- Mark Schmetzer Contributing Writer
Maybe it was the uncertainty surrounding the status of Miami slugger and National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton.
Maybe it was the pursuit of Japanese do-it-all superstar Shohei Ohtani.
Whatever the reason, the Major League Baseball off-season has been quiet with the annual winter meetings scheduled to start in Orlando on Monday. Dick Williams, the Reds’ general manager, is and isn’t surprised.
“I’ve given up on trying to predict the pace of off-season activity,” Williams said Friday during Redsfest. “It’s been quieter than the last few offseasons so far. I guess it’s due to Ohtani and Stanton, but it always seems like there are big guys out there. I don’t know why it would have such an effect this year.
“I can just say, for us, it’s been quieter.”
That doesn’t mean Williams and his staff have been idle since the end of the regular season. The Reds were maneuvering to get into position to pursue Ohtani, but they also were exercising due diligence in other areas while preparing for the four-day winter meetings.
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“We’re open for business,” he said. “We kind of divide and conquer. We’ve got some people spending a lot of time making sure we’re on top of the process with (Ohtani). It has not affected our ability to react to other stuff. We’ve been engaged in free-agent discussions. We’re starting conversations with our own guys about arbitration and extensions — normal business.”
The Reds didn’t make any major deals before the 2017 season until January, when they traded right-handed pitcher Dan Straily to the Miami Marlins for three players, including right-hander Austin Brice, and signed starting pitcher Scott Feldman and reliever Drew Storen to one-year contracts as free agents.
Williams wasn’t sure the Reds needed to make any major moves to show improvement over the last two seasons, both of which ended with 68-94 records. He believes the team would have taken a step forward in 2017 if not for the loss of starting pitchers Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani and Brandon Finnegan with injuries for all or most of the season.
The injuries allowed young starters such as Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, Robert Stephenson and Tyler Mahle to get plenty of big league starts. They responded well, especially at the end of the season. Getting Bailey, DeSclafani and Finnegan back for full seasons would be like adding players through trades or free agency.
“I’m very optimistic that we’re going to see improvement this year,” Williams said. “Last year, if not for those three injuries, we would have seen steps forward with the record. This year, we’ll be in an even better position to have some stability and show some improvement.”
Williams believes the fans have the same sense.
“I think I’m getting some pretty good feedback,” he said. “Now with social media, I feel like I get a feel for the pulse. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on our drafts, the signings on the international market, the trades we did, the waivers claims. A lot of those moves have paid off.
“We feel like we’re seeing positive momentum. The second half of the year, the performance of the pitchers gave us a boost.
“We had the youngest roster in baseball Opening Day last year,” he added. We’ll be even younger this year, depending on the off-season activity, but right now pro forma, we’d be a pretty young team. We like that. We have a lot of guys with options. We have a lot of guys looking to make an impact in the big leagues. Joey (Votto) and Homer are our only two 30-and-over veterans.”
Williams joked that the Reds would schedule another Redsfest if they succeeded in signing Ohtani, but that didn’t seem likely after reports surfaced Monday that Cincinnati wasn’t on the player’s list of favored North America landing spots.