CINCINNATI -- Reds general manager Dick Williams thinks the heavy lifting of the big rebuild is over. He thinks 2017 will be better than 2016.
"I’d like to think we left the most difficult part behind us," Williams said.
I think .500 would be a reasonable goal. In the second half of the season, the Reds played over .500 ball until near the end of the half. There’s been enough improvement among the young players to expect an uptick.
Whether the Reds get there or not is going to come down to the starting pitching. In fact, whether the rebuild is ultimately successful will come down to starting pitching. The rebuild is only a success if the club gets back to the postseason. To do that, the team is going to need to develop a No. 1 starter.
More on that later.
For now, Williams is focused on making 2017 less painful than 2016.
"The priority is to supplement the pitching," Williams said. "The bench is an area we can improve. The day-to-day position players are in good shape."
The focus will be primarily on the bullpen, and the Reds are not going to go on a spending spree.
"We won’t be playing in the high end of the free agent market," Williams said. “But we do anticipate having some money to invest this year. It will depend where the values are."
The Reds will likely never play in the high end of the free agent market when it comes to starting pitching, but you can build a staff without doing that. The last time the Reds were really good -- in 2012 -- they did just that and had great starting pitching.
Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake all made every start that year. As a result the team ERA was 3.34 -- second best in the National League. That’s no small feat for a team that plays half of its games in Great American Ball Park.
Is there any hope that the Reds can put together that kind of rotation from the current stock of arms?
Sure, but it’s no lock. I think they’ve got the Arroyo, Bailey, Leake part covered. But finding a Cueto and Latos is the big trick.
Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan and Dan Straily go into the offseason penciled in for four of the five spots.
DeSclafani, Finnegan and Straily all made big strides this year, and all are young enough to continue to get better. But none of the three screams: “No. 1 starter.” Bailey has the stuff to be a No. 1, but he’s coming off two elbow surgeries, and he’s 30 years old.
Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias have the best stuff among the young pitchers, but it sounds like both are in the bullpen for good. I wonder if anyone mentioned Aroldis Chapman’s name when they talked about Lorenzen and Iglesias in the postmortem meetings.
That brings us to right-hander Robert Stephenson and left-hander Cody Reed, the club’s top two prospects. They were seen as possible No. 1 or 2 types coming into the season. Both struggled in the big leagues.
Both are 23. Maybe it was just a blip on the development ride.
Left-hander Amir Garrett, the No. 3 prospect, did not get a call up, which seemed odd to me. But he has the stuff to be a front-of-the-rotation guy.
Again, that’s what the Reds have to hope for. An ace seems to be a requirement for the getting to the postseason. And the Reds aren’t going to be able to afford a free agent No. 1.
"Look back to 2008, ’09 ’10. Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce -- all those guys who came up -- there were challenges for all of them," Williams said. "We’re in that exciting period where you’ve got a lot of young assets starting to come up and play well. When it will all gel for them is hard to predict. I look forward to seeing them come out in the April."
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.