CINCINNATI (AP) — Manager David Bell hears the buzz around town. Reds fans who haven’t had much to cheer for six years are ruminating not only about a return to winning, but a spot in the 2020 postseason.
A $165 million spending spree changed everything.
Cincinnati was one of the biggest players in the offseason, overhauling its everyday lineup with the two biggest free agent deals in club history. Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos, Wade Miley, Shogo Akiyama and Pedro Strop were brought aboard to end a streak of six straight losing seasons.
When fans fill Great American Ball Park for the season opener against the rival St. Louis Cardinals on March 26, they’ll be expecting nothing less than the start of a run at the NL Central title.
“There’s a real excitement,” Bell said. “Realistically, our fans are expecting a championship. That’s a great challenge. We still have a ton of work to do to prepare ourselves and get ready.
“But to be in position where the expectations are nothing short of a championship — that’s where you want to be.”
Bell’s job is to bring all the parts together during spring training, which begins with the first workout by pitchers and catchers on Feb. 15 in Goodyear, Arizona. After years of just hoping to get back to the break-even mark, the bar has been raised significantly.
“I want to make this team a little better and get to the postseason,” said Moustakas, who made the playoffs with Milwaukee. “The most addictive thing ever is postseason baseball.”
The offense finished near the bottom of the league in runs scored last season, prompting the Reds to go all-in on free agency. Moustakas takes over at second base, and Akiyama and Castellanos are featured in a revamped outfield.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Akiyama became a free agent after his ninth season with the Seibu Lions in Japan’s Pacific League, where he was a top defensive center fielder and five-time All-Star. He set a Nippon Professional Baseball season record with 216 hits in 2015. If he can adjust to the new league quickly, he’ll give the Reds the top-of-the-lineup hitter they’ve desperately needed.
The rotation figures to be a strong point again, led by All-Stars Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. Miley adds a left-hander to a group rounded out by Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani.
The left side of the infield will be under scrutiny. Freddy Galvis takes over at shortstop, where Jose Iglesias had a sensational season last year. All-Star third baseman Eugenio Suarez hurt his right shoulder in January and had surgery, leaving his availability for the start of the season uncertain.
Bell’s most-watched decisions will involve the outfield, where Castellanos and Akiyami are joined by returning center fielder Nick Senzel along with Aristides Aquino, Jesse Winker and Phillip Ervin. Aquino had a record-setting debut at midseason but slumped badly in September as pitchers adjusted to his unorthodox batting style.