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Out Like a Lion, In Like a Lamb

Is it just me, or has this Spring Training opened with a whimper?

By all rights, excitement, chatter, rumblings, etc. should all be at a record high this spring. Baseball ended with a bang in Cincy last season, as the Reds stole the N.L. Central crown from under the Cardinals' nose and, in doing so, ended a 15-year streak of worthless, uninspired play.

However, unlike the deep-pocketed upper-echelon of MLB organizations, the Reds chose not to add a bunch of firepower to their division-winning roster. No, instead they smartly took stock of what got them where they are today, and locked up promising youngsters to multi-year deals (Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto). Also, they assessed the performance of staff-solidifier Bronson Arroyo, and chose to sign him on for another three seasons.

By only "taking care of their own", the Reds basically issued the statement: "We aren't going to make any big moves because, well, we don't need to."

True, a Reds team that finished the 2010 season at the top of the National League in defense and most hitting categories didn't need to do too much tinkering. Especially seeing as the majority of their production came from young guys like Bruce, Cueto, Joey Votto, Drew Stubbs, Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, and Mike Leake; guys they think will only get better.

However, the trade-off is that the lack of new faces in Training Camp means less of a buzz than everyone would like. While, normally the Reds have competition at nearly half their positions (and fans are just PRAYING a star will emerge out of the rabble and preclude another opening day start from a guy like Cory Lidle or Jimmy "Powder-Keg" Haynes), Spring Training 2011 has a different look and a different feel. The lineup is all but set – there is always a chance for someone to oust Johnny Gomes in left, and Paul Janish is seemingly never on solid ground at short, but other than that the regulars are known. Also, pitching is as deep as it has ever been. Sure, the company line is that the 4th and 5th starter spots are up for grabs, but conventional wisdom says that Homer Bailey is locked into the four spot and Travis Wood has a leg up on Leake for the five, due to his emergence at the end of 2010.

So, instead of agonizing over the roster make-up, Cincinnati rooters will spend this spring choosing from a meager selection of plotlines to dissect. In no particular order:

Dusty Baker Makes Edinson Volquez Opening Day Starter – Dusty must immediately regret this one, seeing as Volquez didn't have the foresight to secure a work Visa before reporting to Spring Training. So, not only does Dusty's "ace" only have a four wins in his last season, and not only is he fresh off suspension for taking female fertility drugs, he also apparently isn't very good at paperwork. Shocker.

Cincinnati Adds Fred Lewis, Edgar Renteria, and Jeremy Hermida for "Depth" – So, just so we understand: we added Fred Lewis because he is a left-handed bat who can play left field, only to then have Dusty Baker tell us that Gomes is his everyday right-fielder, right? Then, they fail to re-sign Orlando Cabrera, a clubhouse leader, and instead hire his mortal enemy? Ok, got it. Finally, they add Jeremy Hermida, a guy that Florida and Oakland apparently couldn't find a use for.

Sounds good.

And, finally…

DAVE SAPPELT FOR MVP!!! – Ok, so this one may be a bit overstated after just two spring games. However, no one can argue the facts on this issue, which are: A) Sappelt is vying for the left field job or an outfield bench spot, two of the only open slots on the roster; B) Sappelt is absolutely mashing the ball so far, going 3-for-3 in the intrasquad game and 4-for-7 in his first two Cactus League games; and, C) Sappelt has awesome lines cut into the side of his head, similar to the zig-zags I had when I was in second grade.

Everyone I have talked about Sappelt* with seems to concur that if he continues to hit .700, he deserves to be the Reds' left fielder. Also, we all also agree that if he proceeds to produce at that clip throughout his Major League career, he will most likely be Hall of Fame material.

* It is worth noting that the only person I have spoken with on said issue thus far is my brother, a huge optimist and a staunch Sappelt supporter.

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IN OTHER NEWS: Straight out of the "you can't have too much of a good thing" file, some of you (and I stress some) in the Reds-mix Readership Horde will be interested to learn that in February I began contributing to www.bleacherreport.com.

Being a casual reader of Bleacher Report (B/R) - a sports opinion/blogging site powered by aspiring sportswriters and team enthusiasts - I became aware of the opening to write for B/R, applied, and am now well on my way to becoming a Reds Featured Columnist.

Since joining B/R, I have written 10 articles. So far I have covered everything from the the top 10 Reds prospects to watch in 2011, to bonehead-Baker move #1 (the Volquez thing), to 10 ways the Bengals can get back on track in 2011, to why the Buckeyes are the best team in college basketball.

I'd like nothing more than to fuse the Reds-mix readership with the masses that visit the B/R site (over 20 million monthly, the 4th largest sports website in the world), so throughout the rest of Spring Training and the regular season I will be splitting my time between both. If you love the Reds, Ohio sports, anything sites like ESPN report on, or simply are a supporter of quality writing, by all means check all my articles out HERE.

Until then, stay vigilant on the Dave Sappelt watch. Cooperstown beckons.

Reed Domer-Shank 3-3-2011

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