You have to appreciate the candor of new manager Bryan Price. No matter whom the Reds pick up or lose in the off-season, Price says his team needs an attitude adjustment.
If the Reds don’t believe they can beat out the top teams in the NL Central, they probably won’t. Price has seen a lack of such belief in the Reds when it comes to facing at least one division opponent.
"There were times, in particular in our division with St. Louis, where it felt like they were a better team," Price says. "That’s something we have to get beyond. We have to get beyond that and not worry about that, just worry about playing the game better than we have. We’ve got a little ways to go."
The Reds believe Price is the man to lead them to the next step. Dusty Baker guided the Reds to the postseason in three of the past four seasons but they didn’t win a series and he was not brought back. Enter Price, who has been given his first opportunity to manage after working as a big league pitching coach for 14 years, the past four in Cincinnati. He takes over a talented team that has underachieved.
"Talking to the guys on the team after I got this job, there was definitely a strong understanding of opportunity missed in 2013 and in 2012," he says. "It was somewhat of a shocker to fall out of the playoff race in 2012 and not come back even more hungry to do damage in 2013. That was disappointing."
Unfortunately for Price, "disappointing" is the best way to assess the Reds’ off-season so far.
In quality as well as quantity, the Reds have lost much more than they have added since the end of the season. Shin-Soo Choo, who proved to be the leadoff hitter they had been lacking, departed for Texas with an overly generous seven-year, $130 million deal.
Cardinals Hot Stove Report airs Wednesdays in December and early January.
Free agent right-hander Bronson Arroyo could prove to be an even bigger loss, as much for his clubhouse presence as his durability. Arroyo spent eight seasons with the Reds, and in the only one he didn’t work 200 innings, he finished with 199. Reds GM Walt Jocketty recently told Cincinnati reporters that he doesn’t expect to re-sign Arroyo.
Reliable catcher Ryan Hanigan ended up with the Rays in a three-team trade, in part because the Reds believe Devin Mesoraco, at 25, is ready for full-time duty.
Numerous role players and relievers have become free agents, including right-hander Nick Masset, lefty specialist Zach Duke, utility man Cesar Izturis and backup outfielders Xavier Paul and Derrick Robinson.
So far, signing Skip Schumaker to a two-year, $5 million contract — the best deal of his career — has been the Reds’ top move. Other than bringing in a backup catcher, Brayan Pena from the Tigers, Schumaker has been the only add to the big league roster.
With a new manager has come a largely new coaching staff. The Reds hired Jay Bell away from Arizona to be bench coach. Don Long, most recently the Braves’ minor league hitting coordinator, replaces Brook Jacoby as the new hitting coach and Jeff Pico takes over Price’s job as pitching coach. Price and Pico worked together in Arizona.
Unless they find a suitable taker for second baseman Brandon Phillips, the Reds don’t figure to add much more to the roster before spring training. According to numerous reports, the Yankees turned down the Reds’ offer of Phillips for outfielder Brett Gardner.
Jocketty now says the Reds will give super-speedy Billy Hamilton a chance to take over for Choo in center field and in the leadoff spot. They will shop for a veteran center fielder who would be an upgrade over Schumaker or Chris Heisey as insurance.
The Reds also could bring in a veteran starter on a short-term deal to provide backup for oft-injured Johnny Cueto and second-year lefty Tony Cigrani. Former 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang, signed to a minor league deal, is not expected to be the answer. He put up a 7.67 ERA in six starts for the Blue Jays last season.
Price on replacing Baker: "You have to appreciate his effort in turning this ball club around to win consistently. I know we’re disappointed that we didn’t do more, especially in 2012 and 2013. That being said, you can’t deny the fact that this is an organization where the cup is definitely half full. We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve turned the corner from just expecting to make the playoffs. We’re expected to do a lot more."
No matter what the Reds do or don’t do the rest of the off-season, talent isn’t the issue. They have plenty with the likes of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, Mat Latos, Cueto and (still) closer Aroldis Chapman. In Price, they hired the kind of fresh voice who could bring everything together. Anything less than a third straight 90-win season followed by a playoff series victory will be a disappointment.