I received several emails on Wednesday asking my opinion about the hiring of Walt Jocketty as the new general manager of the Cincinnati Reds and what it might mean for several promising Reds youngsters currently at Triple-A. More on the latter later in this article.
Jocketty (right), the Reds’ fourth general manager in the last six years, had been hired as a special consultant to owner Bob Castellini in January. It was less than 90 days after he was deposed after 13 years and seven playoff seasons while sitting in the GM chair of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Fired Cincy general manager Wayne Krivsky had been brought in amid fanfare prior to the 2006 season, but his clubs went just 161-184 (.467), continuing the Reds' losing ways. It was Krivsky’s first GM job, having previously assisted long-timer Terry Ryan in Minnesota.
The timing of the moves seems odd, just 21 games into the season, even with the Reds at 9-12. Why didn’t Castellini, a former member of the Cardinals ownership group, swing the axe in January instead of letting the executioner stand behind Krivsky for going on four months?
Despite relying on several aging veterans on offense such as first baseman Scott Hatteberg, the Reds problem is generally not considered to be scoring runs. Instead, the challenge is in preventing them.
The addition of closer Francisco Cordero this season was a positive step, but continuing to rely on retreads such as Josh Fogg keeps the rotation down. This season to date, the Reds starters’ ERAs rank 13th in the National League, down from 11th in 2007.
The cozy dimensions of Great American Ball Park requires assembling the right combination of ground ball-oriented staffers, one task awaiting Jocketty as he looks to remold the Reds into his desired image. Last season, the Cincy pitchers were dead last in the NL in home ERA at 4.93, with only three other clubs within a half run per game.
Excatly what that image will be remains an open question just a few hours into his tenure. Will Jocketty (and Castellini) have the patience to allow the Reds’ promising youngsters to mature or will they turn some quick deals in an attempt to make the club more competitive in 2008?
A significant part of Jocketty’s Cardinals success was based on trades of prospects for veterans. Whether that M.O. will continue in the Queen City remains to be seen, but he could be tempted.
There is a considerable segment of the Cardinal Nation that would like to see Jocketty take Mark Mulder off their hands in a similar manner to how he engineered the deal to acquire the pitcher from Oakland in December, 2004 (for current major leaguers Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton).
What happens next and how quickly it occurs depends on whether it is believed the Reds have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 1995 and only the third since the heyday decade of the 1970’s. Or it may be thought that the 2008 club is at least capable of putting together Cincy’s first winning season since Jack McKeon’s 2000 club.
The cupboards are far from bare. High profile first baseman Joey Votto has been sharing time with Hatteberg this season and rookie starting pitcher Johnny Cueto has debuted strongly, as did recent trade acquisition Edinson Volquez.
Yet, two top prospects did not make the club this spring. Outfielder Jay Bruce is still highly thought of, despite the Reds bringing in other clubs’ outfield rejects such as Corey Patterson and Jerry Hairston, Jr. ahead of him. One could consider the same with pitcher Homer Bailey compared to the likes of Fogg, lugging around a 12.48 ERA at this point in the season.
Will the kids get a shot in Cincinnati under the Jocketty regime or be moved for other parts?
A related and most intriguing question is the influence level going forward of new Cincy manager Dusty Baker (right), hired a few days before Jocketty was fired in St. Louis last October. Like Tony La Russa, Baker has the reputation of being a veteran players' manager. Whether like La Russa, Dusty will have a voice in personnel matters under Jocketty remains to be seen.
In other words, will Dusty’s and Walt’s desires align? At least commonly-used slogans used by supporters to describe the two over the years do - “In Walt We Trust” and “In Dusty We Trusty”.
Will actions follow the words or will having a new boss after just 21 games into his tenure signal troubles are on the horizon for Baker, too?
If nothing else, the 2008 Reds situation should be most interesting to watch, even if it is not yet exactly clear in whom Cincinnati fans should place their trust.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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