The Reds pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, AZ for spring training on Valentine’s Day this year, and for once, there’s a fair amount of overlap between the questions long-term couples face every year around this time and the questions the Reds hope to have answered by the time the season starts. Pop a bottle, start the bath, and settle in folks because the honeymoon phase of the Reds rebuild is well past and the seven (three?) year itch is starting to burn.
How old are these chocolates?
Jesse Winker is only 23 years old, but I would have sworn he was at least 33, based on the long-simmering hype that’s haunted the young outfielder. Winker has done well at every level he’s played, so 2017 might finally be the year he gets the call to the bigs. With a .303 AVG and .397 OBP in AAA last year, Winker might have proved himself enough for the powers that be to overlook his utter lack of power, but a high contact corner outfielder has never been the Reds style. Spring training will be the time for Winker to show that he needs to be in the bigs from the outset, unseating Scott Schebler for Jay Bruce’s old stomping grounds.
Similarly to Winker, Robert Stephenson is another goodie who has been surrounded by hype for seemingly forever. Unlike Winker, Stephenson has gotten a taste of the majors and the results were unremarkable. No one has given up on Bob Steve, but a righty with a low 90s fastball and a 4-plus FIP at AAA isn’t exactly a box of Switzerland’s finest chocolate creations. This spring training might be the last real chance Stephenson has to prove his worth in the Reds organization before Amir Garrett, Rookie Davis, or Keury Mella take his place.
Will this spa day really fix my back?
William Carlos Williams once wrote “so much depends on a red wheelbarrow,” but a red wheelbarrow, while in the correct color scheme, cannot play catcher for a Major League baseball team. Devin Mesoraco, on the other hand, can…as long as he’s healthy. On the one hand, saying spring training can put Devin Mesoraco’s health uncertainty to rest is a bit foolish considering he made it 23 and 16 games past Opening Day before succumbing to the DL the past two seasons. However, spring training can tell us if he has even remotely returned to his 2014 form. The Reds will need a full season of a healthy Mesoraco if they want to be certain about a run in 2018, so making it through spring training is just the first step to that end.
The Reds’ other injured payroll suck, Homer Bailey, will also need to prove he still has his mojo out of camp. With Garrett, Stephenson (and maybe Michael Lorenzen?) knocking on the door of the rotation, an injured Homer Bailey doesn’t have much ground to give. And with the recent signings of Scott Feldman and Bronson Arroyo, he won’t be able to lay claim to the savvy veteran’s role either. Bailey told C. Trent Rosecrans that he was “very confident” about returning to form back in December, so I guess the only recourse for fans is to judge for themselves over the course of February and March.
Are those the neighbor’s roses?
Probably the most controversial question heading into spring training is: How will the Reds handle their two dead men walking, Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart? For all practical purposes, the middle infielders are another team’s problem, as neither will be making the 2018 run with the Reds, but for the time being, we’re stuck with them.
That’s not to say I do not enjoy the pair; in fact, they are my favorite players on the Reds. But, in order for the grand rebuild to work, Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera need to take the lion’s share of the playing time this season. Will that happen? With pride, longevity, and lack of contention all playing a role, I would say it’s unlikely the Reds will play Herrera and Peraza at the same time more than a third of the season. I could definitely be wrong though, as it’s too soon to tell, but spring training should give a much better indicator of how much of a role Phillips and Cozart will play on the 2017 Reds.
How responsible is the new babysitter? Did you even try the old babysitter?
Scott Feldman and Bronson Arroyo have both been brought in to mentor the young arms and fill the spaces where bodies need to be before those young arms are ready. While those reasons are certainly important and necessary, bringing in both guys seems to be a bit of overkill. Spring training should tell us how much of an impact each will make on the Reds 2017, but I wouldn’t expect either to do much. Arroyo likely won’t make the roster out of camp, and Feldman should just be a warm body in a Reds uniform until the Reds find a different uniform to put him in.
For those arms that don’t make it to the rotation, Drew Storen will fill a similar babysitting role in the bullpen. Hopefully, Storen will be able to coach Raisel Iglesias on how to consistently fill high-pressure situations so that the Cuban Missile 2.0 can be the Reds’ closer for the second half and beyond. But does Storen have anything left in the tank? Why didn’t the Reds go after Aroldis Chapman instead? (Kidding.)
Where has the spark gone?
So this question is more for the fans–us, the people who pay to keep this sport coming back every year. But where has the spark gone? At least with respect to the Reds 2017, I just feel apathetic. Management still seems to be dragging its feet on making the obvious moves; this year is another lost year in the wilderness, and the roster lacks any sort of character that can make a losing year less of a loser. Where is Jonny Gomes? Where is Skip Schumaker? Where is Todd Frazier? Even Brandon Phillips has become crotchety and jaded. Someone needs to step forward and be the lovable goof Reds fans need in this dark time, and spring training is the perfect opportunity for that to happen. Maximus Decimus Meridius once said, “Are you not entertained?” and to be honest, no I’m really not. But I’ll keep an open mind on being pleasantly surprised.