John Clay: 10 moves that changed Reds from mediocrity to winner

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 25, 2012 

  • Reds at Padres

    When: 10:10 p.m. Monday

    Pitchers: Reds, Latos (1-0); Padres, Hahn (3-1)

    TV, radio: FS Ohio, WVLK-FM 101.5

It was 15 years between playoff appearances when the Cincinnati Reds clinched the National League Central Division title in 2010. Five days ago, the Reds proved that they were no one-hit wonders.

On Saturday, the Reds beat the visiting Dodgers 6-0 to clinch their second divisional crown in three years, claim another playoff spot and turn their attention to the attempt to secure the league's best record and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

This is a franchise that suffered through nine consecutive losing seasons before the breakthrough year of 2010.

So how was a consistent winner built on the banks of the Ohio?

It took time.

Here are 10 big Red building blocks in a time line:

June 4, 2002: With the 44th overall pick in the MLB Amateur Draft, Reds General Manager Jim Bowden selects a first baseman out of Canada named Joey Votto.

Bowden would be gone less than a year later, unceremoniously fired, but Votto would remain and prosper. He is the cornerstone of the team, the 2010 NL MVP, and a first-rate example with his work ethic and intensity.

On April 4, Votto signed a $225 million contract extension that will keep him with the Reds through 2023 — 20 years after Bowden was fired.

March 16, 2004: Under General Manager Dan O'Brien, who lasted only from 2003 to 2005, the Reds sign an amateur free agent named Johnny Cueto, who had turned just 18 years old the month before.

By age 22, Cueto was a rookie in the Reds' starting rotation. In 2012, he is the ace of the staff, 19-9 with a 2.83 ERA after Tuesday night's win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Jan. 19, 2006: Bob Castellini becomes chief executive of the Reds after a group he leads buys the franchise from Carl Lindner Jr.

The latter had been a near hidden owner who put all his financial eggs into the basket of acquiring Ken Griffey Jr. Castellini has taken a more progressive, aggressive and team-building approach.

A former minority owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cincinnati-based Castellini has given the Reds more of a presence in the community off the field and has pushed for a winning ball club on the field.

April 7, 2006: Even though the Reds have a promising shortstop in Felipe Lopez, General Manager Wayne Krivsky acquires heralded but disappointing shortstop prospect Brandon Phillips from the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named later.

Phillips is immediately moved to second base, where he has been a mainstay ever since. A Gold Glove winner, Phillips can hit in various spots in the order and has driven in 75 or more runs six times in the past seven seasons.

That player to be named later, by the way, turned out to be Jeff Stevens, a right-hander who has one career major league victory.

April 23, 2008: After being hired as a special assistant to the owner in January, Walt Jocketty agrees to Castellini's request to become general manager, replacing the fired Krivsky.

Jocketty and Castellini are friends from their days in the St. Louis organization, and in his usual calm, measured manner, Jocketty has gone about building a smart, professional organization with a deep farm system. He alsohas not been afraid to pull the trigger on game-changing deals.

Aug. 1, 2009: Jocketty swaps third basemen with the Toronto Blue Jays, exchanging Edwin Encarnacion and a pair of minor-league pitchers for veteran Scott Rolen. Encarnacion is having a monster season in 2012 — 41 home runs and 105 RBI, both career highs — but Rolen "brings leadership," Jocketty said at the time of the trade. Rolen has set a tone of professionalism and hard work in a clubhouse full of young players.

Sept. 29, 2009: Despite the team's second straight losing season under Dusty Baker, Jocketty keeps Baker as the team's manager.

The very next season, the Reds win the NL Central. In 2012, the Reds win the division again, making Baker the first Reds manager to lead the team to multiple playoff appearances since Sparky Anderson's tenure as Reds manager from 1970 to 1978.

Jan. 10, 2010: The Reds sign a flame-throwing Cuban defector by the name of Aroldis Chapman to a six-year contract worth $30.25 million.

The move makes good on Castellini's promise to spend money and on Jocketty's promise to make bold moves.

Chapman is considered a future starter, but early in 2012, he is moved from a set-up role to closer in the Reds' bullpen, where he has been nearly unhittable. Chapman had a 1.57 ERA and 35 saves entering Tuesday's game.

Dec. 17, 2011: Jocketty trades three top prospects (Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxburger) and a former All-Star pitcher (Edinson Volquez) to the San Diego Padres in exchange for just one player.

But that player is right-handed pitcher Mat Latos, a 24-year-old with terrific upside who quickly gives the Reds a strong 1-2 punch in the rotation behind Cueto. Latos is 13-4 with a 3.60 ERA.

Feb. 8, 2012: The Reds sign journeyman outfielder Ryan Ludwick to a one-year, $2.5 million contract in the hope that he can team with holdover Chris Heisey to provide some punch from the left-field spot.

Instead, Ludwick goes above and beyond. After hitting just .237 with 13 homers in 2011 for San Diego and Pittsburgh, Ludwick has hit .276 with 26 homers and 80 RBI this year.

Considering the time Votto has missed with injury this season, Ludwick might be the team's MVP.

And that is how a division championship team was built.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226Email: jclay@herald-leader.comTwitter: @johnclayiv.Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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