Exactly one week before pitchers and catchers are supposed to report, the Cincinnati Reds just loaded their spring training equipment into a semi and sent it on its way to Arizona. A few unsettling worries that may also travel with the team from Arizona back to Cincinnati for Opening Day are hidden among the bags of gloves, racks of bats, and bags of suitcases.
Of course, first baseman Joey Votto’s health, who has endured a string of injuries in recent years, is the biggest worry. Votto’s development may be somewhat visible during spring training, but it won’t be clear whether he has truly reverted to his MVP form from a few years ago until several months into the season.
Even though it may change throughout the year, the rotation gaps after Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake must be filled by the end of spring training. Injury can significantly change a pitching staff, as the Reds’ 2014 season undoubtedly showed.
The Reds didn’t do much to improve one of the National League’s worst offenses aside from adding Marlon Byrd. If Votto and Jay Bruce are fully recovered from their injuries and if Byrd can match the power he displayed in Philadelphia last season, they think the team can compete.
After a disappointing 2013 campaign, the Reds sadly continued to adopt that passive stance, which led to an even worse campaign last year. Cincinnati decided to simply switch managers rather than altering the roster. Even that choice didn’t cause much of a stir; Bryan Price, his pitching coach, simply took the place of Dusty Baker.
The Reds still have a chance to reorganize the squad and avoid the complacency that last year’s club succumbed to, even though it is too late to add any significant players to the roster. Some players need to be made to feel disposable by price.
Zack Cozart, the shortstop, is the most replaceable player in the current lineup. In the absence of a strong preseason, Price should think about limiting his role because the team’s lack of offense from last year hurt them.
“Cozart hasn’t had much competition in past years,” GM Walt Jocketty told Reds Report writer Mark Schmetzer. “To remain a starting shortstop, his offensive game needs to be better.”
Cozart’s.221 batting average was similar to what the Reds received from defensively-minded shortstop Paul Janish a few years ago. Like Cozart, Janish was a good fielder and a nice guy in the clubhouse, but because of his production struggles, he was ultimately more effective as a utility player.
It is understandable why Jocketty insisted the Tigers include young shortstop Eugenio Perez in the exchange that sent Alfredo Simon to Detroit. In the minors, Saurez showed some bat prowess, hitting over.280 in three of his six seasons. Although he didn’t reach those totals during his one season in the majors, his.242 average was still twenty points higher than Cozart’s.
Even though Saurez is unlikely to give the Reds the immediate boost they need, the club’s resolve to not be satisfied with the average output of its current lineup would be strengthened by his consistent presence.