Some years ago, I read Roger Kahn's “Good Enough To Dream” - a book he wrote about his year as the owner of the minor league Utica Blue Sox. Near the beginning of the book, there is a passage where Kahn, unfamiliar with the level of talent at Class A ball, asks his female GM, “How good are these guys, anyway?” According to the book, the woman stood on her high heels in the infield, thought about it for a moment, and then delivered the answer that became the title of the book.
As the start of spring training approaches, I've asked myself the same question about this year's Reds. Now, admittedly, I've probably been a Reds fan far too long to remain completely objective about them. Then again, I'm a Reds fan, not a beat reporter, so I don't have to be objective.
Thus it is that I come to the title of this diary. How good are these guys who will make up the 2007 Reds?
Good enough to dream.
It all begins with pitching. We have Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo at the front end of the rotation, two guys who were among the NL's best last year. Now suppose Eric Milton turns in a performance as the #3 guy that's worthy of the money he's making, and Kyle Lohse shows up for this season with a chip on his shoulder, anxious to show the Twins they goofed. Now let's suppose Kirk Saarloos turns in a creditable enough job as the fifth starter to hold the fort until mid-season when Homer Bailey is ready to make his mark as a major leaguer. All of a sudden the Reds have a pretty doggone decent rotation, don't they?
Then there's the bullpen. Krivsky's assembled a lot of talent and potential talent out there. Lots of up-and-coming younger guys like Bray, Coffey, Shackelford, and Majewski. Maybe Guardado comes back and has an impact as the closer sometime in July, or maybe they get Dustin Hermanson and he has a year like he did with Chicago in 2005…or maybe Bray or Coffey emerges as the next Bobby Jenks. Or maybe Bailey wins the #5 slot in ST and Saarloos steps up to show us why he was one of the best closers in college baseball as a sophomore and junior at Cal State/Fullerton. With proven veterans Stanton and Weathers to set him up, all of a sudden the Reds have a pretty formidable bullpen to back up that starting rotation I just talked about.
Behind the plate, forget who's sitting on the bench behind him, David Ross put up some numbers last year that, if projected over a full season's worth of at-bats, literally works out to what we haven't seen from a Cincinnati catcher since Johnny Bench was in his prime.
I think Scott Hatteberg and Jeff Conine could easily work out as well as a first-base platoon as Hatteberg and Rich Aurilia did last year. Phillips and Gonzalez are set in the middle of the infield. Edwin Encarnacion at third - mark my words, one of these years EE is going to have a MONSTER season…might even happen this year.
In the outfield we have Adam Dunn, and you can probably pencil him in for the usual 40HR/100RBI/100BB/100R or so that he's usually good for. Then we have Griffey. The law of averages says he's way overdue to stay healthy for a full year, or at least most of it, and if he does, he's shown he's still capable of putting up some pretty big power numbers too. We know what Freel can do for a team too. Now if someone from among the remaining bunch steps up and has a career year as the fourth outfielder - be it Denorfia. Crosby, Hopper, or even Josh Hamilton - that ices the cake.
So, I'm starting to get excited about this season aleady. Admittedly, a lot has to go right for the Reds to rise to the top of the NL heap, but then, that's the case for any team in either league. It's a crapshoot, you put the pieces in place, and you hope it all comes together. You don't get to pick the year it happens, but it could happen at any time, and that includes 2007. You never know. Maybe this is the year.
Few will be picking the Reds to make it to the World Series. But then, going into spring training last year, who picked the Tigers to come out on top in the AL?
Get out your rabbit's feet, horseshoes, four-leaf clovers, and whatever other good luck symbols you have laying around. The annual ride that is major league baseball is about to begin.