By Dave Ross
Cincinnati Reds Media Relations Director Rob Butcher just marked his 20th anniversary with the team. On Monday he made his annual pre-spring training visit to the Sidney Rotary luncheon at the Moose Lodge. A good crowd, including local Kiwanians, heard an upbeat report in the joint session.
He heads to Goodyear, Arizona later this week where the Reds begin reporting next Monday prior to exhibition games commencing eleven days later. The team left its traditional Florida training base after 2009 due to the inability to secure modern facilities, and landed in the western Phoenix suburb where they train adjacent to the American League champion Cleveland Indians and share a ballpark with the Tribe.
Butcher says the Reds are delighted to be in Arizona with great facilities, fine weather, and convenient travel for games. “We liked many things about Florida and Sarasota but where we are now is much better for baseball,” he indicated.
Before addressing the current edition of the ballclub, he numerically revisited the disappointing 2016 campaign, especially the traditional first half.
“We were out of it early and ended up 35 1/2 games out of first place. After the All-Star break we went 36-37 with decent starting pitching and an improved bullpen,” Butcher said. “Our hitting was in the middle of the pack throughout. Several guys had fine offensive years, especially Joey Votto after the first two months.”
The former Dayton Flyer baseballer sees the successful return of catcher Devin Mesoraco (hip surgery) as critical to a possible successful season along the riverfront.
“Tucker Barnhart did a great job filling in, and they would make a fine tandem,” he said. “From there, our starting pitching needs to be healthy, including the return of Homer Bailey. The bullpen should be better with the addition of former Washington closer Drew Storen. Even though manager Bryan Price likes relievers throwing multiple innings, I can see Storen in that role with us. “
There’s one big question mark in the everyday lineup, namely the middle infield of shortstop Zack Cozart and second baseman Brandon Phillips. Both are in their final contract years and are unlikely to return after 2017. Additionally, Phillips can and has vetoed trades.
“We have traded for some younger guys who need to play,” said Butcher. “(In the absence of trades) this will become a bigger issue as opening day approaches.”
The media man also talked about his sentimental favorite to make the team and contribute to the 2017 Reds.
“Bronson Arroyo had eight great years for us as a starter and now hasn’t pitched in two years,” he said. “He’s worked very hard after two surgeries and will have a chance to make the team. The odds will be against him but he’ll have the opportunity. He’s my all-time favorite player and would be a major asset to a young pitching staff. All of us with the Reds are rooting for him.”
Butcher’s concluding overview sees an improved squad that could contend for postseason.
“I’m not saying we’ll overtake the (world champion) Cubs in our division but our rebuilding plan is working and gives us a chance,” he said before employing a history lesson. “Remember that baseball is cyclical. We had a good run from 2010-2013 when we were among the best. At that same time, the Cubs and Houston were rebuilding but have gotten very good. We believe our turn is coming.”
Dave Ross has been visiting spring training annually since 1991. His weekly Sidney Daily News reports from Arizona will begin on Friday February 17.