It sure seemed fitting that a rare blast of wet, chilly weather that hung over the Phoenix metro area all weekend cleared just as the Cincinnati Reds pitchers and catchers reported for physicals Tuesday morning.
The memories of last October’s playoff meltdown have subsided, and the collective outlook surrounding the club is as bright as the Arizona skies they’ll be practicing under for the next seven weeks.
The team sidestepped potential arbitration with expected new starting center fielder and leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo, signing him to a one-year deal on Monday, and gave a minor-league deal to lefty reliever Clay Hensley to bolster an already impressive bullpen.
Then, the Reds had more news early Tuesday, avoiding arbitration with pitcher Mat Latos by signing the lanky righty to a two-year deal MLB.com reported is worth $11.5 million.
For manager Dusty Baker, the process of extricating last year’s demise from his consciousnesses started last fall when the season ended, and he was forced to endure a barrage of Giants fever from his San Francisco home.
“You can’t wipe it quickly, that’s why you have the winter, to think about the positives and the things you have to do,” Baker said. “Living in the middle of Giants territory, that was tough. Seeing jackets and jerseys and license plates and flags and billboards. Everyone telling me they’re pulling for me, except when they play the Giants.
“I started wiping it clean then, when I was constantly reminded.”
Of course, Baker had other pressing issues, including his recovery from a mild stroke last September. He appeared fresh while surrounded by reporters in his office at the Reds Player Development Complex, saying he continues to watch his salt, maintain a healthy diet and has kept his alcohol intake to a minimum.
Considering the team’s painful series loss to the Giants, he joked that the last part wasn’t easy, but he insists things are ripe for a run at the team’s third NL Central title in four years.
“Get out and enjoy life, and try not to stress out too much about stuff,” Baker said. “I just want to be in the best shape possible for my team. And I know we’re close. I like this team and they like each other.
“It’s probably as close to a family situation as I felt in a while.”
Rolen update: More news on Scott Rolen was expected Tuesday but nothing materialized, other than the news that Rolen will not be in camp.
It seemed obvious by Baker’s early tone that the veteran third baseman was leaning toward retirement. Since his incredible 2010 season, Rolen has struggled to stay in the lineup, playing in 65 games in 2011 and then 92 more last season.
“If (Rolen’s gone), a big part of our family is gone,” Baker said in the morning, before the news broke. “Somebody else has to pick it up. New leaders are born and acquired when one leader leaves. You don’t know who it’s going to be.”
But Rolen didn’t give a decision either way, saying he wasn’t sure what the future brings.
“Right now I’m simply not ready to make a commitment. I would like to leave my options open, without closing any doors,” Rolen said in a statement issued through the Reds. “I am looking forward to all of the challenges, both personally and professionally, I will face in the future.”
Big raise: According to earlier reports, Latos was looking for $4.7 million and the Reds responded with an offer of $4.15 million. It’s a significant upgrade from the $550,000 he made in 2012.
Latos finished 14-4 for the Reds last summer, logging nearly 210 innings, and is projected as the club’s No. 2 starter behind Johnny Cueto.