CINCINNATI — Todd Frazier summed up the Reds’ worst season in 33 years with two familiar words.
“I’d say: ‘Rainy day,’” the All-Star Home Run Derby champion said. “Nobody likes a rainy day. We had a lot of rain delays. A lot of tough days this year trying to put things together.”
Cincinnati fans will remember only one thing fondly about the season: The city hosted the All-Star Game and everything went perfectly. Frazier won the derby on his final swing at Great American Ball Park.
Everything else? Awful in most ways.
The Reds lost starter Homer Bailey, catcher Devin Mesoraco and shortstop Zack Cozart to significant injuries. They traded their only two experienced starters in July and finished with an all-rookie rotation.
They ended up last in the NL Central and second-worst in the major leagues with 98 losses, their worst finish since they dropped 101 games in 1982.
And the misery seemed to go on forever. There were 18 rain delays at Great American Ball Park lasting 26 hours, 57 minutes. Three games were postponed and one was suspended overnight because of rain. The ballpark caught on fire and got hit by lightning.
There aren’t many upsides to take away from those dark days.
“Don’t write about the silver linings,” said manager Bryan Price, who will return for his third season. “People will start sending the hate mail again. People are sick of reading about silver linings with this club.”
Some things to watch as they try to dig out of last place in the NL’s toughest division:
KEY HITS: Frazier made the All-Star team with a late voting push and won the derby, by far the best baseball moment in Cincinnati. He then went into a slump, and the whole team fell apart after starters Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake were traded. Joey Votto was finally back in form after years of injuries, ranking among the NL’s best in numerous categories.
COSTLY ERRORS: The organization painted itself into a corner by giving out so many big contracts in recent years, leaving the Reds without the money needed to keep their starting pitchers. Those big contracts to Votto ($20 million in 2016), Bailey ($18 million), Brandon Phillips ($13 million) and Jay Bruce ($12.5 million) limit their options financially.
COMING BACK: Bailey had Tommy John surgery. Cozart had reconstructive knee surgery. Mesoraco had hip surgery. If those three return — Bailey may not be fully recovered by the start of the season — the Reds will have a better chance of being respectable. But they’re playing in a division that sent three teams to the postseason: St. Louis with 100 wins, Pittsburgh with 98, Chicago with 97. They’ve got a long way to go before they can reach the division’s upper echelon again.
NEED TO GET: Where do you begin? They once again need a left fielder after acquiring and then trading Marlon Byrd. Center fielder Billy Hamilton struggled to get on base, batting only .226, and was dropped from leadoff to ninth in the order for part of the season. The bullpen was a mess for the second year in a row. And the Reds set major league records by using a rookie starter in their last 64 games and 110 overall. They need to get some experienced starters, but don’t have much money to spend.
REBUILD OR TREAD WATER: The overriding question is whether they’re going to commit themselves to rebuilding or continue making temporary patches. For instance, closer Aroldis Chapman saved 33 games and made $8,050,000, an expensive luxury on a 98-loss team. Trading Chapman would free up money and bring more prospects. The Reds have to decide whether they’re all-in on rebuilding.