GOODYEAR, Ariz. — On the first day of spring training, the camp scuttlebutt was all about pitching, with a large dose of third baseman Scott Rolen mixed in.
Rolen, the Reds anointed spiritual and physical leader for the past 2 1/2 seasons, is not reporting to spring training.
He made no retirement speech, didn’t close the clubhouse door for good, but continues to vacillate on his future.
The Reds have been waiting since November to hear a yay or nay on whether the 38-year-old free agent would return. And they never got an answer until Tuesday afternoon.
“Right now I’m simply not ready to make a commitment,” Rolen said. “I would like to leave my options open, without closing any doors. I am looking forward to all of the challenges, both personally and professionally, I will face in the future.”
Before hearing of Rolen’s decision, manager Dusty Baker said, “Losing him would be like losing a member of the family. He is a leader and without him we’ll need to find a new leader.”
Said general manager Walt Jocketty after a winter of wondering, “Scott made significant contributions to our team’s recent success and it isn’t a coincidence we made the playoffs two of his three full seasons here. He made a huge impact in Cincinnati with his work ethic and leadership on the field, in the clubhouse and in our community.”
On the pitching front, the Reds signed Mat Latos to a two-year $11.5 million contract to avoid an arbitration hearing. Latos, 25, was the only player who came Cincinnati’s way on Dec. 17, 2011 from San Diego when the Reds sent four highly coveted players to the Padres, including pitcher Edinson Volquez and two No. 1 draft picks, first baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal.
Despite what appeared to be a bulky package in favor of the Padres, Latos won everybody over by going 14-4 with a 3.48 earned run average in 33 starts.
That leaves only one arbitration-eligible player unsigned, 26-year-old right-handed pitcher Homer Bailey. Even without a signed contract, Bailey was on the field Tuesday doing the exhaustive but necessary PFP — pitchers fielding practice. When arbitration bids were submitted, Bailey asked for $5.8 million and the Reds countered with $4.75 million.
The Reds could come up with a two-year deal for Bailey similar to the Latos deal before the arbitration hearing. If it goes to the three-judge panel, there will be no compromise — Bailey will either be awarded his $5.8 million request or the Reds will be permitted to pay him $4.75.
Also working hard under the afternoon sun during PFP was pitcher Johnny Cueto, the Reds’ 19-game winner last season. Cueto, though, was unable to pitch in the postseason, missing his Game 1 assignment against the San Francisco Giants with a strained right oblique.
That forced manager Dusty Baker to scramble his starting staff and while the Reds won the first two games in the best-of-five series, without Cueto the Reds dropped the final three games at home.
Cueto did not pitch winter ball, something he usually does, but said, “I did a lot of long-tossing. I am 100 percent, I feel nothing in the oblique.”
Cueto feels so good that he wants to pitch for the Dominican Republic in this spring’s World Baseball Classic, but hasn’t heard from his country.
“Yeah, I do want to pitch in the WBC,” he said. “If they offer it, I’ll do it.” The Reds, of course, hope the call never comes.
Also on the pitching front, the Reds reached down under and signed an 18-year-old pitcher, Dakota Mitchell, out of MLB’s Australian Baseball Academy.
The 6-2, 190-pound right-hander also plays shortstop, but the Reds watched his development over the past two years as a pitcher and signed him to perform on the mound.