Jake Cave, Stephen Johnson, Brandon Dixon, Scott Schebler, Caleb Cotham, Tony Renda, Eric Jagielo, Rookie Davis, Jose Peraza. Do any of those names sound familiar to you baseball fans? Unless you are a die-hard Cincinnati Reds fan who keeps track of such things, you probably don’t recognize those names as some of the players that have joined the Reds this off-season via the trade route or some other means. I’m guessing they don’t strike fear into any of you who might be Cardinal, Cub, or Pirate fans.
About this time every basketball season, I go through a basketball burnout stage where all the games start to run together and I feel like I am writing the same story over and over again. (Ironic then that I type this column on Groundhog Day.) Don’t fret, I will snap out of it and get my game face back on for tournament time and all will be well when I start making those trips to Lucasville and beyond. But since it is almost 60 degrees out today, it felt like the right time to write a little about baseball.
As most of you, I was as frustrated as anyone when the Reds began their winter fire sale, trading away their established stars for what we can safely at this moment call a bunch of “no-name” prospects. We’d never heard of these guys and why the heck were we getting rid of Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman? Things look so bleak for 2016 that our minister referred to the Reds as a bunch of high school players a couple of weeks ago in the midst of his sermon.
But after much thought and deliberation (and a visit to the Reds Caravan), I have decided to step back and take another look at this process. No fan of any professional season wants to start a season knowing that their “team” is not going to be very good and that is what most fans I have talked to think about the 2016 Reds. Come on now, they lost 98 games last year so how much worse can it be? If they lost 98 games with those traded players,why can’t they lose 98 without them?
The purpose of the Reds Caravan each year is to spread optimism (and sell tickets), not to spread predictions of doom and gloom. I’m not sure about the other stops, but they certainly accomplished that in Maysville. Yes, the word “rebuilding” was used over and over. (If I had a dollar for every time, my son and I would already be on the plane to Port St. Lucie.) As Marty Brennaman explained, the plan is for the future, something many small-market teams have been forced to do. See Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals. It’s not going to happen overnight, in fact, it may take a few years, but the Reds are convinced that everything they did this off-season will reap benefits down the road.
Unfortunately for the Reds they happen to be in the same division with the Cubs, Pirates, and Cardinals, so you can expect to be looking up at those teams for a good while. The Brewers are bad too and traded most of their team, so fourth place is quite available going into the season. But is that good enough to keep the turnstiles turning at Great American Ball Park? Last year the team survived on the goodwill of the All-Star Game and this year it will be the goodwill of Pete Rose. The team is counting on those of you who are true baseball fans to keep the seats filled on a miserable Tuesday night with the Padres in town.
But let’s think about something for a minute. Mesoraco, Votto, Phillips, Cozart, Suarez, Hamilton, Bruce. As an everyday lineup, that is not horrible, though even if they all had career years it wouldn’t be good enough. The catcher and shortstop are coming off injuries, the second baseman probably doesn’t feel too wanted after two trade attempts, and the right fielder has trade talks hanging over his head, and there is no left fielder, so it’s certainly not the perfect scenario.
That brings us to the pitching staff, which just two weeks before spring training begins, still has many question marks. It looks like a starting rotation of Raciel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani and then a lot of jobs up for grabs in spring training. Both of those pitchers showed flashes of brilliance in 2015, so if three complementary guys can be found, maybe it will be a serviceable rotation. The good thing about the 98-loss 2015 is that the young pitchers got thrown into the fire and know what the major leagues are like. Of course, that immediately leads to questions about the bullpen, which was a major weakness last season and lost the best closer in baseball.
I really have no problems with trading Chapman, who needs an overpaid closer on a team that only wins 64 games? It really doesn’t matter who wins the closing job for 2016, though I suspect it will be a “closer by committee” situation and somewhere in the stockpiled arms in the minor leagues is the next closer. We just don’t know who that is at the moment.
So where does the optimism come from? It comes from just plain being a baseball fan, albeit a patient one. Whether the Reds win 50 games or 90 games, it’s still a summer evening under the lights with the beautiful city scenery and a baseball game to watch. So be optimistic and get out to the ball park and root, root, root for the home team. My son, who is nothing short of a baseball guru, may have said it best. “Dad, it will be fun just to watch all the young players play and see what they can do.” I think he hit the nail on the head and the patient fan will just sit back and enjoy, though there will be days and nights where that may be a painful task.
Now I have an advantage on the rest of you, I have a fall back. I’m also rooting for that team from the Big Apple that played in the World series, but lost to that small-market team for Missouri. It really doesn’t matter who you root for, it’s baseball and that is all that matters. You can listen to the naysayers who call it a dull and boring game, but it has a magic that can’t be denied. So, try to find a little optimism in your heart for the home team. It will make your summer much more enjoyable.