The Reds tried an unorthodox strategy to become relevant in 2019. Rather than keeping with their plan of rebuilding with young players, they became movers and shakers in the offseason, bringing in veterans who were in the final years of their deals.
Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, Tanner Roark and Sonny Gray came aboard, with Gray agreeing to a contract extension while the others were a season away from free agency. The Reds accomplished their overriding goal — improving a rotation that was by far their biggest weakness — but the offense evaporated.
A lot of good starting pitching got wasted along the way, with many moments like the one Brennaman described as he finished up his 46th season of broadcasting Reds games.
“It’s very, very frustrating — very, very frustrating,” first baseman Joey Votto said. “Living it first hand, I knew when I signed my contract that there would be stretches, but I didn’t anticipate that it’d be six straight years of losing baseball.”
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In some ways, it represented a small step forward. The Reds moved out of last place, edging ahead of the Pirates who fired manager Clint Hurdle. Their 87 losses ended a streak of four consecutive years with 94 or more. And attendance inched up by 146,050 a year after the Reds drew only 1.6 million, their worst since 1984.
“It’s still disappointing because I think that we had a really good team here and we could’ve done a lot this year,” reliever Robert Stephenson said.
The Reds are in a slightly different yet very familiar spot heading into David Bell’s second season as manager.
WHAT’S UP WITH VOTTO
The Reds’ most accomplished player had a second straight year of notable decline. Votto turned 36 and finished with career lows for a full season in batting average (.261), hits (137) and RBIs (47) with only 15 homers, three more than when he set his career low last year. Votto drew only 76 walks, ending his streak of four seasons with more than 100. He was pleased with some late-season adjustments in his swing, but he’s got four years left on his contract with $107 million due.
“Dropping off as much as I have, it’s been really an eye-opening experience, not something I want to continue to do in my career,” Votto said. “I do know some players are happy to (merely) finish their career off. I just don’t know if I’d have a lot of fun with that.”
Aristides Aquino, called up to play right field when Puig was traded to Cleveland, put on a record-setting show that has fans wondering how much he can do in a full season. Aquino finished with the same number of RBIs as Votto in only 56 games. He homered 14 times in his first 28 games, a major league record, and finished with 19 overall.
“To me, he proved he belongs here,” Bell said.
The starting pitching had the biggest improvement. All-Stars Castillo (15-8) and Gray (11-8) provide a solid front of the rotation followed by Trevor Bauer, who was a disappointing 2-5 with a 6.39 ERA after coming over from Cleveland. The bullpen needs an overhaul after closer Raisel Iglesias went 3-12 with a 4.16 ERA.
WHO’S GONNA HIT?
Eugenio Suárez set an NL record for homers by a third baseman with 49, second-most in franchise history to George Foster’s 52. But the lineup is in flux, especially in the outfield. Rookie Nick Senzel made a smooth transition to center field but got hurt again and needed shoulder surgery. Jesse Winker also was hurt. The Reds scored the fourth-fewest runs in the NL despite playing in one of its most hitter-friendly ballparks.