Reds hope Price has right answers for challenges ahead
Club looking to new skipper to get it over postseason hump of recent years
CINCINNATI -- Though it once seemed to be eons away, the Reds' Spring Training report date of Feb. 14 is now just around the corner -- about six weeks from now, in fact.
The disappointment of 2013 has now turned into a new outlook for 2014.
Since the offseason is still not over, more changes could be coming before the team assembles again in Goodyear, Ariz., for camp. But new manager Bryan Price and an overhauled coaching staff should have the Reds' core talent back and much of the roster that has helped net the team 90 or more wins in three of the last four seasons.
At the same time, there are many questions that need answering heading into 2014. Here are 10 of the biggest ones the Reds are poised to face:
1. What style will manager Price have?
Price's personality is certainly a known quantity among the players, after being the pitching coach for four years. Now that he was promoted to replace Dusty Baker, the focus will be squarely on him for his decisionmaking. Being that he has no prior managerial experience at any level, Price's philosophies are in the abstract for the moment. He has worked under several good skippers in Lou Piniella, Mike Hargrove, Bob Melvin and Baker, but he also promises to develop his own style. Indications are that it could be one that meshes old-school, by-the-book strategies with more of the new-school data and analysis, which could prove very interesting.
2. Is Billy Hamilton ready to be a regular in the Majors?
The Reds know that Hamilton can run -- everyone knows that. They were also impressed by his quick development as a center fielder, just one year after starting out in the the system as a shortstop. What they don't know yet is if he can hit well enough to be their leadoff man right now -- replacing free-agent departure Shin-Soo Choo. The club could still pursue a short-term bridge between Choo and Hamilton to give him more development time. But if they aren't able to, the job is likely Hamilton's.
3. Will the Reds make Joey Votto change his hitting approach much, and would he accept it?
Votto led the Majors in walks with 135, and the National League in on-base percentage at .435. But it was his 73 RBIs that had critics howling and had higher-ups in the franchise suggesting that Votto might change his patient approach when there are chances to drive in more runs. Price indicated a more subtle compromise during the Winter Meetings, where Votto could be less selective in good counts and still swing at strikes to get runners in.
4. What shall become of Brandon Phillips?
The will he or won't he be traded storylines have consumed much of the Reds' Hot Stove fire this winter. Phillips has been told he is still a key cog to the Reds -- but that the team would also explore a good deal if one was presented. Assuming he stays, Phillips could head to camp with a chip on his shoulder -- eager to prove doubters wrong. Aside from his RBIs, he was statistically down in many key offensive categories. He was also bothered by a sore left forearm. If that is healed properly, a healthy Phillips could provide a big lineup boost.
5. Is Johnny Cueto healed fully and ready to be the ace again?
Three trips to the disabled list because of a strained right lat muscle limited Cueto to only 11 starts in 2013. According to Cueto last month, he is feeling 100 percent. But the true test, of course, is taken on the mound. The Reds' rotation did well without Cueto, but is better with him healthy and strong.
6. Will Ryan Ludwick's production from 2012 resurface again in '14?
Ludwick's hopes to build on his strong 2012 were dashed in the first game of '13 by a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The productive cleanup hitter, who hit 26 homers and drove in 80 runs the previous season, missed four months and hit only two homers with 12 RBIs in 38 games upon his return. His bat and clubhouse presence were greatly missed during the shortcomings of last season.
7. What can Tony Cingrani provide over a full season?
Cingrani, 24, was 7-4 with a 2.77 ERA in his 18 starts as a rookie, and showed some power left-handed fastballs that reached the mid-to-high 90-mph range. He also endured back injuries that put him on the disabled list a couple of times. Now, Cingrani is likely to replace one the most durable pitchers around in Bronson Arroyo. And, for the question inside of a question, can Cingrani be consistent and healthy enough to not make the Reds miss Arroyo's steady 200-inning seasons?
8. Can Devin Mesoraco succeed as an everyday catcher?
The Reds certainly think so, since they traded regular Ryan Hanigan to the Rays and handed the keys over to Mesoraco. The 25-year-old showed improvement, both offensively and defensively, during 2013. If his bat keeps improving with regular play, Mesoraco could inch upward in the lineup. About to enter his third big league season, the right-handed-hitting backstop will be expected to catch between 100-130 games.
9. How often will Price use Aroldis Chapman for more than one inning in save situations?
Price stopped short of throwing the manager's book away entirely when asked if would use his closer in early, high-leverage situations like the seventh inning. But he seemed more than open to the idea that Chapman could be used to get saves of more than three outs, when needed. If a tough part of the opponent's lineup is due up in the eighth, Price feels that Chapman's arm is ready to take on that type of workload.
10. Can the Reds win the NL Central and find postseason redemption?
The second NL Wild Card team in 2013, the Reds could not overtake the Cardinals and Pirates. St. Louis may have lost Carlos Beltran, but it added Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos without sacrificing any of its coveted young pitching. The Pirates have also made improvements. The Reds have made complementary changes thus far by signing bench players Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena and re-signing lefty reliever Manny Parra. General manager Walt Jocketty still hasn't added the bat he's been looking for, yet. That pop might be what's needed to get the Reds back on top.
If it makes the postseason, Cincinnati will be trying to do what it hasn't done since 1995 -- win a playoff series. The Reds have exited all too quickly in three of the last four campaigns in which they made the playoffs -- a trend Price has been entrusted to change.