CINCINNATI -- Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez was playing in the Japan All-Star Series earlier this month with several other major-league players when he and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Kike Hernandez began discussing the Reds' new coaching hires, in particular hitting coach Turner Ward.
"He said, 'You guys got really lucky. You've got one of the best hitting coaches, one of the best people, and one of the best personalities,'" said Suarez. "For him to say that, that's what we need."
The Reds haven't had a winning season in six years. Ending that streak begins by having a winning offseason. In that respect, they are off to a good start.
The Reds have yet to make a splash in the free-agent market, although links to arms like Dallas Keuchel, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Greinke are tantalizing. But what they have managed to do this fall is rebuild the team's leadership from the top down.
That process began with the hiring of David Bell as manager on Oct. 21.
"I think he brings a lot of talent," said Suarez. "He knows what he's going to. He's got good communication with the players. You've got to be like a family, and that's my first impression of him."
On Friday night, Bell was handed his first chore: finding a replacement for center fielder Billy Hamilton, who was non-tendered , making him a free-agent.
"It is a little fresh right now," said Bell. "I love our team. But tough decisions have to be made in this game, particularly this time of year. I've been included in discussions with the front office. I've done a lot of listening. Everyone's anxious to get to work. Spring training is going to sneak up on us."
Since Bell's hiring, everyone has been buying what he and the Reds' front office have been selling.
It's doubtful guys like Ward, the hitting coach for the National League pennant-winning Dodgers, or Derek Johnson, the pitching coach for the National League Central division winners in Milwaukee, would leave those gigs without having confidence in where the Reds are headed.
"We've gone through the rebuilding phase, we're now in the building phase," said Reds General Manager Nick Krall. "We're establishing a good culture. The coaches all wanted to be here, and that says a lot."
The track records of the coaches the Reds have brought in jump off the page.
During Ward's three seasons in Los Angeles, the Dodgers won NL West titles each year and reached the World Series twice. Dodgers batters increased run production each of those seasons. During Ward's tenure, LA led the league in home runs, while ranking second in walks, third in slugging percentage, fourth in on-base percentage and fifth in runs scored.
Milwaukee posted a cumulative team ERA of 3.94 during Johnson's three seasons as pitching coach, good for fourth-best in the NL. The Brewers' 3.54 ERA from July 28 through the rest of the season ranked third in all of baseball behind only the Cleveland Indians (2.67) and New York Yankees (3.50). The Brewers' 3.13 ERA from Aug. 22 through the remainder of the year was the best in the major leagues, helping them soar past the Chicago Cubs to win the division.
Johnson's task is far more daunting than Ward's, of course. Last season, the Reds ranked last in the league in hits, runs and home runs allowed. They finished 14th in ERA, innings pitched and earned runs allowed. The Reds used 32 different pitchers in an effort to stem the tide.
With Johnson's success in Milwaukee, the Reds surprised many in baseball by luring him away and handing him the keys to mostly a young pitching staff still trying to find its footing at the major-league level.
"It's a little bit of a sleeping giant," said Johnson of the Reds. "I think the sky's the limit."
Offensively, the Reds ranked among league leaders in on-base percentage, batting average, slugging, and home runs. Ward's job is to find some consistency for a club that hit .268 with runners in scoring position before the All-Star break and just .227 after.
"We've got talented players," Suarez said. "We've just got to put everything together."
That process is underway.
Bell said at Redsfest on Friday that it was his first chance to have the entire staff together. He said the discussions were informal, but for Bell, it was the unofficial kickoff to his tenure as Reds skipper.
"It's really the two best days on the job so far," Bell said. "Seeing those guys, spending time together, planning. At this point I'm just trying to get to know everybody. It's all about building relationships."
The Reds wrapped up their coaching hires last week with the addition of Freddie Benavides as Bell's bench coach, Delino DeShields as first base coach, Lee Tunnell as bullpen coach and Jeff Pickler as game-planning and outfield coach. In addition, Billy Hatcher returned to the organization as minor league outfield/base-running coordinator.
"It's like putting together a puzzle," said Bell, of the process of assembling his first coaching staff as a big-league manager. "These guys had choices and they chose to be here. That's really important. It's a good group. A lot of different backgrounds, different experiences. You want different personalities, people different than me. You want to make it as well-rounded as possible."