CINCINNATI -- Being viewed as the Reds' regular shortstop over the winter is something Paul Janish has lived once already. And now he's experiencing it all over again. "Déjà vu," Janish said with a shrug. Will the sequel turn out anything like the original? Janish certainly hopes not.
At this time last year, the Reds had long since jettisoned Alex Gonzalez in an August trade and the club went into the winter with Janish penciled in as the everyday guy at shortstop. Notice that read "pencil." On Feb. 1, the Reds signed free agent and veteran Orlando Cabrera to play the position, and Janish was shifted to a bench position where he played sparingly. "It's just that as an organization, we thought that Cabrera was better suited at that time and Janish needed some more time," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "That's why I had Janish talk to Rich Aurilia about how to wait your turn." Cabrera's $4 million option was not exercised last month. Once again, shortstop is Janish's job. "I will handle it the same in terms of how I answer questions or what I say," Janish said. "The truth of the matter is there is a little offseason left. But it's different this time. Going into this year , I made a better case for myself than the past year." The quality of Janish's range and his glovework have never been in question. In that area, he excelled beyond Cabrera. But the need for offense won out when the Reds put together last season's team. Janish batted only .211 in 90 games in 2009, and Cabrera had a better track record. In 82 games last season, the 28-year-old Janish batted a much more respectable .260 with five home runs, 25 RBIs, 10 doubles and a .338 on-base percentage. He also showed better skill driving the ball and hitting line drives. Defensively, Janish committed four errors with a .981 fielding percentage. Asked if Janish was ready to be "the guy" at shortstop next season, Baker replied, "Yeah, I think so." "He showed improvement offensively," Baker said. "There is no better place to serve your apprenticeship, get time in the big leagues and time in service than he had in that role before." Janish got most of his playing time when he started 27 consecutive games at shortstop for Cabrera, who was on the disabled list with an oblique injury from Aug. 3-Sept. 3. Janish batted .263 over the stretch, but most importantly, the Reds played some of their best baseball while going 19-8 in August and took over first place for good in the National League Central. Before that opportunity, Janish only had 15 starts during the season. He did show some signs of fatigue that included his committing an error in three straight games in late August. But overall, he was praised for his performance. "I don't think there is any doubt that if the case was made, that's when it was made," Janish said. "The team did well. It was a pretty crucial stretch for us at the time. We were still in a tightly packed race. That's going to be in my corner." The Reds haven't fully ruled out exploring additions at shortstop. While the chances are slim, the door is still slightly open for Cabrera to return. The free-agent market for shortstops isn't bountiful and includes names like Cristian Guzman, Craig Counsell and Edgar Renteria. All will cost more than Janish and have less range. Janish is a cheaper employee since he isn't expected to make much more than the league minimum of $400,000 in 2011. Other than Janish, Cincinnati will take a look at top shortstop prospect Zack Cozart. But that would be most likely for bench help, since Baker prefers to always have a true shortstop at his disposal. Because of last year's experience, Janish isn't so quick to envision himself in the lineup every day. He realizes he could be bumped once again. "There's no doubt it would be tough. At the same time, too, whatever is going to happen is going to happen," Janish said. "I don't get paid to make those decisions. Whatever my role ends up being, that's what I will do. I think I've shown I am more than willing to do what the team needs. That's my mindset." Until February when Spring Training opens, Janish will be working out and lifting weights in his hometown of Houston. He trains with about 30 other professional ballplayers in the area. "Mentally and physically, I'm just getting ready to be the everyday guy, and if that works out, it's ideal," Janish said. "If not, we'll mentally adjust when that time comes."