Campy's Cincinnati Reds Page
A New Hope...
Eric Milton and the Revamped Reds look to make a splash in '05
(Article also available at Blue Chip Review)
March 1, 2005
By: Matt McGowan
Pre-season optimism is nothing new to Reds fans. Every year when Spring Training begins, most fans can easily focus on the positive rather than the negative, and most can easily give a hundred reasons why this team has a real chance to complete in the tough-as-nails National League Central division.
This season, however, they may have the best reason to be optimistic in a long, long time.
In an off-season of unprecedented wheeling and dealing for second-year General Manager Dan O'Brien, the Reds have addressed some of their most glaring weaknesses over the past few seasons, most notably in quality starting pitching, with the additions of left-handed starter Eric Milton and right-handed starter Ramon Ortiz. Milton comes off a 14-6 season with a 4.75 ERA in 34 starts for the Phillies, and was one of baseball's most highly targeted free-agent's during the off-season. The Reds were able to land him by offering a very uncharacteristic three-year, $25.5 million deal that seems to indicate that this organization is finally committed to doing what it takes financially to compete with the rest of the league.
Ortiz will make his debut in the National League after six solid seasons with the 2002 World Champion Anaheim Angels. After posting double-digit wins for three seasons in a row from 2001-2003, he was relegated to the bullpen after a slow start last season. The strength of the Angels' starting pitching was the only thing that prevented him from returning to the rotation, as he was solid in spot-starts down the stretch. The Reds are hoping that a full-time return as a starting pitcher this season will help him regain his pre-2004 form.
Milton and Ortiz will join returning ace Paul Wilson (11-6 with a 4.36 ERA in 2004) to form a 1-2-3 punch at the top of the Reds rotation unlike any this team has seen in years. Aaron Harang (10-9 with a 4.86 ERA in 2004), Luke Hudson (4-2 with a 2.42 ERA in 2004) and Brandon Claussen (2-8 with a 6.14 ERA in 2004) will be the likely contenders for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, with the odd man out being added to the bullpen.
Speaking of the bullpen, which hurt the team badly down the stretch last season, the Reds were able to shore it up as well by adding right-handed reliever David Weathers, left-handed reliever Kent Mercker and right-handed reliever Ben Weber to the mix for 2005. Mercker is a familiar face for Reds fans, having spent the 1997 season and much of 2003 with the organization. He is also one of those rare players who seems to get better with age, posting a 3-1 record with a 2.55 ERA in a career-high 71 appearances for the Chicago Cubs in 2004. He could be the left-handed ace in the hole the team has been looking for, and along with Weber and Weathers, will give the Reds depth and veteran leadership in an area where they sorely need both.
The organization was also able to address their two biggest holes on the field with the additions of third baseman Joe Randa and former All-Star shortstop Rich Aurilia. Acquired via free agency after spending most of his career with the Kansas City Royals, Randa provides the Reds with the solid defender they've been looking for at third base, while giving them a much-needed contact hitter in the everyday lineup. Aurilia, on the other hand, is coming off a disappointing 2004, but a hairline fracture in his hand severely limited him for most of last season. If he can return to the form that made him an All-Star with the San Francisco Giants, his addition might rival Milton's as the team's best move in an off-season full of many very good ones.
There are still many questions surrounding this team as they begin their 2005 campaign, most notably about the health of one Ken Griffey, Jr. and who will be the odd man out in a very talented outfield should he be able to stick around for the entire season. Wily Mo Pena, Adam Dunn, and Ryan Freel all made good cases for more playing time in 2004, and the return of Griffey and Austin Kearns to the lineup will only serve to further complicate matters. But I think if you were to ask Manager Dave Miley, he would much rather have this type of problem than the ones this team has dealt with over the past few years.
The clubhouse will also have to deal with the departure of long-time team captain Barry Larkin, who recently joined former Reds GM Jim Bowden in the front office of the Washington Nationals. In addition to being one of the organization's greatest players ever, Larkin's presence and leadership will be sorely missed by the team's veterans and young players alike. Fortunately, Sean Casey would appear to be more than ready to fill this role, as he has been an unquestioned leader in the clubhouse for several years, but Larkin's departure is sure to leave a hole that will be hard to completely fill.
Still, the 2005 season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting for Reds fans since Griffey came home from Seattle in 2000. Though the task is formidable, this is clearly a club that can compete this season and, dare I say, make a run at post-season glory. Here's looking forward to a great season....GO REDS!!!
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