Dusty Baker’s voicemail was full. He had 50 text messages. All his friends, family members and players wanted to know why the Reds fired him on Friday.
“They can’t believe it,” Baker said.
The Reds answered one of their major offseason questions by deciding what to do with Baker. Many questions remain as they try to overcome one of the rare 90-win season that wasn’t good enough.
The core of the team remains in place. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce aren’t going anywhere anytime soon unless the Reds deal them. Some of the key players — Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco — are still young enough the Reds don’t have worry about their contracts for a while.
All in all, there are many reasons for optimism.
“I’m excited to see what Billy Hamilton can do,” said Frazier after the 6-2 loss to the Pirates on Tuesday in the wild card playoff game. “I’m excited to see everyone healthy again. (Jonathan) Broxton will be back. You just never know who we’re going to have, but if I had to think about it right now, I’d say I’m very excited.”
Here are three big issues facing the Reds this offseason:
1. Shin-Soo Choo: The center fielder did everything the Reds wanted and more after he was acquired from the Indians last offseason in a trade for Drew Stubbs. The downside of that trade is the Reds knew they had Choo for only a year before his contract was up.
Choo had the type of season that makes you think he’ll end up playing for the Yankees or Red Sox, or one of the higher-spending teams in the league. His .423 on-base percentage ranked fourth in baseball. He ranked second baseball behind only Votto in walks per plate appearances (.157).
Choo ranked seventh in runs created per 27 outs (7.65), a category that features all the stars of baseball at the top: Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Chris Davis, Votto, Jayson Werth and Troy Tulowitzki ranking ahead of Choo.
It’s hard to imagine the Reds lineup improving without Choo next season, yet it’s hard to imagine them signing him with all the money they have locked up elsewhere.
2. Bronson Arroyo: The longest-tenured Red is a free agent, and he may also have priced himself out of Cincinnati with a typically solid Arroyo season. He finished 14-12 with a 3.79 ERA and never missed a start as usual.
This is how consistent Arroyo, 36, has been in his eight seasons with the Reds: 35 starts in 2006, followed by 34, 34, 33, 33, 32, 32 and 32 this season. Arroyo made $16,445,535 this season in the second year of a two-year contract. His age might deter the Reds from devoting that kind of money to him again.
Asked about the possibility of him returning after his last start of the season, Arroyo said. “Honestly, I don’t have any idea. When you don’t have any conversation about it, then it’s left to the imagination. I’m sure there are plenty of positives about bringing me back, and there are some negatives.”
3. Billy Hamilton: The speedy center fielder had a bigger impact in September than anyone could have imagined, hitting .368 and stealing 13-of-14 bases.
It was a small sample size, of course, that’s why Baker didn’t thrust Hamilton into a starting role for good late in the season. Baker remembered that Hamilton hit .256 with a .308 on-base percentage in Triple-A Louisville. If Choo doesn’t return, Hamilton will get his shot in the spring.
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