CINCINNATI — During the fifth inning of the Reds’ final game, their new general manager held an impromptu session with reporters at the back of the press box. Dick Williams listed the items on their must-do list.
The bullpen was at the top.
Reds relievers were historically bad in 2016, the overriding factor in another lost season. As if anyone needed a reminder, the bullpen blew a lead with two outs and none on in the ninth inning Sunday as the Chicago Cubs rallied for a fitting 7-4 win in front of thousands of blue-clad fans.
“We won’t be playing the high end of the free agent market, but I could see us spending some money on the bullpen,” said Williams, who takes over for the retiring Walt Jocketty in the offseason.
After two years of trading their top players and rebuilding, the Reds can see some pieces coming together in the everyday lineup and the rotation. They suffered through a horrific first half, going 32-57 before the All-Star break with five starters spending time on the disabled list.
Once the rotation stabilized and some of the young players settled in, they became competitive, going 36-37 the rest of the way.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” said Joey Votto, who batted .408 after the All-Star break. “We need to add talent. In my experience, this is a fun city when we play good ball and frustrating when we’re not.”
The Reds lost 98 games in 2015 and 94 this year, the first time they’ve had back-to-back 90-loss seasons since 1933-34. Attendance plummeted from 2.4 million last season — when Cincinnati hosted the All-Star Game — to 1,894,085, the second-lowest in the league behind Miami.
Cincinnati answered its biggest offseason question by giving manager Bryan Price a one-year contract extension through 2017.
“I know the managerial position is polarizing one,” Price said. “I think people are going to want to see our team show real significant signs of improvement. I think the second half is the first stage of that improvement with our club, and I’m happy to be here.”
Some takeaways from the Reds’ season:
YOUNGSTERS EMERGE: Infielder Jose Peraza was the most impressive in a group of young players who got their first chance in the majors during the season. Peraza was among the NL’s top rookies with a .324 average, three homers, 25 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. Adam Duvall led the team with 33 homers and 103 RBIs.
MESORACO’S LATEST COMEBACK: Catcher Devin Mesoraco had a significant operation for the second year in a row. A hip problem wiped out most of his 2015 season, and shoulder surgery made him sit out most of this year. The Reds expect him back in full health for spring training, but his injury history is troubling.
BAILEY’S EXTENDED REHAB: Homer Bailey had several setbacks during his recovering from Tommy John surgery, limiting him to six starts and 23 innings. The Reds are hoping he’s fully healthy next season. Bailey, who has thrown a pair of no-hitters, is owed $63 million over the next three years. Anthony DeSclafani went 9-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 20 starts, solidifying his spot. Brandon Finnegan and Dan Straily earned consideration for next year’s rotation.
HORRIFIC NUMBERS: The Reds went into the season with no proven closer and it cost them. That blown save in the final game left Cincinnati only 28 of 53 in save chances. The bullpen gave up a major league record 103 homers and led the league in walks. Overall, the Reds allowed 258 homers, shattering the previous major league mark.
PHILLIPS’ EXTENDED STAY: The second baseman blocked a trade to the Nationals, which would have opened up more time for a young player. He batted .291 in 141 games with 11 homers, 64 RBIs and 14 errors, his highest total in 10 years. He’ll make $14 million in the final year of his contract, very pricey for a team with the Reds’ budget. They’re still interested in trading him, if he’ll acquiesce.
“We’ll talk to him again this year,” Williams said. “I think one area of depth for us is our middle infield.”
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