Forget whatever Punxsutawney Phil saw on Groundhog Day, it’s more important that Punxsutawney, Pa.’s Devin Mesoraco will see his shadow in Goodyear, Ariz., soon enough. The Reds’ pitchers and catchers, including Punxsutawney-native Devin Mesoraco, report for spring training on Feb. 11, signaling the start of yet another baseball season.
Despite every team having reason for optimism this time of year, the Reds may have even more reason to be excited for 2013 as the team is coming off a division title and 97 wins. And on paper, at least, the Reds have gotten better with the addition of leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo. CityBeat recently caught up with Reds manager Dusty Baker to talk about the start of spring training and the Reds’ upcoming camp.
CityBeat: You’ve got to like what Walt Jocketty has done this offseason, most notably bringing aboard Choo and bringing back Ryan Ludwick and Jonathan Broxton?
Dusty Baker: More than anything, I like that we maintained the same, which is hard to do. It’s hard to keep the nucleus together. We’re still trying to find some more. Naturally everyone knows Choo, but some of the other parts — the extra parts — that’s the guys that win you seven, eight extra games and make a difference.
CB: The bench was one of the needs, and it looks like you did that with Jack Hanahan, Jason Donald and Cesar Izturis.
DB: Yeah, we’ll see when we get there. We know we have more speed on the bench, that’s one thing. You’ve just got to see how we’re going intertwine the new guys that are here.
CB: So, is Choo plugged in at the top of the lineup?
DB: Yeah, he’s got a track record and that’s why we traded for him.
He’s been a leadoff hitter all his career. We feel his best days are ahead of him yet, especially playing with our guys and on this team.
CB: How about him in center field?
DB: I don’t know. I’ve got to use my judgment when I see him. We knew that was something we’d deal with when we got to spring training. I’ll see. Everyone wants these questions answered right now, but that’s what spring is for. I don’t have answers for those questions.
CB: Jay Bruce has said he’s ready to play center if need be.
DB: He’s said that. He’s in shape for it. I just don’t want to break him down or hurt his offense. That’s a lot of running in center field.
CB: You do lose a lot defensively with Drew Stubbs gone from center field. Drew could really run it down out there.
DB: I know. He did a great job in center field. He’d still be here if his offense came around or showed improvement. He’s one of the best center fielders around, and you know you’re going to miss him defensively. You hope you’re going to make up with it with Choo’s offense.
Thinking Out Loud
Baker’s last statement is the kicker — just how much will the Reds’ defense suffer, and can the boost in offense overcome what they’re losing? Neither Choo nor Bruce can be counted on to be anything better than average in center field, and that might be a stretch. The other worry is that it’s nearly impossible to go another season without an injury to the rotation. And then there’s the Aroldis Chapman move to the rotation, although even if the Chapman gamble doesn’t go as planned, there’s still Mike Leake and a strengthened bullpen with the addition of Chapman. ... It’s safe to say there are many out there who weren’t too thrilled with seeing Ray Lewis celebrate a Super Bowl championship, but one happy byproduct of Lewis and the Ravens winning a championship is that former Bengal Bobbie Williams will receive a ring. For many, the most lasting image of Super Bowl XLVII will be the shot CBS gave us of an emotional Williams celebrating on the field with confetti falling all around him. There are few athletes I’ve respected more in my career than Williams. No matter the situation, he was always open, honest and thoughtful with the media and treated us not as a problem, but as people there to do a job. I last saw him in May, shortly before he signed with the Ravens. Like always, he greeted me with a smile, laugh and a handshake that left me feeling like my year-old daughter when she grips my hand. He knew his time with the Bengals was over, but not his time in Cincinnati. He had no ill-will toward the Bengals, who decided to move on without him. He was happy and excited to move on to another chapter — one that had a happy ending. So often in this job, you root not for teams, but for people — and there’s no person I’m happier to root for than Bobbie Williams.