03/30/07 10:00 AM ET
Reds aim to build on last season's run
This year, club plans to answer when opportunity knocks
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
One of the best defensive players on the open market, shortstop Alex Gonzalez was signed to a three-year, $14 million contract. Gonzalez and talented second baseman Brandon Phillips are expected to form a solid middle-infield combo. To keep the middle of the field strong, Ken Griffey Jr. was shifted from center field to right field with a speedier Ryan Freel taking over in center field."Brandon Phillips, Alex Gonzalez and Ryan Freel in the middle of the field, defensively. Our defense automatically is better with those three guys," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. In the bullpen, lefty Mike Stanton was signed to a two-year, $6 million deal. Closer Dustin Hermanson, who missed most of last year with the White Sox because of a back injury, was signed to a Minor League deal two weeks into camp and originally looked good -- and healthy -- enough to make the team, before fading near the end and getting released.
It could be closer-by-committee again for Cincinnati, which lacked a proven closer during the first half last season and suffered for it. Two young arms that earned jobs in camp, right-hander Jared Burton and lefty Jon Coutlangus, showed a lot of promise this spring.Harang and Arroyo were locked up to long-term deals to maintain the top of the rotation for the next four years. The three and four spots, with Eric Milton and Kyle Lohse, are question marks because both have had a rough past few seasons. "I think the pitching will be more of a strength [as] it's been in the past," Weathers said. "Last year, I think the starting pitching was pretty good all year. Our bullpen, after the end of June on, was pretty good, solid." Offensively last season, the Reds had trouble scoring runs because hitters were undisciplined in key situations. Right-handed hitter Jeff Conine was acquired from the Phillies. After a nearly four-year stretch out of the game because of injuries and drug use, outfielder Josh Hamilton has been the story of spring. Hamilton, a Rule 5 acquisition and former overall No. 1 draft choice, has led the team in hitting and stunned observers with his poise and plate discipline. He'll be a fourth outfielder this season. "We've got a lot of good players coming in and the same ones we had success with are back," Ross said. "It's hard not to expect to do more than we did last year. If we don't expect to do better next year, something is wrong."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.