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Jocketty gambling on Rolen in Cincy

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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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CINCINNATI

The Reds have lost 14 of their last 16. They have dropped to fifth in the National League Central. They are headed for a ninth consecutive losing season, extending their longest streak of futility in the last 50 years.
Typically, such teams strip their roster of veteran talent at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Not this one. Last Friday, they acquired third baseman Scott Rolen — and his $11 million salary for 2010 — from the Toronto Blue Jays. Why? "He's an All-Star, Gold Glove, above-average offensive player," general manager Walt Jocketty said this week. "Anytime you add a player like that — and what we hope he will bring with his leadership on the field — that will be a big lift for us." Sounds justifiable, right? Rolen, a .320 hitter in Toronto, is a more reliable defender and better contact hitter than Edwin Encarnacion, his predecessor in Cincinnati. And Rolen had told the Blue Jays that he wanted to play closer to his Indiana home. So, everybody wins. Well, not necessarily. If you're a Reds fan, there are three reasons to fret about this trade. 1. Jocketty parted with two highly regarded young pitchers, Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart, in addition to Encarnacion. 2. The new team leader — the guy with the biggest paycheck and most experience among position players — has an achy left shoulder that required disabled list stays in 2005, 2007 and 2008. And he played more than 115 games only once in the past four seasons. 3. Jocketty alluded to Rolen's All-Star appearances and Gold Glove awards. He has five and seven, respectively, tangible signs of a great career. But none are dated more recently than 2006 — the same year Rolen won a World Series playing for Jocketty's Cardinals. Because of injuries, Rolen hasn't been the same since. But Jocketty surely remembers what was. So, the state of Cincinnati's franchise can be summed up thusly: The '09 Reds are a lost cause, and the '10 Reds will succeed or fail based on a third baseman who turns 35 around Opening Day. Let me be clear about this: I don't think it was a bad idea for the Reds to trade for Scott Rolen. I just think it was a bad idea to give up two pitching prospects and pay all of his salary next year. Though we didn't know it at the time, Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi (remember him?) had very little leverage in these negotiations. There weren't a ton of teams in the market for third basemen, and Rolen could have refused a trade if it didn't involve a Midwestern outpost of his liking. But Jocketty doesn't deserve harsh criticism — not yet, at least. This was Jocketty's first big move for 2010, and it's not entirely fair to judge a GM's offseason until the full roster comes into focus. Jocketty hinted at further activity when he said it was "very important" to acquire leaders such as Rolen, adding, "We may, before next year, add some more." That's great. But I hope for the Reds' sake that leadership wasn't the biggest factor here. Otherwise, they could have signed veteran good-guy Tony Clark, who, as far as I know, is waiting for a phone call, bat in hand, at his Phoenix-area home. I can promise you that his price tag would have been cheaper than $11 million. "I hear a lot about leadership," Rolen said. "I don't know. I've been here for a week. My job is to put my uni on and go out on the field." He's right. Cincinnati needs production more than anything else. The Reds have the second-worst batting average in baseball, due to negligible contributions at shortstop and across the outfield. Edinson Volquez, an All-Star last year, is expected to miss most of next season after elbow surgery. Opening Day starter Aaron Harang is winless in 13 starts, dating back to late May. Read that last sentence again. Late May! "Some things happened in the middle of our season, and the team chemistry just went away," second baseman Brandon Phillips said before Wednesday's game, a 4-0 victory over the Cubs. "That's where we went wrong. We have great players, but, as a team, we can't put it together. We're just terrible right now. "Having Scott Rolen on this team, he's the type of guy who can change that. He can show us how to really go about our business."
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Asked what specifically went wrong with the team's chemistry, Phillips thought silently for several seconds. "Losing," he replied. "That's all I've got to say. I'm going to give you that answer. Just losing. I have my own personal reasons, why I think we are how we are right now. I really don't want to get into that. I'm just going to say we have great players on our team, but we're just not putting it together." Doesn't exactly sound like a team that's ready to beat the Cardinals and Cubs next year, does it? Yet, owner Bob Castellini is a very optimistic man. In an interview Wednesday, he stated that he believes his team is "close to being a contender." He talked about his pride in the fact that the players haven't given up. He likes the farm system, too. He also said three words that one could interpret as the larger explanation for Rolen's presence here: "Winning is paramount." Is it realistic for Castellini to expect his team will win in 2010? That probably depends on his definition. A winning record? Maybe. A division title? Probably not. We'll have a better idea by midwinter, once we see how much money the Reds are spending on the free agent market. With the acquisition of Rolen, the team has already committed an additional $6.25 million for 2010. (That's the difference in salary between Rolen and Encarnacion, and the Blue Jays aren't sending any money to help next year. The Jays are, though, kicking in about $3.2 million this year. Castellini isn't sure what next year's payroll will be, but Jocketty said Rolen's salary won't restrict his other plans. If that's the case, then I assume Jocketty's plans will include a number of inexpensive, homegrown position players, like outfielders Chris Heisey and Drew Stubbs and perhaps the versatile Todd Frazier. They are certain to be enrolled in Professor Rolen's class next spring training, along with Phillips, Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and the rest. Jocketty and Castellini, a former minority investor in the Cardinals, watched Rolen closely during some of his finest years. They know what he could do then. They hope he has enough left now. Jocketty said he believes Rolen is capable of playing two or three more seasons. But it's the next one that matters most. And a tired shoulder has rarely been asked to carry this much weight.
Tagged: Blue Jays, Cubs, Reds, Cardinals, Scott Rolen, Aaron Harang, Brandon Phillips, Edwin Encarnacion, Edinson Volquez, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce

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