate. I still remain deeply concerned about his approach at the plate and his strikeout rate. Still, he's the type of player the Dusty covets, so he will likely play a significant role in Cincy in 2010.

Mike Leake

Finally, on to the newbies in the organization. Mike Leake is pitching for Peoria Saguaros in his professional debut. So far, his performance has been uneven, but traditionally the Arizona Fall League tilts heavily in favor of hitters. In 3 starts, Leake has worked 8.2 innings with a 1.04 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, and a 6/2 K/BB rate. The ERA is strong, but not supported by his peripherals. He has given up 13 hits in only 8.2 innings and his K/9 rate of 6.3 leaves a bit to be desired. Again, small sample size and a tough environment, so no conclusions to be drawn until 2010.

Brad Boxberger

Brad Boxberger has worked 6.0 innings for the Saguaros in 3 two inning relief appearances. In his 6.0 innings, Boxberger has a 7/1 K/BB ratio and a 1.75 GB/FB, but a 6.00 ERA. His peripherals are stronger than Leake and his performance so far has been encouraging.

Overall, some interesting and encouraging performances around the Winter Leagues. No definitive conclusions to be drawn, but perhaps a bit of additional support for those already drawn.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Best Free Agent Options for 2010

The World Series is around the corner and not long after that the Hot Stove fires up and free agency begins. Of course, Reds fans will likely have to once again live vicariously through fans of high revenue clubs, but we can still pick through the bargain bin in hopes of finding good value.

In that spirit, here's a quick look at a few players who might be of use to the club and who might actually consider hanging their hat in the Queen City. First, we need to identify both the areas of need and the constraints operating on the front office this offseason.

25 Man Roster Holes

First, the areas in obvious need of improvement. The following is set in stone:

1b Joey Votto
2b Brandon Phillips
3b Scott Rolen
cf Drew Stubbs
rf Jay Bruce

So, as to the every day position players, the Reds can likely only improve at catcher, shortstop, and leftfield. Even leftfield may be secure in the hands of Jonny Gomes, Chris Dickerson, and/or Chris Heisey.

As for the pitching staff, the rotation is pretty well set:

1) Aaron Harang
2) Bronson Arroyo
3) Johnny Cueto
4) Homer Bailey

In theory, they could use another starting pitcher, but not a top of the rotation starter unless they flip the contract of either Aaron Harang or Bronson Arroyo.

And, the bullpen is in pretty good shape with respect to high leverage innings:

CL) Francisco Cordero
SU) Art Rhodes
SU) Nick Masset

Front Office Constraints

Obviously, the Reds have some constraints. There is still some uncertainty about how much of Scott Rolen's salary the Reds must pay in 2010, but it's likely to be substantial enough to prevent the Reds from being big players in the free agent market. I'd love to target the likes of Tim Hudson and Ben Sheets, but those guys are likely out of our price range.

As per usual, the small revenue teams are left to target the players with flaws. Flaws aren't such a bad thing, as they are what reduces the value of players to the point that small revenue clubs can afford them. The trick is to pick the flaws that best fit the organization.

Justin Duchscherer

Duchscherer is an intriguing pitcher. He spent several years dominating in the Oakland bullpen before being shifted into the starting rotation for the 2008 season. I was skeptical about his ability to succeed in the rotation, but he thrived.

The Duke doesn't throw hard, but he features a varied five pitch arsenal including a fastball, cutter, slider, curveball, and change-up. His fastball velocity is below average, but his curveball is a definite plus pitch and his command/control allow his stuff to play up a notch.

In 2008, his 2.79 BB/9 and 6.04 K/9 rates helped him post a 2.54 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Of course, he also benefited from a stellar Oakland defense and a pitcher friendly ballpark, but he's a solid pitcher who understand how to succeed with less than elite stuff.

