By Jordan Rinard, Senior Staff Writer
After a disappointing 2014 campaign in which the Cincinnati Reds mustered a 76-86 record and missed playoff berth under first-year manager Brian Price, the 2015 commencement seems to provide reasons for guarded optimism around the ball club.
A healthy Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips and 2014 All-Stars Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco, Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman return to the team. Marlon Byrd brings some stability into left field, and the pitching staff led the Cactus League in ERA during spring training.
However, there are several areas of concern with this year's Redlegs.
First of all, Mat Latos' departure creates a huge void in the starting rotation, especially with Homer Bailey placed on the DL to start the season. Trading away Latos wasn't necessarily the wrong move (he was an aging, expensive arm that already dealt with an injury in 2014), but now 3-5 spots in the rotation are filled with guys who are either unproven commodities or have proven they can't be major league starters for other teams.
Speaking of trades, the Reds probably should have sold high last offseason and traded away Phillips for another bat. In 2014, he had career lows in hits, runs scored and home runs after arriving in Cincinnati and dealing with a six-week torn thumb ligament injury. Having an aging All-Star and Gold Glove winner is nice, but when a player has value and is on the cusp of his career downswing, you must sell and fill other needs.
Cincinnati's offseason moves also spark some issues. New additions include pitcher Jason Marquis (36 years old with 4.65 career ERA and hasn't pitched in the majors since 2013), pitcher Kevin Gregg (36 years old and missed most of 2014 due to shoulder surgery), outfielder Brennan Boesch (cut by three teams in two years and hit .187/.203/.293 for the Angels last season) and Chris Dominguez (28 years old and had 18 plate appearances with the Giants). If Reds management wants to catch up with the Cardinals and the Pirates in the NL Central, these acquisitions sure don't reflect that.
The hot-button topic of this offseason was Joey Votto's approach at the plate. Long-time Reds radio announcer Marty Brennaman stated in an interview earlier this year that if Votto is "content to lead the league in on-base percentage again," the Reds are in "big trouble." The criticism comes from a good place, but when we're criticizing a .310/.417/.533 career hitter on his approach, we're zeroing in on the wrong thing with this team.
Despite the uncertainty and negativity surrounding the team, we should be excited for what the 2015 Reds have to show us. Remember, this was a team that was 1.5 games behind the lead in the NL Central heading into the All-Star Break last season and lost 38 one-run games. The Reds can hang with the best in the Central and can possibly keep on playing when the calendar reaches September.