LIMA — Once you steal 155 bases in a season, people expect big things.
That’s why a young fan asked Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton how many bases he would steal for the Reds this year.
“Good question,” Hamilton said. “How many do you want me to get?”
“A hundred,” the fan replied.
Hamilton said with a laugh, “OK, you got it.”
Hamilton set the professional baseball record for steals in a season in 2012 when he stole 155 at Class A Bakersfield (104) and AA Pensacola (51).
Last year Hamilton hit .256 and stole 75 bases at AAA Louisville and is set to take the everyday job in center field for the Reds this season.
Hamilton was the headliner on the Reds caravan stop which came through Lima on Friday afternoon. Joining Hamilton were Reds broadcasters Jim Kelch and Jeff Brantley, Reds Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Browning, minor league outfielder Jesse Winker, vice president of baseball operations Dick Williams and mascot Rosie Red.
Besides trying to pin Hamilton down on his steal totals, Reds’ fans had several topics on their mind, ranging from the Cardinals, to the team’s pitching, to Homer Bailey’s contract status.
The Reds finished 90-72 last year, good for third place in the National League Central Division behind St. Louis (97-75) and Pittsburgh (94-68). The Reds lost to the Pirates in the one game wild-card playoff game.
One fan asked how important are the 19 games against the Cardinals this year.
“When they start the season, the number one target is to beat the (blanking) Cardinals,” Brantley said matter-of-fact.
Bailey went 11-12 with a 3.49 ERA last year. Being eligible for arbitration, Bailey recently submitted his salary proposal of one year for $11.6 million. The Reds countered with an offer of one year, $8.7 million. Negotiations can continue right up until the arbitration hearings, which are slated for Feb. 1 to Feb. 22.
Williams said he’d like to lock Bailey up to a multi-year deal, especially since he’ll be eligible for free agency next year.
“Homer’s career is on the upswing and our goal is to sign him early to a long-term contract,” Williams said. “You saw us do it with Jay Bruce before he became eligible for free agency. … We’ll try out best to do it with Homer Bailey.
“I think the key is just not to be so attached to any one player that we allocate an inordinate amount of money to one guy, to the detriment of the team as a whole. We’re real optimistic that we think we’ll be able to sign Homer for a long time.”
The Reds plan to start the year with close to the same lineup as last year with Joey Votto at first base, Brandon Phillips at second base, Zack Cozart at shortstop and Todd Frazier at third base.
Ryan Ludwick, who was limited to 129 at-bats when he separated his shoulder on Opening Day, is back in left field. Hamilton takes over for Shin-Soo Choo in center, after Choo signed with Texas. Jay Bruce is back in right. Devin Mesoraco will start behind the plate after Ryan Hanigan was traded to the Rays.
The key to the starting rotation is the health of Cueto, who was limited to 11 starts last year with a pulled side/back muscle.
“I think you have to be concerned (with Cueto), simply because it’s something that took him out almost the entire season last year,” Brantley said. “Eleven starts? It’ll be tough to compete without Cueto for the majority of the season. Everybody tells us he’s totally healthy. It seemed like every time he was close to being ready last year, he would come back and re-injure the same injury.
“This time around they’ve let him rest long enough. He’s had a full winter off, with no winter ball. Hopefully, spring training will prove to be a good time for Johnny and the Reds.”