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Reds ink Taveras to two-year deal


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CINCINNATI -- In one transaction on Saturday, the Reds believe they met two of their offseason needs.

By signing free-agent speedster Willy Taveras to a two-year contract, Cincinnati now has an experienced leadoff hitter and center fielder heading into 2009. Financial terms of the contract weren't immediately known.

"This was a need we felt we had to try and fill this winter," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "Besides acquiring a catcher in Ramon Hernandez [earlier this month], we have a center fielder that can play good defense and lead off."

Taveras spent the past two seasons with the Rockies and is capable of giving defenses fits when he has a bat in his hands. Since his rookie season in 2005, the 27-year-old leads the Majors with 207 infield hits, accounting for 37 percent of his 558 career hits. He has at least 33 steals in each of the past four seasons.

The 2008 season, however, was a down one for Taveras. In 133 games, he batted .251 with just 18 of his 120 hits going for extra bases despite playing at spacious Coors Field. But he did lead the Majors with 68 stolen bases and a .907 stolen-base percentage (68-for-75).

"If he gets back to being an on-base guy that hits ground balls, it creates a lot of havoc on the bases," Jocketty said. "He can get on base ahead of the big guys, and we can score more runs."

Taveras passed his physical on Saturday prior to the early-afternoon announcement. He cited playing for manager Dusty Baker as one of the attractions to signing with the Reds.

"It's a young team where I can fit well," said Taveras, a .283 career hitter over five seasons with the Astros and Rockies. "I'll come over here and play hard. I'm happy to play for Dusty. It's going to be great. ... I've heard from many guys that played for Dusty that he will let you do what you do well if you play hard and respect the game."

Cincinnati's pursuit of Taveras began almost immediately after he was not tendered a contract by Colorado on Dec. 12.

"We'd like to add another hitter, but if we don't, we have good pitching and defense and speed."

-- Reds GM Walt Jocketty

"I talked to [Taveras and his representatives] the first thing on that Saturday morning. We were their first call," Jocketty said. "It's what impressed them the most."

Taveras' .308 on-base percentage last season and lack of extra-base hits could be a concern for a leadoff hitter. The Reds will count on his finding his form from two seasons ago, when he batted .320 with a .367 on-base percentage over 97 games, as the Rockies went to the World Series.

Reds pro scout Jamie Quirk, who spent the past few seasons as the Rockies' bench coach, endorsed the signing.

"Jamie really likes Willy and thinks he can get back to the type of player he was in 2007, when he bunted more, had more ground-ball hits and used his speed," Jocketty said.

Taveras said that Quirk was helpful for him in Colorado.

"Jamie knows me pretty well, and we got along real well," Taveras said. "He always tells me to stay on top of my game. He knows what kind of talent I have."

More remains on the Reds' offseason wish list. They are still trying to add a right-handed run producer for the heart of the lineup and re-sign utility player Jerry Hairston Jr.

Jocketty has already made progress in other areas by signing free-agent lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes, re-signing righty reliever Mike Lincoln and acquiring Hernandez in a trade with the Orioles.

"With Hernandez and [second baseman] Brandon Phillips and if [shortstop] Alex Gonzalez is back healthy, we've really improved our defense up the middle," Jocketty said.

The Reds now have four outfielders on their 40-man roster in Taveras, right fielder Jay Bruce, Chris Dickerson and Norris Hopper. If they can't add the power hitter they're looking for, Dickerson and Hopper could platoon in left field.

"With Bruce and Taveras, we have two of our outfield spots filled," Jocketty said. "We'd like to add another hitter, but if we don't, we have good pitching and defense and speed. We could find ways to manufacture runs without a big RBI guy."


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Well this guy did lead NL in steals and was leadoff man for the ROCKIES world series team so maybe...[ theres that word again]..he could be the table setter weve been looking for.

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Hard to view this as anything but a solid baseball move by the Reds. I have a T-O-N, ton of faith in Jocketty's ability to put together a solid team and I think this was a good pickup for the Reds. I'm actually looking forward to seeing the team develop and am hoping all the youngsters really come on this season !!!

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What I am confused about is that the Reds set it as a priority to go out and get a power hitting right handed bat in the outfield. Now they go out and sign a slap hitting speedster? Do they not have faith in Jay Bruce and Chris Dickerson? What about Drew Stubbs who many outside the organization believe he should be in the majors in another year? I'm just confused about the direction the team is going in. I like the idea of a speedster that can disrupt pitchers at the top of the order, BUT he has to get on base more in order to do that. the guy had a piss poor on base percentage last year despite leading the league in steals. I am really curious to see what else the Reds do this off season. I have zero confidence in Encarnacion. He is the most inconsistent player the Reds have, and that is not something you can afford to have out of a third baseman, especially when you have so few power hitters in your line up. Sadly there aren't a whole lot of good third baseman out in the free agent market and the only one I have heard rumors of the Reds being interested in is Ty Wigginton from Houston. (.285 avg. and 23 HR in only 386 at-bats.) Edwin batted .251 avg. and 26 HRs in 506 at bats.

The next stepping stone is going to be what the Reds do with Joey Votto. Where are they going to put him in order to bring up Yonder Alonso to play first base? Generally you don't have too many left-handed left fielders, and you already have left-handed Jay Bruce playing right field. I do think Bruce is athletic enough to play left, but it seems the Reds want a right hander over there. The optimal thing to do would be to have Bruce in Left, Dickerson or Tavaras in Center, and Votto in right. You then can have Alonso at first base. It's always better to have too much talent and not enough spaces for it all, than not enough talent...but to me it seems like the Reds are spending money in the wrong positions. I would really like to see them sign a QUALITY left handed starter. Eventhough Mark Mulder has had some arm troubles as of late, the Reds have enough young innings eating pitchers that Mulder could fall into the 4th or 5th spot in the rotation and go easy on his arm.

My optimal starting line-up for the Reds going into the season would be (assuming they re-sign Hairston):

1. Tavaras CF

2. Bruce RF

3. Phillips 2b

4. Votto 1B

5. Hernandez C

6. Hairston SS

7. Keppinger 3B

8. Dickerson LF

9. Harang P

That is a strong line-up defensively, but offense wise they are going to have to play 'small-ball' and produce runs because they will be lucky to have a guy hit more then 30 HRs.

The starting 5:

1. Harang

2. Volquez

3. Arroyo

4. Cueto

5. Owens (This is where I would like to see Mulder. Unfortunately unless the Reds do pick up someone, they will not have a starting left handed pitcher.)

I just wish that the Reds could somehow could package Homer Bailey and Encarnacion in a trade for a quality power hitting 3B that would allow Keppinger to move to SS and then Hairston could be the utility player that gives guys days off. Hairston can play all 3 outfield positions, 2B, SS, and 3B, so he would still get plenty of playing time. Just to throw a name out there...Garrett Atkins from the Rockies...his name has been rumored in trade talks with the Reds.

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