As it often does, it all comes down to pitching. Reds manager Bryan Price believes he has enough of it in '17 to have more success.
"I'm not looking at 2017 to be a replay of 2016, because we say it's a rebuild," Price said. "I'm looking for 2017 to be a significant improvement over 2016. In order to do that, you have to have pitching depth in the rotation and bullpen. I think we've satisfied some of those issues we had last year. Now we have to stay healthy."
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Beset by injuries and a lack of experienced depth, Reds pitchers ranked 14th out of 15 National League teams last season with a 4.91 ERA as the team went 68-94. They also smashed a Major League record by allowing 258 home runs. The rotation provided the fewest amount of innings in the Majors, while the bullpen led all of baseball in homers and walks allowed and hit batsmen.
Cincinnati expects to have a healthy ace in Anthony DeSclafani, who didn't debut until late June last year. Homer Bailey is believed to be healthy and all the way back from Tommy John surgery. Brandon Finnegan worked 172 innings in his first full year as a starter in '16 and is expected to keep developing. After general manager Dick Williams took advantage of Dan Straily's peak value and flipped him for three prospects in a trade with the Marlins, free agent and ground-ball-inducer Scott Feldman was signed to pick up the innings and add a veteran presence.
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The fifth spot will be a wide-open battle with some talented young arms competing, including power pitchers Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett and Sal Romano. Tim Adleman, formerly from independent baseball, showed he can handle the Majors, and soon-to-be 40-year-old Bronson Arroyo will be in camp as a non-roster invitee to see if he has anything left after missing two years with arm injuries.
Among the prospects, those who lose out on a rotation spot could still make the team as a reliever.
Pitchers and catchers have their first workout on Feb. 14 and the first full-squad workout at the club's Spring Training home in Goodyear, Ariz., is Feb. 17.
"If we become a better team because they spent half a season or a season in the bullpen, let's have a better team and let them get experience pitching out of the bullpen," Price said. "It doesn't mean they will never start again."
Frankly, it's a bullpen that can only improve in '17. It got a potential boost with free agent Drew Storen, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract with added incentives. Storen had a career-high 43 saves with the Nationals in '11, but isn't necessarily the closer.
Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Tony Cingrani and Storen could be the closer on any given day. Iglesias and Lorenzen -- previously starters -- provided an instant boost when they returned from injuries in June and worked out of the bullpen, sometimes pitching up to three innings.
"We're going to try and do a lot of things that I think a lot of people took notice of in the playoffs and World Series," Price said. "It was something that we were doing in the back-third of our season and we'll continue to do that. We'll be able to utilize a pitcher that can throw multiple innings late in the game, set up or close."
Williams believed strongly in the pitching upgrades his club will have.
"We think that getting players healthy, young guys coming up and some investments in players from the outside," he said, "those three things will improve our pitching dramatically from last year."