The Reds are one of the teams that was really hard to slot on this list. On one hand, I like a lot of the young players in the Reds system. There’s a solid core of home grown players to build around, including a couple of All-Stars in Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. The outfield is as deep as it is talented, and the infield is home to the team’s best current players. There are a lot of things going right in Cincinnati.
However, there are timing issues involved that offer some challenges. The young talent may not quite be ready to overtake the Cardinals in 2010, and by the time they develop, it’s a question about whether some of the veterans will still be effective. Scott Rolen turns 35 in a couple of weeks, and his back is about twice that age. Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo both have pricey team options for 2011 that will likely be declined, and Brandon Phillips becomes expensive after the 2010 season.
Will those four still be on the team when Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Aroldis Chapman, and company start to fulfill their potential? Maybe, maybe not. As much as I like the Reds core, I don’t think they’re quite ready to overtake St. Louis for the NL Central yet. They could pull off an upset, but they’re certainly not favorites to end up in the playoffs in 2010.
So, their best days probably lay ahead of them. But Walt Jocketty will have to make some good moves to replace the current crop of veterans with a group of role players that is at least as effective, if not more so. And he’ll have to do it with limited payroll flexibility, as a good chunk of the money they’ll save by ditching Harang and Arroyo will have to be reallocated towards buying out the arb years of Bruce and Votto.
If the Reds can balance their chances of winning in 2010 with the dual goal of finding new pieces to put around their core for 2011 and beyond, they’ll be in great position going forward. But that is easier said than done, and with the Reds fan base itching for a winner, the team will likely have to make some tough decisions this summer. How well Jocketty handles the transition will determine whether this Reds team will win with this core or if they’ll have to wait for a few more pieces to put them over the top.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.