If there is one question mark on this edition of the Reds, it has to be Bronson Arroyo. Last year, he was miserable, but that came on the heels of consecutive years as very solid major league starting pitcher. In theory, he should be poised to rebound. His case of mono is behind him, hopefully the back is healed. There’s every reason to think he’ll bounce back.

The Reds just signed Jeff Francis to a minor league deal. That is great insurance. Francis was hurt and missed all of 2009, but other than that, his underlying numbers have been good. Remember, until last year, he pitched exclusively for the Rockies, so a lot of those ERAs are worse than they would be otherwise. His yearly WAR is surprisingly good.

I do not think Jeff Francis should be given a spot in the rotation. Let’s stop right there on that line of thinking.

However, I do think it’s going to be apparent from the start how good Bronson will be this year. He lost a lot off his fastball last year. That’s either going to come back or not. I just don’t think the Reds should kid themselves.

My proposal is this: Assume Bronson will be in the rotation. Don’t let on otherwise, but take a good hard look at those spring starts. Be honest with yourself. Is his stuff back or not? If it is, great. Let him take a run at it. Old Bronson is welcome on any team I’m a fan of. But if his stuff isn’t back, cut him loose. I know that’s a tough contract to eat, but if the Reds really want to win now, they have to be honest.

Francis is a decent pitcher. He’s not going to win a Cy Young, but he’d be the fourth or fifth best starter on the vast majority of major league teams. He’s a great back up plan. The Reds shouldn’t wait to use him until it’s too late.

Update: After I initially put this post together, more details came out about the Francis contract. It seems he can opt out by March 28 if he likes. This makes me wonder if the plan outlined above might have some chance of coming true.