At Redsfest, players embrace offseason changes
Cincinnati looking to turn the page with new manager at the helm
CINCINNATI -- So much has changed since these guys were last together.
As snow fell outside, the Reds gathered inside at the Duke Energy Convention Center for the 2013 edition of Redsfest on Friday. It was the first chance for the club to show off what has changed since the team's Oct. 1 elimination from the playoffs.
Days after the loss vs. the Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game, manager Dusty Baker was let go. Bryan Price was promoted from pitching coach to manager. Price and general manager Walt Jocketty hired a mostly revamped coaching staff. Some free agents were signed while familiar faces have moved on.
Several players seemed to embrace the changes.
"I think a little stir-up was needed," starting pitcher Mike Leake said. "We needed something to get things going again, to get some fire going instead of being friends with everyone, I guess."
Cincinnati won 90 games in 2013, but finished third in a highly competitive NL Central race behind the Cardinals and Pirates. The Reds got within two games, but never really challenged for the division lead down the stretch and lost their final six games of the year -- including the final five regular-season games.
It was Baker who took the fall for the way the Reds went out. It was the third time in four years the club made the postseason, but also the third straight time it failed to win a playoff series.
"You can't fire all of the players," reliever Sam LeCure said. "I think the organization wanted to show that we are serious about winning and we're not just going to sit on our hands and they made a change. I don't think what happened last year was Dusty's fault, by any means. I think that falls on us.
"But if I was able to take myself away from the situation and be an outsider a little bit looking in, I thought it was the right thing to do. It's a little change of identity. We made the postseason a couple of years. Now our identity needs to be winning in the postseason for a couple of years. It was a wake-up call."
On the roster, the Reds expect to lose leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo and rotation mainstay Bronson Arroyo as free agents. On Tuesday, veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan was traded to the Rays. Hanigan was eligible for free agency after the 2014 season and he seemed likely to be moved after the Reds signed free-agent catcher Brayan Pena to a two-year, $2.275 million contract. Devin Mesoraco will now become the primary catcher.
Another free-agent acquisition, Skip Schumaker, mingled and met with his new teammates while wearing his new No. 25 Reds jersey. Schumaker signed a two-year, $5 million contract last month.
"Ryan Hanigan, I played a long time with him and I had a really good relationship with him. Personally, he'll be missed," first baseman Joey Votto said. "Shin-Soo Choo, I'm not sure what's going to happen, but I loved playing with him and learning from him. There's no question, he'll be missed if he doesn't come back. I'm not very familiar with our coaching staff, but that will come with time and experience. Our new players, I'm not very familiar with, but I will play next to them and learn from them. There's time left in the offseason.
"I think giving Devin Mesoraco a chance to play every day will be very beneficial. He's a guy that seems to be stuck in that potential mode. The only way to achieve his potential is by playing every day. Hopefully, now he gets the chance to play as much as possible."
The offseason makeover is not yet completed. Jocketty is still looking to add a bat or two. If Choo isn't re-signed, prospect Billy Hamilton will be the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter.
"I think that's the nature of the beast -- change," reliever J.J. Hoover said. "They want to go a different way. I think we've got a good core group here. I'm excited for the season and what it can be."
A couple of players are hoping someone who can bring intangibles and leadership to the clubhouse can also surface -- whether it's from the outside or within.
"We lacked a vocal leader. We lacked a glue," LeCure said. "Somebody will have to force their voice into people's ears this year."
"In my opinion, we haven't had anyone for the last four years -- as long as I've been here," Leake said. "We had Jonny Gomes, but even then, he was kind of on pins and needles a little bit fighting to keep a job. Look at the Boston team. You couldn't put a better character team together than they had -- [Dustin] Pedroia and Gomes on the same team and the other guys."
Leake believed that the first new voice will be the most important in Price.
"He has to set the tone for us, set some ground rules and get everybody to jump on board with his rules," Leake said. "He can't let anything slide. If you let things slide, that's when things get slacked. It's up to him to get us going. ... There's been little things guys got away with where there wouldn't be any repercussions."
Regardless of who is managing the team, Votto pointed out, it's ultimately up to the players to step up and perform -- and right what went wrong in seasons past.
"I think every player needs to be accountable for themselves," Votto said. "A coach or a manager reserves the right to have their own set of rules and training styles and discipline. When you get to the Major Leagues, the game has a way of policing you and solving all of those things. We're in a performance-based business. It has a way of weeding people out."