The Duke's form of risk comes in injury and depression, with the latter seemingly a larger concern than the former. He missed the first half of 2009 recovering from an arm injury, but opted to shut it down in the second half due to problems with depression. He wanted to focus on treating his depression rather than come back to pitch for a month or two. At this point, he should be 100% healthy from a physical standpoint to start 2010, but depression isn't likely to be as easy to "cure." Even so, he strikes me as being a good risk, good reward type player. In this case, the A's surplus of young pitching talent makes Duchscherer expendable and the A's loss could be the Reds gain.

Jason Varitek

As much as I liked what I saw out of Ryan Hanigan, I am just not willing to buy into him as a full-time starter as of yet.

Despite his age driven decline, 'Tek is still the most widely respected catcher in the game. In addition to adding leadership to roster, Varitek could also add solid production and good game calling skills to a team that would benefit from both. He could be a calming influence on the young pitchers and boost the level of respect the Reds are accorded around the league.

Varitek finished out the 2009 season with a line of .209/.313/.390/.703, but he hit .236/.345/.453 in the first four months before the arrival of Victor Martinez cut into his playing time. Also cutting in his favor is the fact that he currently resides in baseball's toughest division and would get the usual bump from coming to Great American Ballpark.

The risk with Varitek comes in the form of performance decline due to age and also throwing problems. Varitek doesn't nail basestealers at a very good clip these days, but that's far from the worst flaw a catcher can have. Add in the cannon arm of Ryan Hanigan and they could make a nice duo: the switch hitting veteran Jason Varitek and the younger righthanded hitting Hanigan.

The Red Sox are committed to Victor Martinez behind the dish for 2010, so Varitek may be looking for more playing time in another organization. That organization could be the Reds. He may not have much left in the tank, but it could be enough for one or two more solid seasons, especially with the help of Great American Ballpark.

Rocco Baldelli

Baldelli has always been an intriguing talent, but he continues to deal with mitochondrial myopathy. As he learns to manage his health effectively to allow him to contribute at the MLB level, he may be at the point where he is looking for a larger role than the Red Sox will afford him.

In 2009, Baldelli hit .255/.313/.453 with 7 homeruns. Respectable production in limited time and in a difficult home ballpark. Obviously, the OBP leaves something to be desired, but he could be an attractive player for a platoon situation with Chris Dickerson (as each may still need to prove worthy of a fulltime job) or a larger role if his condition allows for it. He would get a significant boost in production from GABP and could really put up solid numbers if his condition allows it.

He remains a risk, but he still has the intriguing upside and sweet righthanded swing that made him a first round draft pick.

Final Thoughts

At this point, the Reds are likely going to stand pat rather than pursue anyone in free agency, but there are a few players out there who might make sense and could make a difference. At the very least, the downturn in the economy should increase the number of bargains in the free agent market.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

2010 First Round Draft Order

The order for the first round:

1. Nationals (59-103) 17. Rays (84-78)
2. Pirates (62-99) 18. Mariners (85-77)
3. Orioles (64-98) 19. Tigers/Twins loser (86-77)
4. Royals (65-97) 20. Braves (86-76)
5. Indians (65-97) 21. Tigers/Twins winner (87-76)
6. Diamondbacks (70-92) 22. Rangers (87-75)
7. Mets (70-92) 23. Marlins (87-75)
8. Astros (74-88) 24. Giants (88-74)
9. Padres (75-87) 25. Cardinals (91-71)
10. Athletics (75-87) 26. Rockies (92-70)
11. Blue Jays (75-87) 27. Phillies (93-69)
12. Reds (78-84) 28. Dodgers (95-67)
13. White Sox (79-83) 29. Red Sox (95-67)
14. Brewers (80-82) 30. Angels (97-65)
15. Rangers (for failure to sign Matt Purke) 31. Rays (for failure to sign LeVon Washington)
16. Cubs (83-78) 32. Yankees (103-59)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

3 Up, 3 Down: Minor League Edition

Time to take a quick spin around the system to see who took the biggest steps forward and backward during the 2009 season.

