CINCINNATI — The Reds kicked off the annual Winter Caravan
Thursday, the bus trek to the far-flung reaches of Redsland to sell the club to fans.
The pitch this year: We’re going to be better. There’s light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel.
That comes from the man in charge on the field and the man in charge overall.
“We have huge expectations that we’re going to compete and compete well,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “I’m not looking for 2017 to be a replay of 2016 because it’s a rebuild. I’m looking for 2017 to be a significant improvement over ’16.”
Owner Bob Castellini is always hesitant to over-promise, but he thinks the Reds can break the string of losing seasons at three.
“Yeah, I do,” Castellini said. “That’s not our goal. Our goal is to be better than that.”
Wishful thinking? Could be. To get to .500 and beyond, the Reds need a lot of things to go right. They’ll have to stay healthy. Their young players will have to continue to progress. And their two free-agent acquisitions will have to play significant roles in shoring up the pitching staff.
The Reds snapped up another free agent off the bargain shelf on the eve of the Caravan, signing right-hander Scott Feldman. The Feldman signing did not have people lining up at ticket windows Thursday. But it makes sense. Feldman is a lot like the Reds' other free agent, Drew Storen. Feldman is a low-risk, high-reward player who was willing to take a one-year, incentive-laden deal.
The team hopes Feldman can be a reasonable facsimile of Dan Straily, the 14-game winner the Reds traded. That could happen, but it is way less than a sure bet.
Feldman, 33, pitched mostly in relief last season. He went 7-4 with a 3.97 ERA in 40 games (five starts) with Houston and Toronto. In the previous four seasons he was 25-29 with a 3.83 ERA exclusively as a starter.
Price has him penciled into the rotation with Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani and Brandon Finnegan. That leaves the fifth spot as a three-way race between top prospects Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed and Amir Garrett.
“I like Scott because of his history,” Price said. “He’s thrown the innings, he’s made the starts, he throws strikes. In order to have a fresh bullpen, you’ve got to have starting pithing.”
For any hope of competing, the bullpen is going to have to be much better. It was historically bad in 2016. Red relievers led the majors in home runs allowed (103), walks (297) and runs (359).
Storen gives the Reds a proven late-inning guy to go along with left-hander Tony Cingrani and right-handers Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias.
Storen, the former Washington closer, will be part of the hybrid, multiple-inning bullpen approach Price plans to use. When Lorenzen and Iglesias got healthy, they solidified the bullpen. That was a key to the Reds playing one game under .500 in the second half.
“(Storen) gives me the ability to mix and match,” Price said. “If it’s necessary to run Lorenzen out there for the seventh and eighth and Storen’s our freshest guy and he’s throwing the ball great, maybe he’s the guy for the ninth. It’s set us up to have Iglesias for two or two-plus the next game, which is a nice option.
“You also have to have contingencies. I’ve painted a picture of how I’d like to use this bullpen. Having someone who’s been in the big leagues, who’s pitched in the postseason, who’s saved 40-plus games, is a nice addition to the bullpen.”
The Reds scored enough runs to be competitive last year. They were eighth in the NL in runs, so if the pitching goes from abysmal to just mediocre, playing .500 or better is no pipe dream.
Price will try to convince fans of that on his leg of the Caravan.
“It’s an opportunity to answer questions and give the folks out there an understanding of where we’re headed,” Price said. “There’s not a more important time than now when the team’s had a few years of struggle. We’ve painted the picture of rebuilding and trying to get back on top of our game, working toward being a continual presence in the National League Central, competing again for postseason and World Series championships. It’s been a painful ride to this point.
“I do believe staying healthy at this point — with the roster where it is — if we do, I think we’ve got a great team, a great product on the field and certainly a fun team to watch.”