Major League Baseball Spring Training has begun and the Reds have returned to Goodyear, Arizona to get ready for it. The Queen City Redlegs began 2013 with a lot of optimism. They added Shin Soo Choo to play CF and looked forward to full, healthy seasons from perennial MVP Candidate Joey Votto and pitching staff ace Johnny Cueto. Quite frankly, 2013 was a “World Series or Bust” year for them. Unfortunately, it was a bust. Votto played a full season at 1B, but seemed to change his approach at the plate and on the field after dealing with a injured left knee in 2012. Joey hit .305, but dipped to 24 HRs and 73 RBIs, numbers that don’t warrant $25 million a year. Another blow was suffered as LF and five hole hitter Ryan Ludwick tore the labrum lining in his right shoulder on a slide Opening Day. Cueto continued to struggle as well with muscle issues. Still, the Reds remained in contention and finished with a 90-72 record even with a dismal end to the regular season that saw them totally flame out against the Mets and division rival Pittsburgh. A third place finish in the NL Central gave them a Wild Card playoff berth vs. the Pirates at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. That game was an epic fail as the hungry Pirates and a rowdy Bucs crowd put an end to the Reds’ season.
Owner Bob Castellini decided change needed to be made at the top. Dusty Baker was great at getting the Reds to the playoffs, but just was unable to rally the team any further. Pitching Coach Bryan Price was chosen to take the helm and bring accountability to the clubhouse. Shin Soo Choo parlayed his .285, 21 HR, 54 RBI season into a huge payday with the Texas Rangers, C Ryan Hanigan became a Tampa Bay Ray and rock solid P Bronson Arroyo was not offered a new contract and moved on to the Diamondbacks. GM Walt Jocketty took a lot of criticism over the winter as he made no moves of significance to counter those losses. P Homer Bailey was resigned to a 6 year, $105 million contract; a move that caused some head shaking but needed to be made in today’s MLB salary world. To risk losing Bailey would severely impact the pitching staff in the future.
For the Reds to reach the playoffs again in 2014 and move past the first round, a lot needs to come from the current roster and a newcomer. Speedster Billy Hamilton has been tabbed to take over duties in CF and the leadoff spot. There is no doubt Billy can run. He stole 13 bases in 13 games during a late call-up to Cincy and provided energy every time he entered a game. But you can’t steal first base. Billy hit .256 at AAA Louisville last season. Joey Votto needs to quit trying to be John Olerud (google the name, kids) and return to his 2010 MVP numbers (.324, 37 HRs, 113 RBIs). RF Jay Bruce also needs to finally take the next step to stardom. Jay is a solid player, but like the team, seems unable to take the ‘next step’. And what type of season should Reds fans expect of “Dat Dude” Brandon Phillips? BP once again played stellar defense at 2B and had a decent season at the plate (.261, 18 HRs, 103 RBIs), but seems to have become a disruptive force in the clubhouse. He has questioned ownership’s truthfulness regarding finances, had a well publicized blow up on Cincinnati Enquirer sportswriter C. Trent Rosecrans and became even more disgruntled after news surfaced the Reds shopped him to the Yankees for a trade. Plus, a disturbing profile came out this winter about closer Aroldis Chapman. Will that be a distraction?
The starting pitching staff of Johnny Cueto (barring further injury), Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Tony Cingrani and Mike Leake should be more than solid and the Reds bullpen is also a plus. But with the lack of moves during the offseason, Joey Votto’s new approach at the plate, the almost certain drop off in production for CF/leadoff spot and change in leadership, I see an 84-78 finish which will lead to 3rd place and no playoffs for the 2014 Reds. The ‘window of opportunity’ has closed on this team.
So, the Bengals lost in the first round of the NFL Playoffs AGAIN. Are you really surprised? Did the outcome Sunday really shock you? It was obvious “Who Dey Nation” was skeptical about the game…you did hear about how hard it was to sell the game out, didn’t you? Another ‘Big’ Game under a national spotlight and once again, the Bengals laid a big egg….or turd, depending on how angry you may be.
I have made the comparison lately that Marvin Lewis has become the ‘new’ Dusty Baker. Some have dismissed it, others have at least considered it. Hear me out…obviously Marvin is a good coach…of course, he knows the game and has been successful enough to reach a level many strive for; head coach of a NFL team. But it has become glaringly apparent he has no ‘effect’ on the Bengals players anymore…no passion, no enthusiasm, no accountability and yes, no ‘sense of urgency’ is being conveyed upon the squad. Just like the Reds, the Bengals are a VERY talented team and yes, that does include Andy Dalton. But when it comes time to ‘step up’, time to take that ‘next step’, they fail…..miserably. And just like the Reds, rumor has it that Bengals brass is trying to hang onto a ‘second in charge’, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, to eventually supplant Lewis as the ‘man in charge’.
Some in the Queen City have called it being “Bungalized”, being assimilated into the acceptance of mediocrity that the Bengals and even to an extent, Reds have acquired. Hopefully, for Cincy fans like myself, Bryan Price can get the Reds over that ‘hump’…and yes, I also believe it is time for the Bengals to take similar action and make a change at Head Coach.
Yes, we all have our opinions, our hates/likes, our favorite players and those we can’t stand…but this weekend is Redsfest…another edition to celebrate our love of the Cincinnati Reds and baseball. So, let’s toss aside our twitter battles…let’s cast aside our ripping of other fans and enjoy these two days of ‘seeing the gang’ one more time before winter’s icy grip takes hold until April….or at least till the Winter Caravan. By the way, why not join us and fellow Reds fans to enjoy some ‘icy cold beverages’ and talk baseball after Redsfest on Friday Night?