When the Reds appeared to be finally finished trading away top players, they made one more deal that reminded everyone they’re not quite there yet.
By sending Dan Straily — their top starter from 2016 — to the Marlins for three prospects last month, Cincinnati showed that it’s still in the midst of a massive rebuilding project. There could be a few deals ahead as they get ready to start the 2017 season as a work in progress.
“You really have to make decisions with the long term in mind,” said Dick Williams, who moves into the role of general manager this season. “I am committed to bring us back to championship baseball, and you’ve got to take risks.”
Any talk of title contention is way too premature. However, the Reds think they’ve stabilized after losing 98 and 94 games each of the past two seasons. While still a long way from being a contender, they’re hoping they can be competitive again and finally escape the basement of the NL Central.
A healthy rotation and a respectable bullpen would go a long way. The Reds opened last season with five starters on the disabled list — Straily stepped into the void and won a team-high 14 games — and they became competitive when the rotation became healthy. They went 36-37 after the All-Star break — a small but significant step.
Cincinnati invested most of its offseason spending on a bullpen that was one of the worst in major league history. With an everyday lineup anchored by Billy Hamilton and Joey Votto, they have enough offense to keep up.
There are a lot of spots to be filled as the Reds open spring training with the first workout by pitchers and catchers next Tuesday in Goodyear. Some things to watch:
The Reds signed Drew Storen to a $3 million, one-year deal as their biggest offseason acquisition. The bullpen gave up a major league record of 103 homers and led the NL in walks last season. It had only 28 saves in 53 chances. Storen was used in more of a set-up role last season with Toronto and Seattle, but the Reds are hoping he can be an effective closer the way he was with Washington, filling their biggest void. There will be plenty of competition for set-up roles.
ROOKIE TO WATCH
Austin Brice will get a chance to win a relief job. He’s one of the three prospects the Reds got for Straily. Brice made 15 relief appearances last season.
The everyday lineup is anchored by Votto at first base and Hamilton in center. Left fielder Adam Duvall will try to build on his breakout year, and shortstop Zack Cozart is a full year removed from reconstructive knee surgery. The 31-year-old shortstop could be traded during the season if there are any takers.
Second baseman Brandon Phillips has repeatedly blocked trades that would open a spot for Jose Peraza to play and develop. Phillips is in the final year of a five-year deal, making $14 million this season. It’ll be interesting to see if they try to trade him again, or if the Reds simply give Peraza more playing time.
Homer Bailey was limited to six starts because of various setbacks coming off Tommy John surgery. He had surgery to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow on Feb. 8 and is expected to start the season on the disabled list. Former All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco is coming off his second hip operation in two years and will be limited during camp. Their health will be a main focus during spring training and beyond.