Pressing Question #2: How can the Reds extract maximum value from Scott Rolen and the hot corner?
Dusty Baker must be reading my mind, because today he came out with his plan to get 120 games from Scott Rolen. On first glance, that doesn't seem like much in light of Rolen's stature, but it's probably a fairly realistic goal.
Rolen played in 112 games in 2007, 115 games in 2008, 128 games in 2009, and 133 games in 2010. So, the past two years, he has played in more than 120 games, but he consistently wears down and declines in the second half. Over the past three seasons, he has a .293 batting average with a .850 OPS in the first half, but a .272 batting average and .774 OPS in the second half.
A more limited and better managed workload might enable Rolen to better maintain his performance level over an entire season. Rolen carried the team at times last year and was a key reason for the team's success. However, he'll be 36 this year and relying on him to carry the team is likely a losing strategy, as Rolen will have to fight off Father Time and the injury bug to repeat his success in 2010.
This offseason, I wanted the Reds to find a legitimate cleanup hitter to bump Rolen down to the 6th spot in the order. Such a move would have enabled us to not rely so heavily on Rolen, instead using him in a more complimentary role. Unfortunately, budgetary constraints prevented them from bringing in a cleanup hitter, so Rolen will again be leaned on to produce.
In 2010, Rolen was a 5.0 win player for the Reds, his best mark since his 2006 season with the Cardinals. But, given his age, a repeat performance might not be in the cards. As a result, it will be very important to get quality production from the other 42 games at third base. Who will step up to fill that roll?
It will likely be some unholy combination of Juan Francisco, Miguel Cairo, and Edgar Renteria. In the best case scenario, Juan Francisco justifies the organization's faith in him and becomes an impact hitter at the hot corner. If not, then the organization will be left with two players who join Rolen on the down slope of their careers. The organization's faith in and handling of Francisco has arguably prevented Todd Frazier from being a legitimate option at the hot corner, as he has been used in more of a utility role because Francisco has blocked him at third. So, the team does have quite a bit invested in Francisco. If Rolen back slides and Francisco fails to step up, then the hot corner could be a problem for the Reds in 2011.
Ultimately, the type of production the Reds get out of the hot corner will be a determining factor in the team's performance in 2011.