CINCINNATI -- Attempting to come up with a Reds "All-Decade" team from 2000-09 seemed to create two contrasting thoughts.
One, how did this team not do better with some of the players it had? Two, it's no wonder that this team struggled with some of the players it had. The Reds have not had a winning season since 2000.
MLB.com recently convened a five-person committee to formulate, position-by-position, top candidates for a Reds team of the decade.
Not far from Great American Ball Park at a Skyline Chili restaurant in Covington, Ky., amid three-ways, cheese coneys and extra helpings of oyster crackers, Reds media relations director Rob Butcher, his assistants Jamie Ramsey and Larry Herms and clubhouse/equipment manager Rick Stowe hashed out their picks. A fifth member of the crew, television analyst Chris Welsh, could not attend and was reached later by phone for his picks.
While no one would confuse this distinguished troupe with the Algonquin Roundtable, all five gentlemen had one important thing in common -- they were in the employ of the Reds for the entire decade and saw every player that donned a Cincinnati uniform in action.
Most of the choices were simple, but some came after spirited debate. They were made based on statistics, intangibles and subjective opinion.
The easiest picks: catcher Jason LaRue, first baseman Sean Casey, second baseman Brandon Phillips, outfielders Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn and closer Danny Graves. For the decade's five-man rotation, only two pitchers won at least 15 games multiple times, pitched 200 innings and had at least 100 starts. They were Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo.
At shortstop, Barry Larkin was a unanimous selection over Felipe Lopez, but not until after some discussion. From 2000-04, Larkin batted only .246 and averaged six homers, 33 RBIs and 94 games played. Lopez batted .266 from 2003-06, and during the 2005 season he hit 23 homers and drove in 85 RBIs.
Reds All-Decade team
Ken Griffey Jr.
"I'm not budging, it's Larkin," Stowe said. "If they put him second, he hit to the second spot. He got the guy over and never made a mistake. He did what he was asked to do. Batting third, he'd try to hit home runs."
"In 1995, he won the MVP because he could do everything," Ramsey said.
Lopez played 100 fewer games than Larkin (473-371) but drove in only eight fewer runs (167-159). What put Larkin over the top was his superior defense and the fact that he was the team captain.
At third base, Aaron Boone and Edwin Encarnacion had similar statistics, but Boone won all five votes. Encarnacion had more games played (514-455), one more homer (71-70) and six more RBIs (263-257).
"They're so close that it's got to be Boone," Butcher said. "He was an All-Star and a better fielder. Boone was a better baseball player."
For the third outfield spot, Austin Kearns was picked over Dmitri Young and Ryan Freel. Kearns batted .267 with 71 homers and 263 RBIs in his five seasons with the Reds. Over his final two years in Cincinnati (2000-01) Young batted .302 and .303, respectively and averaged 19 homers and 79 RBIs.
"It was Dunn, Kearns and Griffey for four years," Stowe said.
"I don't think you can put Freel in the outfield over Kearns because Freel played so many places," Butcher said. "Kearns was a regular outfielder and Freel wasn't.
"I don't think Dmitri was here long enough to be considered for the outfield, and he also played first base. He had a great 2000 and a great 2001. But that's all he had. He was gone after 2001. As good as his two years were, you can't give it to him over Kearns."
"Defensively, Kearns was our best outfielder," Herms added.
When picking the manager, Jack McKeon led the team to its best record (85-77) during the 2000 season, but Dusty Baker closed out the decade with the team headed in the right direction.
For setup man, David Weathers was chosen in a tight decision over Scott Sullivan. Weathers had 45 more appearances than Sullivan, who logged two more innings.
"If you're talking as a setup man compared to a reliever, it's Weathers," Ramsey said. "If it's a generic reliever, Scott Sullivan."
"We chose Weathers, but for an overall reliever, Sullivan was probably the most valuable reliever we had," Butcher said. "It's hard to argue against Weathers because he did everything."
Selecting the final three rotation spots perfectly underscored some of the reasons the Reds have struggled for so long. It also provided fodder for the toughest debate of all.
"Man, is that tough," Welsh said.
Among the names that came up for those last three spots: Elmer Dessens, Paul Wilson, Pete Harnisch, Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and even Ryan Dempster and Jimmy Haynes.
"In 10 years, we only had two guys make more than 100 starts. That's amazing," Butcher said.
After Harang and Arroyo, Dessens was third for the Reds this decade with 80 starts for from 2000-02. He was 28-27 with a 3.94 ERA in 104 games.
"Elmer is a lock then," Herms said. "He's got an under four ERA for the decade."
Dempster was eliminated because he had a 6.39 ERA over his 35 starts for the Reds. Harnisch was a 14-game winner in 1998 and a 16-game winner in 1999 but was eliminated because he made only 29 starts combined over 2000-01 before retiring. That wasn't enough time. Haynes was 17-25 with a 5.06 ERA in 57 games, 56 starts. That, too, didn't exactly scream "All-Decade."
"Who else do we have?" Stowe said.
The names of Cueto and Volquez were brought up, despite their having two years or less with the club.
"I think Cueto has to be in there," Herms said.
In his first two seasons with the Reds, Cueto has gone 20-25 with a 4.61 ERA in 61 starts. He totaled 129 walks and 290 strikeouts, but has yet to produce a winning record.
Because he blew out his elbow last June, Volquez only has a season and a half worth of numbers. But those are some numbers. In 42 games, including 41 starts, he is 21-8 with a 3.44 ERA, 125 walks and 253 strikeouts. He allowed only 20 homers.
"Even though he pitched only one-plus years, his numbers are as good as guys that pitched for three or four years," Butcher said. "He was an All-Star."
"There has to be a period of time," Ramsey countered. "[Utility player] Chris Stynes once had a great half-year. Jimmy Haynes won 15 games in a year."
"Volquez was just one year," Stowe said. "I understand what you're saying. It's something to debate."
Eventually, Ramsey came to his conclusion after pouring over the numbers.
"I vote Volquez," he said.
Later, on the phone, Welsh cast his vote for Volquez and it tipped the scales.
"He had one really good year," Welsh said. "I'd have to give the nod to Volquez based on the fact he was an All-Star pitcher. He distinguished himself for being a rarity -- a Reds starting pitcher on an All-Star team."
Although it would seem likely that if Volquez made it, Cueto would as well. But the group ultimately decided on Wilson. During his time with the Reds, from 2003-05, Wilson was 20-21 with a 4.88 ERA in 66 starts and gave up 60 homers compared to Cueto's 53.
"He was our main guy," Butcher said. "In the middle of the decade, 2003, 2004, 2005, he was the best starter on our team. He led us in starts."
"He was going up against everybody's aces," Stowe said. "You know what I mean?"
Wilson was 8-10 in 2003 and had his best Reds year in '04 when he was 11-6 with a 4.36 ERA in 29 starts. He was off to a 1-5 start in '05 before a career-ending shoulder injury shut him down.
Once again, it was Welsh -- the former pitcher -- who had the last word.
"I'd have to go with Wilson," Welsh said. "He had the one good year and then blew out his shoulder and pitched with it. I give him the nod based on number of starts and he was an Opening Day starter. The year he pulled off after coming off of the scrapheap was good. He would have been much better if he wasn't injured."
So the chosen Reds rotation of the decade was Harang, Arroyo, Dessens, Volquez and Wilson.
And that completed the recommendations for the Reds team of the Aughts. The group was far from perfect, but then again, it was far from a perfect decade for the team on the field.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.