3 Up...

1. Travis Wood

No one in the system had more helium this year than Travis Wood. He already had the best change-up in the system, but when he scrapped his curveball in favor of a cut-fastball his performance went to the next level. Even the word "dominant" doesn't seem to do justice to Wood's double-A performance. In 119 innings he posted an epically low 1.21 ERA. At triple-A, his performance wasn't quite as strong, but he still acquitted himself nicely.

While there has been talk of Wood challenging for a rotation spot right out of spring training, he would likely benefit from the Reds conservative development philosophy. Sending him back to triple-A to gain more experience against advanced hitters and ensuring that he can repeat his success is what is in the best interests of the organization.

Wood stepped up at the right time and provided another potential impact pitcher in a system in need of them. His emergence also alleviates some of the pain generated by the departure of Zach Stewart.

2009 was a make or break year for Wood and he made the most of the opportunity. He is definitely the biggest mover up the prospect ranks.

2. Chris Heisey

Heisey was the second biggest mover in the system in 2009. He exploded at double-A Carolina, posting a slash line of .347/.426/.572/.998 and slugging over .500 for the first time in his career. Heisey also posted the best K/BB ratio of his career at double-A, walking as many times as he struck out (34/34).

Heisey didn't fare as well as Wood upon his promotion to triple-A, as his performance fell off the table. His K/BB ratio fell to 43/14 and his slash line to .278/.323/.465/.789.

Prior to the 2009 season, I had Heisey pegged as a likely fourth outfielder type. He struck me more as a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type player whose age worked against him.

At this point, I'm not entirely sure what to make of him. Was it a true breakout season? Or was there just something in the water at double-A Carolina this year?

Despite Heisey's breakthrough season, part of me still pegs him as a 4th outfielder type. However, it's difficult to overlook his defensive ability, which may be his ticket to a starting job at the MLB level. If his glove were to relegate him to a corner slot, then his offensive game might not be enough to earn him consideration for a starting job.

It remains to be seen whether Heisey has a future as a starter or even in the Reds organization, but he certainly has redefined his prospect status heading into 2010.

3. Alexis Oliveras/Josh Ravin

No one else leaps easily to mind, so I'll go with two personal favorites in this slot. While neither was an unqualified success in 2009, both took steps forward.

Oliveras was coming off of two consecutive seasons in the Gulf Coast League and needed to show that he could handle more advanced competition. He hit a respectable .270/.326/.352/.678 for the Billings Mustangs and was subsequently promoted. The promotion was part of the chain of events that resulted from the promotion of Yorman Rodriguez. When the move was announced, I had my doubts that Oliveras was ready or actually earned it. Still, he quickly proved up to the task, hitting .307/.317/.443/.760 for low-A Dayton. The obvious question on Oliveras is whether he'll hit for enough power or develop enough on-base ability to become an impact prospect. The jury is still out.

As for Ravin, he finally took a step forward in 2009. In 81.0 innings for low-A Dayton, Ravin posted a stellar 3.67 ERA to go along with a 7.3 K/9 and a much improved 4.4 BB/9 mark. He was really having a fine season and showing marked improvement with his command and control when he was derailed by elbow soreness. It was a much needed positive step for Ravin who reestablished his prospect status, but one that could have been significantly better if he had managed to avoid injury. Still, he could be in line for a breakout 2010 season.

3 Down...

1. Chris Valaika

It was a disastrous season for Valaika in all respects. He has always been an aggressive, early count hitter, but his K/BB ratio fell to 76/16 and his slash line down to .235/.271/.344. He rebounded a bit in August, but his prospect status undoubtedly took a hit in 2009.

There is now a cloud of uncertainty hanging over his offensive game, which when added to his positional uncertainty makes 2010 a huge season for Valaika.

2. Neftali Soto

Soto experienced his first taste of adversity at the professional level in 2009. After consecutive impressive seasons in 2007 and 2008, Soto simply didn't produce at high-A Sarasota, posting a pedestrian slash line of .248/.281/.362/.643. His walk rate actually improved over his performance at Dayton. In addition, his line drive rate was a stellar 23%, which likely means his BABIP of .286 was too low and rather unlucky.

