Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80 (50 representing league average) with extra weight given to 2012 and Revenue rankings.
2012 Organizational Rankings
#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York NL
#19 – Los Angeles
#18 – Colorado
#17 – Miami
#16 — Arizona
Cincinnati’s 2011 Ranking: #9
2012 Outlook: 57 (t-9th)
Coming off a disappointing 79-83 finish, Walt Jocketty decided to bring in some reinforcements in order to make sure his team could regain their status as legitimate contenders in the National League. It cost him a good chunk of his farm system, but he was able to bring in two dynamic arms in Mat Latos and Sean Marshall, both of whom will be critical to the Reds success this year. The team ended up skimping on upgrades for position players, though, and settled on an unorthodox right-right platoon of Ryan Ludwick and Chris Heisey in left field, and are vulnerable to injuries – they don’t have any real in-house alternatives if a guy like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, or Jay Bruce get hurt. They exchanged depth for pitching improvements, which was a wise choice, but has also left them thin behind their core starters.
However, these are somewhat nitpicky flaws. The Reds are a good team, maybe the best team in the NL Central, and are poised to make a strong run at a division title. The exodus of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder from their division didn’t cripple their two main opponents, but it did open the door for the Reds to reclaim the title that they won just two years ago. The division is good enough that the team can’t just start printing playoff tickets now, but the Reds are a quality second-tier team that should won 85-90 games and could top out at 95 if they get a lot of unexpected quality performances. Given the moves they made this winter, anything less than contention would be considered a disappointment, but this isn’t a team I expect to disappoint. Look for the Reds to be in the race all year.
2013+ Outlook: 49 (17th)
This basically reflects the fact that Brandon Phillips (FA after 2012) and Joey Votto (FA after 2013) are only under team control for a short period of time, and having either walk away would be a significant loss for the franchise. The Reds have stated that they believe they’re making progress on extensions for both, and if they’re able to get either one signed long term, this rating would go up quite a bit. Votto especially. He’s the key to this franchise’s success, and they’re clearly attempting to maximize their chances of winning during his prime. They have enough young talent to contend going forward if he’s in the mix, but he makes everything else on the roster work.
The rest of the young core all come with some legitimate question marks. Jay Bruce looks like he could become a star, but he hasn’t really gotten any better since he got to the big leagues, and he needs to start making strides in the right direction. The team still doesn’t really know what they have in Drew Stubbs. Devin Mesoraco looks like he could become a top-tier catcher, but he’ll need to show more plate discipline than he did in his debut last year. And the rotation behind Latos is a full of question marks, even though each question mark comes with some upside – how far will Johnny Cueto regress? How good can Mike Leake be? Is Aroldis Chapman a starter or a reliever long term? Will Homer Bailey ever figure it out?
The farm system took a real hit with the off-season trades -and Marc Hulet rated them just 18th in the game this winter – and they’re graduating their top prospect to the big leagues, so there’s not a lot of obvious near-term help coming behind Mesoraco. There’s talent here, but it’s high-risk talent, and the pieces in place need to continue developing to supplement the productive guys already on hand.
Financial Resources: 44 (21st)
The Reds are a classic middle-market franchise, drawing enough fans and generating enough revenues from their new ballpark to sustain just high enough payrolls, but they’ll never be a financial juggernaut in the sport. The market just isn’t large enough for the Reds to explore having their own network, and they are reportedly only receiving $10 million per year in revenues from their current television contract. However, that deal is set to expire in 2016, and the current rate adjustments in that business look like they should trickle down across the board, so the Reds should see a nice bump in money from their TV deal in four or five years.
In the near term, however, this is a team that’s going to have to get by with $80-$90 million payrolls. Winning a World Series might excite the fan base enough to push that over $100 million, but Cincinnati is just not a large metropolitan area, and the rust belt has been hit harder by the economic slowdown of the past few years than many coastal cities. The Reds aren’t in bad financial shape, but their revenue potential is limited, and this will always be a franchise that needs to be efficient with their spending in order to compete.
Baseball Operations: 47 (t-19th)
Walt Jocketty has a strong record of acquiring undervalued big leaguers and building a winning team through shrewd veteran pickups, but his reliance on older players also comes with a downside – trusting guys like Bronson Arroyo with shiny new contracts, for instance. That said, he has more hits than misses in his ledger, and for a guy who has been doing this for so long, that’s a pretty rare occurrence.
Somewhat like the Braves, the Reds are more old-school than most front offices, and haven’t brought in a legion of Harvard kids, but they’re not ignorant of how to build a winning baseball team. There are some chinks in the analytical armor, but they generally value players properly, and understand which guys to target for upgrades. They make mistakes too, but Reds fans should feel comfortable with Walt Jocketty and his staff at the helm. They’re not going to lead you into a ditch, and they might just make enough savvy moves to get the team to a World Series.
Overall: 50 (15th)
The Reds are legitimate contenders in 2012 that have some long term question marks, especially surrounding whether or not they’ll be able to keep their franchise first baseman in the fold. If they re-sign Votto, you’d probably move them up a couple of notches, but their limited financial upside and mediocre farm system probably still make them more of a good franchise than a great one. Their window is win is now, though, and a deep playoff run could unlock future revenues that could be reinvested into the franchise, so it’s not entirely a what-you-see-is-what-you-get situation.
Overall, there are definitely worse spots to be than Cincinnati right now. They’re going to put a good team on the field this year, and if they can figure out how to keep Votto in town, they could be perennial contenders for the remainder of his prime. With Theo Epstein and the Cubs looming as formidable contender down the road, the Reds need to take advantage of this opportunity, and they certainly seem to be intent on trying to do just that.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.