Oh Dusty Baker, how I loath thee. The new Cincinnati Reds manager spoke up this week on his intentions to find a new center fielder and with each word I cringed a little bit more.
Dusty was quoted in the Cincinnati Enquirer as saying that he talked with both Kenny Lofton and Corey Patterson about hitting leadoff for the Reds. But wait Dusty, where does that leave uber prospect Jay Bruce? Bruce, part of the heralded 2005 draft class, is considered by many to be the top prospect in all of baseball. With the way he has been mashing the ball, how could you not give him the upper hand in spring training? I understand the need for a lead off hitter who can get on base and steal bases, but my major problem with this is the fact that it eats away at playing time for Bruce. Norris Hopper had a decent year last year but signing another center fielder would all but seal the deal in keeping Bruce in the Minors for another year. And with the track record of Dusty Baker, I don’t think that is such a good idea.
The Reds are poised to have a pretty solid team in the coming years with the emergence of young players such as Brandon Phillips and Homer Bailey (if he pans out) and a farm system full of talent: Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto. The problem I see is with what Dusty does best, which is to wear out the arms of all of his talented pitchers and that doesn’t bode well for the Reds future (note what he did with Mark Prior in 2003 which saw almost a 100 innings jump from the previous year). Homer Bailey will probably be thrown out there for 190+ innings this year and potentially be fried for the next few years, thus lessening the depth of the Reds pitching staff and ruining their rebuilding plans. I look to this year for the Reds as a “now or never” type year much like Dusty’s first year with the Cubs in 2003 in which he finished first in the N.L. Central, only to finish 3rd, 4th and 6th (see the table below from baseball-reference.com) in the following years after he had worn the pitching staff down to nothing.
Year League Team Age G W L WP Finish +----+-----------+--------+---+-----+----+----+------+------+ 2003 NL Cent ChicagoC 54 162 88 74 .543 1 2004 NL Cent ChicagoC 55 162 89 73 .549 3 2005 NL Cent ChicagoC 56 162 79 83 .488 4 2006 NL Cent ChicagoC 57 162 66 96 .407 6
My thought is, if this is an “now or never” type year (with Dusty Baker at the helm), why not fill the opening day roster with young talent and let them mash their way to the N.L. Central title this year (a very winnable division this year), because they will be on a constant downhill slide in years to come.
A Quick Glance at Jay Bruce’s Stats: