CINCINNATI — The Reds' season to forget came to a merciful end with Sunday’s game.
The sentiment in the clubhouse is the worst is over.
“I feel like we’re bottom out,” shortstop Zack Cozart said. “I think we’re ready to go up.”
Joey Votto agrees that they're heading in the right direction.
“I’m excited for the future," Votto said. "We continue to add talent. It’s really, really important that we play better ball here. In my experience, this is a really fun city when we’re playing good. When we’re not, it’s frustrating. That’s going to come and hopefully soon.”
Of course, that’s what the players are going to say, but no one can say for sure that the rebuilding is done.
“I wish I knew,” general manager Dick Williams said. “I like to think we left the most difficult part behind us ... I feel like we’re on the upswing. It certainly felt like in the second half, and I hope we’ll continue that momentum into next year.”
It’s rare that a team goes from winning fewer than 70 games one year to competing the next. But huge jumps in wins have come in recent history. The Chicago Cubs went from 73 wins in 2014 to 97 in 2015. The Houston Astros went from 70 wins in 2014 to 86 wins in 2015.
Are the Reds ready to make that kind of jump? I’ll give you a strong “I don’t know." It’s impossible to say.
But we’ll give you nine reasons to be encouraged. Sure, we could give nine reasons to be discouraged, but after this season, no one needs anymore discouragement.
Here are the leading nine reasons to have hope for 2017:
The Reds have only $66 million committed to the 2017 payroll. At this point last year, they had almost $90 million committed to the 2016 payroll.
By shedding Jay Bruce’s salary after previously shedding Todd Frazier’s and Aroldis Chapman’s, the Reds are in position to add a free agent or two.
Williams said the team won't be playing in the high-end of the free agent market.
“We will have some money to invest," Williams said. "It will depend on where the best value for the team is, but I could see spending some money on the bullpen.”
The kid has shown he can hit. It’s a small sample size, but you have to like a .329 average over 230-plus at-bats. He’s also the second fastest guy on the team, and he’s played well defensively.
Having him and Billy Hamilton hitting in front of Joey Votto should be a good thing.
Where Peraza will play remains a question. He’s played short, second and outfield. Williams said the Reds will talk to Phillips about his future. The Reds had Phillips traded last offseason, but he rejected it as a player with 5-10 rights.
“We’ll talk to him again about where we are in our life cycle,” Williams said. “And what we want to do since he still has the ability to control his destiny. (Middle infield) is an area of depth for us.”
It’s hard to argue with Walt Jocketty’s long-term record. But this roster was not good enough to compete, much less win the last two seasons.
Williams will take over as the chief baseball officer after a year of sharing the duties with Jocketty. Williams is unproven, but change can be good — or at least that’s what Reds fans have to hope.
Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen
They basically stabilized the bullpen, and both have the stuff to close.
“They gave us some credible backend bullpen options,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “They came in and handled the high-leverage workload to give us that boost.”
It was interesting what Price had to say about the way he’ll use them.
“We’ve talked about the hybrid bullpen, which nobody wants to talk about because everybody wants a defined closer," Price said."You have two guys down there that can be multiple-inning guys. Two innings from Lorenzen, one from Iglesias, one from Lorenzen, two from Iglesias.
“. . . If we have some multiple-inning, setup/closer candidates, which I know we do in Lorenzen and Iglesias, you can have fresh arms with more frequency. I’m really looking hard at the option.”
Williams said the Reds won’t bring in a closer.
“As a smaller-market team, you don’t have the luxury of bringing a premium guy just to get three outs,” Williams said.
Hamilton rebounded from a rough start to hit better (.260) than he ever has as a major leaguer.
“I didn’t know where to hit him. I hit him eight, ninth, first,” Price said. “What he did after the first five or six weeks of the season as far as average, on-base, his overall offensive efficiency was a big step in the right direction as far as his career and our ability to see as potentially a long-term fit as leadoff man.”
Hamilton ended the season on the disabled list with an oblique strain, but he should have a normal offseason after rehabbing from shoulder surgery last offseason.
“That should help me,” Hamilton said. “I can worry about working on my baseball stuff and lifting and not worry about rehabbing.”
The emergence of Dan Straily and Brandon Finnegan and the strong return of Anthony DeSclafani gives the Reds three starters to line up behind Homer Bailey.
Price and Williams said they expect Bailey to be 100 percent, by the way, despite the setbacks after Tommy John surgery cut his season short.
“We were being very cautious with him,” Williams said. “The last few bullpens were pain-free and he was starting to get some of old zip on the ball. When we were running out of time, it ultimately didn’t make sense to get him out there.”
The key will be one of the young pitchers stepping up and filling the open spot and plugging holes if injuries occur. The concern is the top two prospects coming in — Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed — took steps backward this year.
He proved that he’s still in the conversation as the best hitter in the game.
His second half was probably the best in Reds history. More importantly, he played virtually every day for the second straight year after the injury-riddled 2014 put his future in jeopardy.
Top draft pick Nick Senzel had a sensational year, hitting .329/.415/.567 at Dayton. He moves to the top of the prospect list and looks to be on the fast track to the majors.
Picks 1A Tyler Trammel also was very good. He hit .303/.374/.421 at Billings. He’s a exactly what the Reds need more of — a speedy, athletic outfielder with power potential.
“We haven’t had guys come out and have first years like that,” Williams said.
Barnhart put together a solid offensive year. He was always considered a good catch-and-throw guy. But by hitting like he did this year, he showed he could be more than a backup.
That’s important given the recent medical history of Devin Mesoraco.
“Tucker playing well so well puts us in the position of not rushing Devin back,” Williams said.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.