Personally, I don't view his struggles in 2009 as indicative of future performance. I see it as a young player facing more advancing pitching in a very tough environment for hitters. Soto still has the sweet swing, the impressive hand-eye coordination enabling him to make consistent hard contact and square up the ball, and the substantial raw power to be a big time hitting prospect.

I expect better things in 2010, even if the Reds send him right back to Sarasota.

3. Daryl Thompson

Thompson may have completely sunk his prospect status in 2009. After a strong 2008 in which he managed to reach the majors, Thompson struggled with performance and injury issues in 2009. Given his unorthodox, very funky mechanics and max effort pitching style, his injury problems shouldn't be a surprise.

Still, if he can't demonstrate greater durability, then he'll likely never receive much of an opportunity at the MLB level. He's still young enough to carve out an MLB career, but he needs to get back on track in 2010.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Jocketty on Pitching Coach...

John Fay had a discussion with Walt Jocketty about the pitching coach vacancy and here is what he had to say:

Walt Jocketty said there’s a chance the Reds could name a pitching coach before the postseason ends.

“To be honest, I’d like to have done before that,” he said. “But we haven’t finalized the list yet.”

My guess is the Reds wait until the St. Louis Cardinals are elimianted. Dave Duncan, the St. Louis pitching coach, is involved in the postseason. Duncan has expressed his unhappiness with his situation with the Cardinals. He and Jocketty worked together during Jocketty’s time in St. Louis.

The hiring process will pick up when the Reds brass meets in Goodyear next week.

“We’ve talk to a few people,” Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. “I’ll meet with Dusty (Baker) and the coaches next week.”

Ted Power, the pitching coach for Triple-A Louisville, has expressed his interest in the job. Special assistant Mario Soto has not.

“I haven’t talked to Mario,” Jocketty said. “I’ll see him in Arizona.”

Jocketty said the list of candidates will be in the four-to-five range.

The buzz was and continues to be that Jocketty is going to bring in his former employee Dave Duncan. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. I can certainly see the appeal of Duncan, but I also wonder if he's a good fit for our young pitchers.

To me, the obvious bedrock of the Dave Duncan pitching philosophy is the groundball. In his time in St. Louis, Duncan has really emphasized the 2-seam fastball and working down in the zone. For example, he has had good success with Joel Piniero this season, because he has turned him into "heavy groundball, no walk" style pitcher. Obviously, getting anything of value out of Joel Piniero is impressive, but there is one disturbing incident that could be a red flag for the Reds.

During his time with the Cardinals, Duncan continually locked horns with young pitcher Anthony Reyes. Duncan wanted him to become a groundball style pitcher, while Reyes preferred to stick to the 4-seamer and working up in the zone, which is the style that brought him so much success in the minors. Ultimately, Reyes needed a change of scenery to get a legitimate shot in the starting rotation at the MLB level.

This incident is of note because the Reds don't have a single starting pitcher who gets more groundballs than flyballs. Not one. Not Bailey, Cueto, Harang, Arroyo, or Edinson. Obviously, Great American Ballpark is ideally suited for ground ball pitching, but I have to wonder if Duncan would try to transform our young pitchers into something they aren't.

If Duncan is willing to work with what he has to maximize their performance, then we would be fine. If, however, he tries to force ground ball tendencies on young pitchers who don't utilize that approach, then it could be problematic. Whoever will be hired will have to adapt to the talent on the roster, not force the talent to adapt to him.

Ultimately, Dave Duncan has the talent and wisdom to make it work wherever he goes, but I just hope he would be willing to be flexible with his ground ball philosophy until he has pitchers who can actually implement and execute that approach.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Big Ben, Leo, and Organizational Intelligence

One of the comments on my last post got me thinking more about the Reds pitching coach vacancy and why Leo Mazzone is truly the best option.

