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4 Cincinnati Reds

April 04, 2005
April 04, 2005

Table of Contents
April 4, 2005

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4 Cincinnati Reds

They might not play like a winner, but at least now they're spending like one

One by one they called. The first to phone free agent Eric Milton was Reds manager Dave Miley. Then it was first baseman Sean Casey. Next was closer Danny Graves, followed by starter Paul Wilson. Then Miley again. "Relentless," Milton says of the team's off-season pursuit. "Someone was calling every day, telling me that I should go to Cincinnati. It was nice to feel that needed."

This is an article from the April 4, 2005 issue Original Layout

Milton, 29, is a lefthander who last year went to the All-Star Game and won 14 games for the Phillies but also had a pedestrian 4.75 ERA and surrendered a league-high 43 home runs. The Reds' brass, however, believes he can rescue a rotation that ranked 15th in the National League in ERA (5.19) and was last in both homers allowed (236) and strikeouts (992). As for the players, the club's willingness to spend money on free agents--including the three-year, $25.5 million investment in Milton--signifies something more: "The start of a new era for this franchise," says Casey, the longest-tenured Red (he's entering his eighth season in Cincinnati), who excitedly called teammates upon hearing that Milton had signed. "We're usually signing pinch hitters, but this off-season really showed a commitment by this team to put a championship-caliber club out there."

Indeed, for perennially penny-pinching Cincinnati, whose $46.6 million payroll ranked 24th in the majors last year, it was an atypical winter. Given the green light by CEO Carl Lindner, the Reds signed a half-dozen free agents in a 26-day spree that raised the team's projected payroll to nearly $64 million, the highest in franchise history. Besides Milton they re-signed Wilson, their most reliable starter last year, to a two-year, $8.2 million deal; bolstered a tattered bullpen (the relievers' 5.19 ERA ranked 15th in the league) with the signings of lefties David Weathers (one year, $1.35 million) and Kent Mercker (two years, $2.6 million); and added third baseman Joe Randa (one year, $2.15 million), the kind of contact hitter the free-swinging lineup needs after leading the majors in strikeouts the last two seasons. Says general manager Dan O'Brien, "We outlined a list of off-season goals, and we were able to achieve each of them."

Milton, the last of the signees, took note. "I'm not sure I would have come here if they hadn't added those guys," says Milton, who was also courted by the Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees. As he moves from one homer haven (Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park) to another (Great American Ballpark), Milton says he's not concerned about his propensity to give up the long ball or that he allowed the most fly outs in the league (282), in part because he's been working on a sinker to induce more ground balls.

"We've had a lot of young pitchers come in and out of here, and with [Milton] you have a proven, experienced arm that we know we can count on," says Casey. "That is a true rarity on this team."

The starters expect to get more run support--last year the offense ranked 10th in the NL in scoring--with the reemergence of rightfielder Austin Kearns, who broke in to the majors in 2002 by hitting .315 with 13 homers in 372 at bats but hasn't played a full season since. An errant pitch broke his forearm last April, and though he returned in May, thumb surgery kept him sidelined for most of the next three months. "People have forgotten what kind of player he can be," says O'Brien. "He's a special player when he's healthy, and we need him in the lineup."

The same can be said of centerfielder Ken Griffey Jr., who last year was showing flashes of his old self until he tore his right hamstring in August and, for the third straight year, missed the last two months of the season. Still recovering, Griffey has been held out of spring training games but is expected to be ready for Opening Day.

This is an offense that isn't used to playing with a full deck: Last season's projected Opening Day lineup took the field for only one game, and 13 players combined for 17 stints on the disabled list. "After all our injuries, particularly in the outfield, I think we're due for a little good luck," O'Brien says. That would be a start, but it'll still take more than luck for these Reds to make the leap from small-market bottom-feeder to playoff contender. --A.C.

In Fact

Last year Adam Dunn became the first player in National League history to drive in 100 runs without hitting a sacrifice fly.

Enemy Lines

an opposing team's scout sizes up the Reds

"THIS CLUB is boom or bust. They're going to hit a lot of home runs, and they're going to strike out a lot.... Their strength is their power in the outfield: Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Austin Kearns, who's potentially the best all-around player of the bunch. He just hasn't been able to show it because he's been injured every year.... Wily Mo Peña has the best power of all of them, but he's still a work in progress. He's a guy other teams would be interested in trading for, but the Reds can't deal him because of the injury problems of Griffey and Kearns.... They signed Rich Aurilia even though his best years are behind him. He's thinner than he has been in the past. His range is suspect. Joe Randa is very good defensively and has been a clutch hitter.... Paul Wilson is considered their ace. He has a pretty good changeup and a pretty good fastball, and he knows how to pitch. But he's not an ace.... Danny Graves is a proven closer, but the rest of the bullpen is full of holes. Free-agent pickup Ben Weber has been awful this spring. His velocity is down about eight mph."

The Lineup

projected roster with 2004 statistics

Batting Order

2B Jimenez

3B Randa

1B Casey

CF Griffey

RF Kearns

LF Dunn

C LaRue

SS Aurilia

KEN GRIFFEY JR.

B-T L

PVR 90

BA .253

HR 20

RBI 60

SB 1

ADAM DUNN

B-T L-R

PVR 21

BA .266

HR 46

RBI 102

SB 6

AUSTIN KEARNS

B-T R

PVR 81

BA .230

HR 9

RBI 32

SB 2

RICH AURILIA [New acquisition]

B-T R

PVR 271

BA .246

HR 6

RBI 44

SB1

D'ANGELO JIMENEZ

B-T S-R

PVR 223

BA .270

HR 12

RBI 67

SB 13

JOE RANDA [New acquisition]

B-T R

PVR 257

BA .287

HR 8

RBI 56

SB 0

SEAN CASEY

B-T L-R

PVR 61

BA .324

HR 24

RBI 99

SB 2

JASON LARUE

B-T R

PVR 200

BA .251

HR 14

RBI 55

SB 0

BENCH

WILY MO PEñA

B-T R

PVR 156

BA .259

HR 26

RBI 66

SB 5

RYAN FREEL

B-T R

PVR 210

BA .277

HR 3

RBI 28

SB 37

FELIPE LOPEZ

B-T S-R

PVR 281

BA .242

HR 7

RBI 31

SB 1

2004 RECORD

76--86

fourth in NL Central

MANAGER

Dave Miley

second season with Cincinnati

ROTATION

View this article in the original magazine

241

3

1

0

1.25

2.55

New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings pitched per start WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

COLOR PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMONMOST WANTED Milton had interest from three 2004 playoff teams, but the Reds' attentiveness won him over.COLOR PHOTOCHRIS BERNACCHI/SPORTSPICSDunn