Well, the Hamilton trade has been consummated, love it or hate it. So where are we left standing, and what holes are left to get filled in for us to have playoff hopes next season? Here is a look at what the 25 man roster might look like on Opening Day as we stand now:

C Ross
1B Votto
2B Phillips
SS Gonzalez
3B Encarnacion
LF Dunn
CF Bruce
RF Griffey

C Valentin
IF Hatteberg
IF Keppinger
OF Freel
OF Hopper

SP Harang
SP Arroyo
SP Belisle
SP Bailey
SP Volquez

CL Cordero
RP Weathers
RP Bray
RP Burton
RP Stanton
RP Coffey
RP Majewski

Let’s examine the roster:

Catcher:

Ross was a big disappointment with the bat last season. I didn’t expect anything from him last season like the numbers he put up in 2006, but I still expected more than the horrendous numbers he put up. He needs to improve offensively this season and I think he is capable of it. I look for Valentin to continue to get spot starts, but I don’t feel he’s good enough defensively for a straight platoon. This is an area of the club that I’d like to see addressed. Tatum is the closest to helping out from within the system and he is a few years off still. This is definitely a position where the Reds have some room for improvement.

First Base:

Joey Votto should be the starter from the get-go. He impressed last September after his callup, where he continued a great season with the bat. I’ve been impressed with Hatteberg the last few years — he’s more than exceeded my expectations — but I want to see Votto start, and I can’t imagine a better LH bat that Hatteberg’s coming of the bench in a tough spot late in the game. The Reds appear solid and set at 1B.

Second Base:

Brandon Phillips broke out big time last season. The only thing he needs to do this season is to prove he can do it consistently. My personal preference would be to see him flashing that leather over at SS and deal Gonzalez’s contract for help elsewhere and give Keppinger a shot at full time duty at 2B, but I don’t look for that to happen. Keppinger, Castro, and Freel will provide help here off the bench if necessary. The Reds are in great shape at second base.

Shortstop:

Alex Gonzalez missed significant time last season due to family issues. When he did play, he produced exactly opposite of what was expected. He was good defensively last season, but wasn’t as impressive with the glove as advertised. He also put up a career offensive season showing a surprising amount of pop. I expect that he will be more steady with the glove this year, and revert to disappointing with the bat. His career OPS is a hundred points lower than what he displayed last season, so expect a significant offensive dropoff. Keppinger, Castro, and Phillips can all fill in at SS if needed. The Reds are set at this position, but I feel there is room for improvement.

Third Base:

Edwin Encarnacion had a very solid season with the bat and made significant progress in the field. He reduced his fielding errors from 25 to 16 while having 44 additional total chances last season. He, like Phillips, needs to show that he can continue producing at this level. Keppinger, Freel, and Castro can fill in at third when needed. The Reds are in good shape at third base.

Left Field:

Adam Dunn, you all know the story. Chalk it up, 40 HRs, 100 R, 100 RBI, 100 BB, and 160+ Ks. He’ll muff a few out in left too. Never seen a player who was either so liked or disliked. Regardless, Reds are solid in LF.

Center Field:

Hamilton is gone and Jay Bruce is the heir apparent. The only question is whether they will allow him to start the season there, or opt to let him season a bit in AAA first. I strongly feel they should have him there opening day. He’s shown the ability to adapt to new levels last season and is the best defensive option there to boot. Freel is pricey and coming off of a down season that was filled with injuries, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him dealt if they could find a taker. Hopper did a great job last season, but I have a hard time seeing him maintaining that .320 average in the bigs, and since he won’t take a walk, he won’t get on base enough to have any value as a leadoff hitter. Stubbs is two years away if he continues to develop. The Reds are covered here if Bruce is out there.

Right Field:

Ken Griffey Jr. had a great season last year. Does he have one more in him, or will the injury bug catch up with him again? I have to feel that if healthy, he will produce. But that’s always an iffy proposition with a player his age and with his recent track record. When/if he is injured, look for Bruce in RF and to see a lot more of Freel and Hopper than we want to. There is really no more outfield depth here. The Reds are in great shape as long as Griffey stays healthy.

Bench:

Valentin is solid from the left side of the plate for pinch hitting and a decent backup backstop. I like Hatteberg as the main LH bat off the bench. Keppinger can play 2B, SS, and 3B and will be a decent RH pinch hitter. Freel provides defensive flexibility, decent RH contact and speed off the bench, albeit he is probably too expensive for this role now. Hopper does the same without the defensive flexibility. The only thing missing on this bench is a RH OF with pop. The only one I can see possibly filling this role internally is Jerry Gil, but that’s a long shot. Oh yeah, I guess I have to mention that Juan Castro is still on the roster, but he’s a last resort in my eyes. The Reds have a decent bench in my estimation.

