The Cincinnati Reds roster is not some newfangled creation. For at least the fourth consecutive season, the infield, catcher, and right fielder will be the same, as will the back of the bullpen and the bulk of the starting rotation. It's a core where most have seen a pair of division titles, three 90 win seasons, and enough talent and production to warrant pushing the payroll to heights never seen before in the Queen City.
The overwhelming majority of the team is composed of players handpicked by the front office, developed by the front office in the minors, and kept in Cincinnati long-term by the front office. There's a distinct level of commitment to this group that has been expressed both publicly and contractually, and with all commitments come heaped expectations that - rightly or wrongly - fall on the shoulders of those who've been given the reins. The longer a group remains intact without meeting or exceeding the expectations placed upon them, the brighter the scrutiny spotlight gets shined on why things haven't worked out, and it appears that the 2015 Reds season is now firmly in the glare.
If we needed any clear indication that the pressure is on, we certainly got it in spades in the past few days.
As we heard yesterday, former Red Mat Latos spoke with FOX's Ken Rosenthal about his time in Cincinnati, and the big right-hander held little back in his assessment of the club's issues. Speaking frankly, Latos attributed much of the failure of the 2014 team (and, presumably, the collapse of the promising 2013 season) to a leadership void created by the departures of both Scott Rolen and Bronson Arroyo, as well as a team-wide epidemic of players being asked to come back from injuries before being fully ready. If the latter is true, that's a pretty damning indictment, though it's an odd comment coming from a guy who hinted at the exact opposite just eight months ago. As for the leadership assertion, well, it's a refrain we've heard from both Walt Jocketty and Bryan Price for about the same time, though it hasn't yet been expressed so explicitly. The additions of Skip Schumaker and Ryan Ludwick were often cited as being bent on adding leadership, as has the arrival of Marlon Byrd this winter.
That, though, begs the obvious question: if Skip and Luddy were brought in as leaders, and still couldn't lead, why were they kept around? Well, whether or not Latos was the problem or the lack of leadership from purported leaders was the issue, Skip certainly felt that shipping out the former San Diego Padres ace was the correct move, according to FOX 19. Coming from one of the 10 least valuable players in all of baseball in 2014, those are some pretty heavy words, but at least it's clear that Skip's attempting to carve out 5 WAR worth of gritty leadering to help bridge the void between what he provides on the field and what Latos has consistently yielded when healthy. Now we get to hope that all that gritters turns to gold.
Several other veteran Reds chimed in on Latos' comments, too, including a few who were presumably ones singled out (though not by name) in the FOX interview. John Fay caught up with Homer Bailey - potentially the cattle russlin' roper referenced by Latos - who mentioned that he never has felt rushed back from injury by the medical staff and that he's not at all concerned about what his former colleague had to say about him. Bailey and manager Bryan Price then dropped a pair of very candid lines that may reflect more about the past few seasons than we've been able to glean to this point:
Best from Bailey on Latos: "If this was a court of law, the cross examination would go after the credibility of the witness."c#reds— John Fay (@johnfayman) February 23, 2015
Price on Latos’ comment: "It’s a bunch of tabloid B.S. that’s unnecessary." #Reds— John Fay (@johnfayman) February 23, 2015
I'm inclined to find some bit of truth in each and everything that's been said from all parties since I'm a firm believer of finding fire when smelling smoke, but I'm sure there's exaggeration and differing opinions on the exact course of events that's playing out in this finger-pointing mess. Regardless, it's not at all what you want to see from a Reds team already beleaguered from an awful 2014 and lackluster offseason, and it's at least an indictment that there was something tangibly wrong.
Switching from juicy pitching quotes to juicy hitting quotes, it's high time we delved into what Joey Votto had to say to Reds.com's Mark Sheldon upon reporting to Spring Training over the weekend. Votto answered a series of questions ranging from his health to his winter, but what stands out is the answer he provided when asked about his "approach" at the plate. "I'm not going to use the word 'ignorant,' but ignorant," said the Reds' cornerstone 1B in the direction of those who consistently insist that he change the way he plays the game despite the absurd heights he's achieved in his playing days. It's about as candid as Votto could get, and it's an honesty that I'm personally ecstatic to see revealed. Joey Votto has been the most productive player the Reds have drafted, developed, rolled out, and committed to since Johnny Bench, and it's high time people stopped ripping him for what he's not and paid attention to the superstar they've been allowed to call their own. Friend of the blog Mo Egger echoed similar feelings in a much more effective way, highlighting the kind of sentiments that Votto surely has but knows he can't let fly publicly.
What's undeniably clear is that the Reds have reported to Goodyear, AZ to make a run at things in 2015, yet are still stuck talking about the failure of 2014 and the near misses in the two years prior to that. There's concrete indication that discontent was evident in the clubhouse during this core's recent run, and that either the accountability preached by Price upon replacing Dusty Baker wasn't powerful enough, or that Latos was the chief mischief proprietor that torpedoed things. Since the winter was spent shedding 2015 projected value in favor of veteran presence, leadership, and playing the game "the right way," it's clear which sentiment is held by Walt Jocketty and the Kevin Towers wing of the front office.
Whether or not that strategy results in a bang-up 2015 or not is still in the balance, of course, but should that fail to materialize as planned, the Reds have certainly revealed enough about the way they function for some stinging questions to be asked should this upcoming season fall completely apart. Losing when you're expected to win surely breeds frustration, and while we'd all hoped those frustrations would've been channeled into turning the tide for 2015, it's clear that there was ample amount that bubbled over into finger pointing and defense from needless scrutiny.
One thing's for sure, though: the Reds must be aching to get on the field and away from the mic as much as we want them to.