Fay: Answering whether the Reds will be any good this year means navigating a minefield of ifs

CINCINNATI -- I get the question everyday. Often more than once a day this time of year.

“Are the Reds going to be any good?”

Because people don’t want a firm no, I always start my answer with “if.”

A week from Opening Day, the major if is the starting pitching. That was the case before Homer Bailey had another surgery. That was the case before Anthony DeSclafani’s elbow started barking. With the projected No. 1 and 2 starters on the disabled list to start the season, the situation is beyond iffy.

When Scott Feldman is your Opening Day starter, it doesn’t instill confidence in the rotation. Feldman seemed like a fine fellow in my brief dealings with him in Goodyear. He’s a veteran with a reputation as a good clubhouse guy. But he pitched mostly in relief last year. He projected as a guy trying to make the rotation as the fifth starter. Now he’s taking the ball on Day One.

After him, you’ve got Brandon Finnegan, who’s coming off a solid first year in the rotation. After that, I’d be guessing. I’m faithfully reading the dispatches from my buddies back in Goodyear, where it’s like Day 17 of Groundhog Day, but it doesn’t sound like the Reds are tipping their hand.

I’d expect an announcement in the next day or two. I’d guess Bronson Arroyo and Amir Garrett have secured two of the spots. Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Sal Romano, Rookie Davis and Tim Adleman are in the mix.

No matter how it shakes out, some young pitchers are going to have to be good if — there’s that word again — the Reds hope to avoid the same fate as last year. Last year, the season died and was buried before school was out for the summer.

If — I can’t stop using the word — the Reds can avoid disaster early, things should get better when DeSclafani and Bailey return. However, in the case of Bailey, if plays into that as well.

I think the Reds made the right decision by not panicking and moving Michael Lorenzen and/or Raisel Iglesias back to the rotation. 

By the way, the story that typified the Reds' spring may have been Iglesias slipping in the shower and hurting his back and elbow. It sounds like he’ll be good to go for Opening Day. He and Lorenzen should make the bullpen infinitely better than it was at the start of last year. The Reds added Drew Storen with the idea of using Iglesias and Lorenzen for more that one inning.

Reds manager Bryan Price thinks shoring up the bullpen is so important that he didn’t consider moving Lorenzen to the rotation. He’s confident enough in his rotation options to say that. 

"I think we have fewer back-end-of-the-bullpen options in this camp than we have starters," Price said told reporters in Goodyear. "Taking him out of the bullpen, and all of a sudden it's Iglesias, (Blake) Wood, (Tony) Cingrani, Storen. That felt like to me we'd have to get back to traditional roles. Then Iglesias is a traditional one-inning closer. Or I have to make Cingrani or Storen available for more closing opportunities if I use Iglesias the way I want to."

If the bullpen holds up, the offense should be good enough, the Reds finished eighth the National League with pretty much the same cast last year. A good start will be difficult if Joey Votto hits .212 like he did through May of last year.

Not having Devin Mesoraco at the start is a blow, but Tucker Barnhart will be fine in holding the spot down until Mesoraco’s ready.

I think Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza at the top of the lineup gives the Reds a dimension that no other team has. Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler are players on the upside.

The bench is a concern, but the 24th and 25th man don’t affect a lot of games particularly early.

That brings us back to where we started: The starting pitcher has a huge effect every night.

So that means the Reds are only going to better this year if — again, there’s that word — Romano, Davis, Stephenson, Reed or Garrett are good.

And that’s a big if. 

But you didn’t want to hear a firm no, did you?

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist. This column represents his opinion.

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