CINCINNATI — How low will they go?
The Reds slid all the way to second-worst in the National League last season as they embarked on a total overhaul of the roster. They lost 98 games — tied for third-most in the history of baseball’s first professional franchise — and then traded All-Star Home Run Derby champion Todd Frazier and closer Aroldis Chapman during the offseason.
The club record for losses in a season is 101 in 1982. The Reds’ only consecutive 90-loss seasons were from 1930-35, when they lost between 94-99 games annually.
Is this team capable of going down as Cincinnati’s worst? Don’t ask. For the few stars left, it’s about digging out of a deep hole as fast as the franchise can do it.
“No matter the projections, you have to get better throughout the year,” first baseman Joey Votto said. “You have to be healthy and you have to have some luck. That’s what we’re striving for.
“If you get fixated on what’s going to happen or what people tell you is going to happen or what you think is going to happen, you’re going to get in very, very big trouble. I would like to think our objective is just to get better every day and compete. Learn from the best and become a better team.”
There’s a lot of room for improvement.
After trading Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake in July, the Reds went with an all-rookie rotation for the last 64 games, a major league record. They enter the season with the rotation still in flux. The bullpen lacks a proven closer. And the everyday lineup is subject to change depending upon trades.
Five things to follow with the Reds in 2016:
WHO’S NEXT: The Reds tried to trade right fielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Brandon Phillips in the offseason. The Bruce deal fell through, and Phillips invoked his right to block potential deals. Look for the Reds to continue taking offers for the duo and anyone else that might help another team before the end of July.
HOW MANY TIMES WILL VOTTO WALK: When the Reds signed Votto to a $251.5 million, 12-year contract, they envisioned the former NL MVP leading them through many playoff runs. Votto is the best player on a rebuilding team with a contract too large — $190 million owed through 2023 — to make him tradeable. He batted .314 with 29 homers and 80 RBIs last season, walking a club-record 143 times. He’s led the NL in walks four of the last five seasons and is likely to get pitched around again.
BACK FROM INJURIES: The Reds have two boosts to their lineup. Shortstop Zack Cozart is back from reconstructive knee surgery, and former All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco has recovered from hip surgery. Both missed most of last season. Mesoraco was limited in spring training, but homered in his first at-bat, a reminder of what the Reds have missed.
WHAT ABOUT THAT PITCHING: Homer Bailey is expected back from Tommy John surgery in May. Alfredo Simon re-signed with the Reds as a free agent. Otherwise, the Reds are counting on youngsters to carry the rotation again. Injuries further depleted it during spring training with Anthony DeSclafani — the top returning starter — having to miss opening day with a strained oblique. The rotation will be a work in progress all season. So will the bullpen, which lacks a proven closer. J.J. Hoover gets the first crack at the job after going 1 for 7 in save chances last season as Chapman’s fill-in.
“For us to be competitive, we have to get on top of our pitching,” manager Bryan Price said. “I do believe over the course of the season we will see a lot of guys.”
IS PRICE STILL RIGHT: Price is in the third and final year on his contract. The Reds are looking for their young players, especially the pitchers, to show improvement. First-year general manager Dick Williams will get control of the roster when Walt Jocketty — the team’s president of baseball operations — retires at the end of the season. Deciding on the manager could be his first big call.
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