Starting Rotation:

Hats off to Aaron Harang for establishing himself as an ace last season. Let’s hope his name is coming up again next season in Cy Young award candidate discussions. Bronson Arroyo was solid again last season. Others would disagree, but I think he’s acceptable as a number two starter on a league average pitching rotation. Those two were easy.

Matt Belisle is probably the number three starter right now and I’ll probably surprise some people by saying I don’t believe that is a bad thing. I expect Belisle will surprise many next season and improve on his 5.25 ERA of last season to post something close to a league average starter ERA of about 4.50. I say this due to his high BAbip and 3 to 1 K/BB ratio.

I think Bailey and Volquez will man the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation. They have both showed some success at AAA and mixed results in the majors. Cueto and Maloney, while both promising, have 7 AAA starts between them. Bailey and Volquez are both highly regarded prospects and both have top of the rotation potential. Like all major league pitching prospects, expect inconsistency. The question will be if both/either can develop enough to provide consistency by the end of the end of the season. The other consideration is how will Dusty Baker do in handling these two prospects.

Overall the Reds have the talent for the making of a good staff for the years to come, but it will most likely be league average at best next season, unless one of Bailey/Volquez really puts it all together and shines.

Relief Pitchers:

Cordero seems to be a good pickup. I won’t debate the dollars and sense of it, but I do believe he will be a solid closer for us. I also like the potential of Weathers, Bray, and Burton as setup men. I don’t hold out much hope for Stanton, and would prefer Coutlangus in the middle, but I don’t think that is bound to happen for contractual reasons. But I do believe that they may be willing to cut bait on him if he is horrible once again.

Coffey has been a big disappointment to me for the last few seasons. He appears to be preparing well physically for next season, but he’s going to have to do something to change his approach on the mound to prove himself and be counted on for more than long relief. I went with Majewski for the last spot in the pen, simply because he has been successful in the past and I think the Reds will give hive more than every chance to make “The Deal” prove fruitful for the Reds. Personally, I get physically ill every time he approaches the mound. But there is McBeth, Salmon, and Coutlangus hanging around to fill in.

I really think the Reds were mostly snakebit in the pen last year. I believe the addition of Cordero and a possible emergence of Bray as a lefty setup man will enable this corp of relievers to provide a league average performance.

Where We Are Now:

In my opinion, right now, I think this team will win about 83 games. I think they are just a bit better than average. They are definitely better than last year but not yet a playoff contender. I believe the offense will be little bit better than league average and the pitching staff will be about right at league average. The good news is that I believe this will improve in the next few years as the young pitching prospects develop and mature, and as Phillips, Encarnacion, Bruce, and Votto complete their development.

How To Get There In 2008:

The moves I’d try to make to improve the Reds a few games to put them into the playoff picture in 2008 are as follows:

Sign a FA starting pitcher with the potential to provide a league average 4.50 ERA. It will more than likely have to be a reasonably affordable signing with some risk to it. Maybe a Jon Lieber who hopefully would have an average year left in his aging arm. Maybe a Kris Benson, who just held a workout for interested teams, might be healthy enough to bounce back from injury. I just feel they need to add an arm that has a decent shot at giving them another middle of the rotation arm. This will give them a much better shot at having a bit better than average pitching staff.

Move Phillips to SS and start Keppinger at 2B. This will provide more offense and free up Gonzalez for a trade. Gonzalez is coming off his best offensive season ever, sell him high before he returns to his previous offensive level.

Obtain an offensive upgrade at catcher. Cleveland has Shoppach stuck behind Martinez, and Texas has Saltalamacchia, but with Laird in reserve and a top prospect, Teagarden, who made it to AA last season. San Diego has Bard and Barret on their roster. Not sure if any of these deals would be feasible to obtain for the likes of Gonzalez, Freel and some A ball prospects, but all would be interesting acquisitions.

Obtain a RH fourth OF with pop who could PH and provide insurance in case Griffey goes down with injury or if Bruce turns out to need more time at AAA. Maybe someone like Jason Lane.

These moves, if possible, would give us a bit more pitching and a bit more offense to hopefully push us into playoff contention next season while still maintaining our core of young players.

I’m sure you have some different opinions and ideas on how to get the Reds to the playoffs next season. Let’s hear them.