The Herd, Tony, and Big Ben

I was listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio and he made an interesting comparison between Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger. This will likely be the only time football gets a mention on this blog, but the underlying concept is intriguing and would seem to have parallels to baseball.

If you have any exposure to ESPN or sports talk radio, you know that Tony Romo is constantly raked over the coals, while Big Ben is continually lionized. However, Cowherd posited that if you were to switch the two quarterbacks, then their respective levels of success would switch as well, and not because of the different personnel. He suggested that the differing levels of success experienced by Romo and Roethlisberger were the result of organizational structure.

The Cowboys are an undisciplined, flamboyant, star oriented organization, while the Steelers are very structured, disciplined, and team oriented. In the Cowboy system, Romo feels the need to do it all by himself when the game is on the line, whereas the Steelers have established a team-first style that doesn't require Big Ben to try to do too much. The respective organizational structures enable one quarterback to excel, while causing the other to fail.

Baseball Implications and Leo Mazzone

To a certain extent, I think this is true in baseball as well. If you look at the best organizations, then you notice that everything just seems easier for them. The players they draft tend to be good values. The players they develop tend to develop faster and fit easily into the MLB lineup. The free agents they acquire tend to fill defined roles that put them in a position to succeed. Everything just works.

The reason why it "just works" for the best organizations is that they have consistently put talented people into management and coaching positions. They have had such elite talent in these positions for so long that they begin to change the culture of the organization. The players begin to buy into the program, which only serves to reinforce it in the clubhouse and with the newly acquired players. The talented coaches and front offices personnel imprint the organization with their knowledge and ability. Over the years, the impression on the organization gets deeper and deeper as their influence gets greater and greater. The impression gets so deep that it begins to channel talent much more efficiently to the Major League level, which is a significant advantage over other organizations. The value of efficiency in the organization cannot be overstated.

The structure of the organization is a key to any kind of long-term success. Once the structure is in place it creates a kind of organizational intelligence. At that point, you could even remove an individual component and the structure would still be intact, at least for a few years. There is inertia to the organizational quality that would take significant time to alter.

In short, everything just seems to be ~10% easier for these organizations, because they have built up this structure and organizational intelligence. It gets to the point where it becomes less about the particular players, because so many players work within the structure. It becomes easier to acquire talent and part ways with that talent when it is advantageous to do so. For teams that struggle to overcome a faulty organizational structure in acquiring talent, it is more difficult to part ways with that talent. In fact, they may hang onto that talent for too long because they fear they will struggle to replace it.

Imprinting the organization with an intelligent, effective structure is key. In essence, it's the difference between swimming with the current and swimming against it. The Reds have a chance to hire a mere pitching coach or a Hall of Fame caliber talent who can define the pitching philosophy for the entire organization. Hiring a coach like Leo Mazzone would help create a bit of organizational structure that has been lacking in Cincinnati for quite some time.

If the Reds are serious about building a winning organization, then they'll start getting serious about the people they are placing in the coaching and management positions. In professional sports organizations, success truly flows from the top down. For the Reds, a nice place to start would be hiring Leo Mazzone, which would not only begin the process of establishing an organizational structure, but also signal to all of baseball that the Reds are serious about becoming an elite, first class organization.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Opportunity Knocks: New Pitching Coach on the Horizon

John Fay breaks some interesting news today: the Reds are parting ways with pitching coach Dick Pole.

The Reds renewed the contracts of every coach except pitching coach Dick Pole. The Reds will look at internal candidates. My guess is Ted Power and Mario Soto will be interviewed.

There’s also a chance that St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan will become available. That would be an interesting first meeting with Bronson Arroyo. Duncan was recently quoted about how much more input he had when Walt Jocketty was GM in St. Louis.

Pole left the park after being told of the decision by Dusty Baker.

Third base coach Mark Berry, first base coach Billy Hatcher, hitting coach Brook Jacoby, bullpen coach Juan Lopez, bench coach Chris Speier and bullpen catcher Mike Stefanski will return in their same roles.

