GOODYEAR, AZ. — Usually when a baseball manager says his team is wearing a target on its back it means the team is the best, at the top of the heap, the best of the rest. And it means every other team is shooting at it.
As spring training opens this week, Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price is talking about his team wearing a target, but for an entirely different reason.
Price made it abundantly clear on the first day this week when he met the media that the less he talks about 2014 the better he will feel. To him, it is ancient history, very bad history, something to be buried in a time capsule to be found in a couple of centuries.
The Reds lost 86 games. The Reds finished fourth in the five-team National League Central. And the Reds are now the Rodney Dangerfield of the division — no respect.
And that’s where the target comes into play.
"I don’t want to talk a lot about last year," Price said of his first year as a major-league manager. "We’re an easy target to be underappreciated going into the season. It has no relevance. Maybe players use it as a motivating factor, but I think we’re all already motivated to play, to compete, to win.
"Considering that we won only 76 games and we lost two of our starting pitchers (Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon were traded), that makes us an easy target (to be undersold for 2015.)
"That isn’t balanced by the fact that a lot of it is if we’re healthy," Price added, not too fondly remembering a long litany of injuries last year to Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Devin Mesoraco and many more. "We’ve established that we have a lot of talent here from our history when we’ve been healthy.
"And what I like about 2015 is that our talent in the system is closer to being able to support what we need at the big league level," he said. "Last year we had to bring some kids up from Double-A ball. We had to plug in Bryan Pena to play first base (while Votto was out) and he had close to 370 plate appearances. He was supposed to be catching more than playing first base."
Price said that makes this year’s team an easy target for the doubters, the detractors and the doomsdayers.
Price realizes the prognosticators have relegated the Reds to the pits and is unconcerned what others believe.
"In the end, it doesn’t matter where we are picked to finish," he said. "It matters where we do finish. Anybody that comes into our camp not believing that we have a good team doesn’t know our team well. You have to play the season to see where we end up.
"What has happened is that we lost 86 games and we’re missing two of our starting pitchers from last year’s rotation and we had some chinks in the armor of our bullpen," Price added. "We couldn’t stay healthy.
"What they see is that three teams came in ahead of us last year and nobody thinks they aren’t going to be good again in 2015,"he said. "And the Cubs have gotten better. So we are an easy target to be a second division ball club. I think we have a chance to have a great year with a big improvement over 2014."