Back in 1981 the Cincinnati Reds had the best record in the major leagues. But after that season the team decided to make major roster changes due to the expense of retaining the ‘81 squad.
Gone were names like Foster, Griffey, Collins, and Knight. Additionally, legendary catcher Johnny Bench was moved to third base. The result was a team that could not hope to win its division until the new players matured.
Still, Reds management told its public relations staff to tell the fan base that the team was good enough to win in an effort to sell tickets. “I had a hard time doing that,” said the late former first baseman Gordy Coleman, who was a regular visitor to Sidney on behalf of the ballclub. “In 1982 we weren’t good enough to win.” He made those comments many years later.
Now in 2016 the Reds are again in a similar transition as most of the starting pitching and some position players have been jettisoned elsewhere over the past year.
How is this team being marketed to its fans? According to longtime Media Relations Director Rob Butcher, there’s no deception or empty promises from either the owner or head of baseball operations.
“Bob (Castellini) and Walt (Jocketty) both want us to be honest with our fans during this offseason,” Butcher told the Sidney Rotary Club on Monday at the Moose Lodge as he visited for the 18th straight year. “We’re in transition. If our pitching is good and we avoid injuries with position players, maybe we can get off to a good start and see where that takes us. The last two seasons our roster was good enough to win but injuries killed us.
“No doubt about it. We’re looking ahead,” the Wilmington native continued. “By 2018 we’ll know if we’ve made good trades and hope we can again win our division. We think we’ve gotten good value in all of our trades. More trades will come if we can find the right matches.”
Butcher had just returned from his tour with the team’s winter caravan throughout Reds Country, which always immediately precedes his Sidney stop. He’s about to leave for spring training in Goodyear, Arizona, where pitchers and catchers report in just over two weeks.
Audience questions were welcomed on Monday and highlights follow.
Q: Will second baseman Brandon Phillips accept a trade?
A: “He has the right to veto any trade but I’m told there are places he’d be willing to go. Getting a deal done would be tough.”
Q: How’s the starting pitching rotation?
A: “Homer Bailey won’t be ready until at least late May. Anthony DeSclafani should pitch opening day followed by Raisel Iglesias. After that, who knows. Thirty-four pitchers have been invited to spring training.”
Q: Who will succeed Aroldis Chapman as the closer?
A: “J.J. Hoover is the early favorite. Michael Lorenzen throws hard and may have a shot.”
Q: Pete Rose will join the Reds Hall of Fame this summer and his statue will follow outside the ballpark entrance. What pose will be utilized?
A: “I can’t imagine anything but a head first slide. That’s the Pete Rose signature.”
Q: Is catcher Devon Mesoraco ready after hip surgery?
A: “I think so. I also see him as the on-field leader of this team.”
Q: There’s talk about the National League adding the designated hitter rule for 2017. How do you see it?
A: “We like baseball that requires the pitcher to hit (along with the inherent strategy). This would be negotiated when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after this year. I do understand the desire to have both major leagues playing by the same set of rules.”
Q: Will Reds attendance decline this season?
A: “That’s unavoidable. We hosted the MLB All Star game last summer and tickets for that were tied to other regular season ticket purchases. That incentive isn’t there this year.”
Dave Ross has covered Reds spring training since 1991 and will file reports from Arizona throughout March.