Jocketty on the firing:

“I think it was just as an organization we felt Dick has done a good job to this point. But we felt going forward things needed to change. There’s no real specific reason.

“We don’t have a clear candidate. We’ll formulate the list. Find the guy that will be with this organization for a long time. We’ve got some good young pitchers coming along. We wanted to make sure we find the right guy to develop them.

“We’ll look at some guys internally. We’ve got a couple guys in mind.”

“It’s tough going into the last day.”

Baker on the firing:

“I told Dick when I got here today. Naturally, he was hurt. It was very difficult for me to tell him because you know how close me and him are. I’d be the one to tell him. Like Walt said it was a tough decision, an organizational decision. Don’t want to get into specifics. I don’t think that would serve any point.”

“It’s not fair to anybody to air anything publicly.”

Dusty and Dick

The first thing that strikes me about this article is the role of Dusty Baker. It's interesting to note that this move was made against Dusty's will. There have been questions about just how much influence Dusty wields in the organization. The questions were inevitable given the fact that Paul Bako, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Corey Patterson were all acquired during Dusty's tenure. Such acquisitions almost certainly bore the fingerprints of one Dusty Baker, who said he liked to have "options."

More recently, there was the acquisition of Willy Taveras. It's unclear where the responsibility for that particular acquisition should lie, but at the very least it has the feel of Dusty to it.

At the very least, it seems likely that Dusty and Walt Jocketty worked in lock step. Dusty had some measure of influence on the front office.

However, it's obvious from his quotes that Dusty was opposed to replacing his friend Dick Pole. Of Dusty's many personality traits, his unfailing loyalty to "his guys" may be the defining characteristic.

Dusty's loyalty hasn't changed, but his pull with the front office may have. That certainly wouldn't be a bad thing for Reds fans.

Now What?

Now that the Reds have parted ways with Dick Pole, who will be the replacement?

This is an opportunity for the Reds to make some serious noise. To really make a splash and regain some relevance in the baseball world. If they make the right choice, the Reds could really "move the needle." Over the last decade or two, the Reds have slipped into irrelevance. They are largely dismissed by the mainstream media and the baseball community at large. The only time the Reds have "moved the needle" in recent memory was the acquisition of Josh Hamilton. This is another opportunity to "move the needle," though admittedly on a smaller scale.

There are two elite options potentially available to fill the position. The Reds could turn to Hall of Fame pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who stands shoulder to shoulder with mentor Johnny Sain as the best pitching coach in history. Odd as it seems, Mazzone has expressed interest in returning to the game, but hasn't found much interest in his services. Still, what better way for the Reds to foster its homegrown pitching talent than to bring in The Pope of Pitching?

Mazzone combines the talent and the publicity that the Reds should covet. He would improve the performance of the Reds pitchers and give the entire organization a big dose of credibility. He should be at the very top of the list...scratch that....he should BE the list..... and would have more impact than any potential free agent.

The other possible option floating around is current St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. Duncan has expressed dissatisfaction with the Cardinals organization and has a long history with Walt Jocketty. Duncan has worked miracles for the Cardinals and his philosophy of emphasizing the sinker would play well in Great American Ballpark.

The best in-house option appears to be Ted Power. He's done a nice job with the young pitchers on the farm, but he may be more valuable shaping young prospects than fine tuning established pitchers at the MLB level.

Final Thoughts

The Reds have a real opportunity to improve the team, but they have to choose wisely. Picking the right pitching coach could both help get Aaron Harang back on track and the pitching prospects take a step forward. Adding the right pitching coach to the addition of Scott Rolen could significantly improve the Reds run prevention in 2010.

Personally, I think it's absurd that they aren't calling up Leo Mazzone and offering him a blank check to come to Cincinnati. Sadly, it's probably a real long-shot at this point, but it's also a no-brainer. He could really alter the fortunes of the organization like no other manager/coach in all of baseball. Leo certainly has my vote...which, of course, means it won't happen.