COMMENTARY | Though the Cincinnati Reds won 97 regular-season games last season, it was far from a perfect team. The Reds' lead-off spot was a frequently discussed area of concern, but a duo of players on the bench proved to be an equally terrible black hole of offensive production by season's end.
Many of the Reds' bench players will return for the 2013 season but a couple of changes have already been made. Some bench players who will likely keep their roster spot this season include OF Chris Heisey and OF Xavier Paul.
Thankfully, IF Miguel Cairo and UT Wilson Valdez will not be on the roster this season. In 150 at-bats, Cairo hit .187/.212/.280 and in 194 at-bats, Valdez hit .206/.236/.227. More often than not, Cairo and Valdez came to the plate to hit for a pitcher because either a) the pitcher was spent or b) the Reds needed a hitter to produce a run or two. All told, Cairo and Valdez didn't hit and they didn't produce runs (28 RBIs in nearly 350 at-bats).
I have two basic categories for all Reds players: players I trust, and players I don't trust. When I use "trust," I'm not referring to sharing secrets but rather my trust in a player to deliver in the clutch. I don't keep a formal list, but I know that Cairo and Valdez were always on the non-trust list (along with CF Drew Stubbs and 3B Scott Rolen). Time and time again, Cairo and Valdez let the team down.
Of the 167 games the Reds played last season, I can remember all of one time when Cairo and/or Valdez surprised me: ironically, the moment occurred in a single play. In the 10th inning, tied 5-5 with the Detroit Tigers, Valdez put down the safety squeeze bunt, Cairo raced home, and touched the plate to win the game. It was incredible.
Cairo and Valdez's replacements will likely be two out of three new players: IF Jack Hannahan, UT Jason Donald, and IF César Izturis. Any combination could improve the Reds in a big way. Last season, Hannahan hit .244/.312/.341 in 287 at-bats, Donald hit .202/.246/.282 in 124 at-bats, and Izturis hit .241/.254/.343 in 166 at-bats. Though Donald wasn't much better than Cairo or Valdez last season, last year could have been a down year as he hit .318/.364/.402 in 2011 and .253/.312/.378 in 2010. Hannahan and Donald also batted runs in at a higher rate (29 and 11 RBIs, respectively) than Cairo and Valdez.
Nothing about Hannahan's, Donald's, or Izturis' offensive numbers jump out to make me think either could fill in for a significant amount of time or win a starting job. But that's not the point.
What matters to me is how a duo of Hannahan, Donald, and Izturis will do in the exact same role as Cairo and Valdez. Let's assume that Reds' starting position players miss the exact same amount of games as last year and the two new bench players get the same amount of plate appearances and at-bats.
Last season, Hannahan, Donald, and Izturis combined for 135 hits in 577 at-bats -- a .234 average. Adjust that average to fit the 344 at-bats Cairo and Valdez combined for last season and the new bench guys should get about 80 hits. Cairo and Valdez combined for 68 hits in 344 at-bats, which begs an important question: Could 12 hits over the course of a 162-game season really make a difference?
It's a step in the right direction.Andrew J. Roth studied journalism at Lehigh University and received his Master's from the University of Illinois. He has been following the Reds and Major League Baseball since he met Barry Larkin in 1993.For Reds and other sports tweets, follow him on Twitter @AndrewJohnRoth.