2013 Team Preview: Cincinnati Reds

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

The Cincinnati Reds come into 2013 on the short list of clubs in the conversation for best team in baseball. They won 97 games and the NL Central last year, and they improved their offense this winter by adding Shin-Soo Choo and theoretically improved their rotation by making Aroldis Chapman a starter. Few teams look at dangerous as Dusty Baker's.

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Probable lineup
1. Shin-Soo Choo, CF
2. Brandon Phillips, 2B
3. Joey Votto, 1B
4. Ryan Ludwick, LF
5. Jay Bruce, RF
6. Todd Frazier, 3B
7. Zack Cozart, SS
8. Ryan Hanigan, C

Probable rotation
1. Johnny Cueto
2. Mat Latos
3. Bronson Arroyo
4. Homer Bailey
5. Aroldis Chapman

Right-hander Mike Leake, who started 30 games in 2013, is ready to step into the rotation should Chapman be unable to make the transition from reliever.

Bullpen construction
Closer: Jonathan Broxton
Righties: Sam LeCure, Jose Arredondo, Alfredo Simon, Logan Ondrusek
Lefties: Sean Marshall, Manny Parra

Notable bench players
C Devin Mesoraco, IF Jack Hannahan, OF Chris Heisey, IF Jason Donald, OF Xavier Paul

Under-the-radar offseason transaction
A 5.06 ERA in 58 2/3 innings is nothing to write home about, but 30-year-old Manny Parra received a one-year deal worth $1 million this winter because of his ability to handle left-handed batters. The southpaw held same-side hitters to a .222/.323/.312 batting line with 33 strikeouts and a 54.1-percent ground-ball rate in 124 plate appearances last summer. His fastball velocity started to tick up just a bit at midseason as he got further away from August 2011 elbow surgery, which could serve him well over a full season in 2013. With Marshall slated for the heavy lifting as the late-inning lefty, Parra will be manager Baker's go-to middle-iinnings matchup guy.

Fantasy risk: Aroldis Chapman
After a couple years of tantalizing everyone with his triple-digit-but-hard-to-locate fastball, Chapman finally made good on all the hype last year, putting up numbers that would have made him far and away the most dominant closer in baseball if, you know, Craig Kimbrel didn't exist. And now he's moving to the starting rotation, where he can make even more of an impact in Fantasy. Great news, right? Not so fast. The transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation doesn't always go smoothly, as Daniel Bard showed last year. Even in successful cases, the pitcher still typically loses something on his fastball. The concern with Chapman is only amplified because of his past control issues. Even with the reduced walk rate last year, he still ranked among the leaders in pitches per plate appearances. If he lasts only five innings at a time, who cares what his strikeout rate is? Granted, if he looks like Jonathan Sanchez out there, he'll just go back to closing. But with all the lumps he'll have taken along the way, you'll be wishing you had drafted Adam Wainwright or Yovani Gallardo instead. -- Scott White [Full Reds fantasy preview]

Biggest strength
The Reds are a very deep and balanced club, but I'm taking that offense over everything else. The addition of Choo -- .378 OBP with 46 homers and 55 steals from 2011-12 -- gives the Reds the dynamic leadoff man whom they've lacked in recent years. The lineup after Choo falls right into place and is a managerial nightmare for the opposition, alternating righties and lefties who hit for big power and work the count. Votto is one of the two or three best hitters on the planet while Bruce has hit the 13th-most homers in baseball over the last three years, and heck, the projected eighth-place hitter owns a career .370 OBP. The Reds have a strong and balanced lineup that should rank among the league leaders in runs scored this season.

Biggest weakness
Could it be Baker, an old-school manager given the keys to a new-school roster? Fair or not, he has a track record of working his pitchers hard, which might not work well as Chapman makes his transition. If we need something a little more tangible, I do think the bench is lacking. They don't have a legitimate left-handed threat for pinch-hitting situations, though I guess the strong everyday lineup mitigates that problem. The outfield defense, specifically in left and center, could get messy as well. No matter what, we're nitpicking here.

Best-case scenario
The Reds are a legitimate World Series contender, and I don't think it would surprise anyone if they were the last team standing come October. Beyond that, the best case has Chapman developing into a dominant left-handed ace to complement the two high-end righties -- Cueto and Latos. Chapman emerging as an ace is the best thing that could happen to the franchise aside from winning its first world championship since 1990.

Worst-case scenario
The worst-case scenario probably requires injuries, specifically Votto's barking knee and the oblique that forced Cueto from Game 1 of the NLDS. I suppose a rotation that received 161 starts from its top five last year could crumble and spread the pitching staff thin. Outside of an extreme total catastrophe situation, the Reds are a safe bet to at least be pretty good. They could certainly miss the postseason, but it's tough to see them being non-competitive altogether.

Most likely scenario
The Reds are going to be really good and are the clear favorites in the NL Central. I'm not brave enough to call them a lock for the division crown, but I believe they have the best shot of winning it. At the very least, they should remain in the hunt for a postseason berth all year. Baker's club doesn't need much to break their way to make noise in 2013.

Cincinnati blew a two games-to-none lead in the NLDS last year with a hobbled Votto and Cueto sidelined, so they responded by getting a whole lot better this winter with the addition of Choo. The time is now for the Reds, who are clearly built to win in 2013 -- Choo and Arroyo will be free agents following the season -- and have an excellent shot of doing so.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed and "like" us on Facebook. Also, individually interact with us on Twitter: @MattSnyder27, @daynperry and @mikeaxisa.

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