Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
For 50 years, Howard Wilkinson has been covering the campaigns, personalities, scandals, and business of politics on a local, state and national level. He's interviewed mayors, council members, county commissioners, governors, senators, and representatives. With so many years covering so many politicians, there must be stories to tell, right?

The rebirth of the Reds will kick into high gear in 2024

Cincinnati Reds' Elly De La Cruz steals third base in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Cleveland Guardians on Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Cincinnati Reds' Elly De La Cruz steals third base in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Cleveland Guardians on Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Welcome to Year 2 of a new era of Cincinnati Reds baseball.

It's going to be a fun ride.

Why such optimism for a season that officially begins at 4:10 p.m. Thursday when the first pitch of the season is thrown at Great American Ball Park?

Plenty of good reasons.

In 2023, after an infusion of talented rookies with high ceilings making their major league debuts, the Reds finished the season with a record of 82-80 — a whopping 20 game improvement over 2022's 100-loss season. That meant that the 2023 Reds were not eliminated from a wild card spot in the playoffs until the next-to-last game of the season, edged out by the Arizona Diamondbacks, who went to the World Series, losing to Texas in five games.

One game away from the playoffs last year

Think about all the talented young rookies we saw in 2023 — Matt McLain, Elly De La Cruz, Spencer Steer, Andrew Abbott, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Will Benson, Brandon Williamson. All back in 2024, with major league experience now. A little older, a little wiser.

RELATED: Reds' Hall of Fame exhibit looks at the evolution of the home run

Please don't fret about them being traded away. All of them have at least five years of team control left; most won't be free agents until 2030. It would be insanity to let them get away.

Nick Krall, the president of baseball operations, has worked hard to put this core of extraordinarily talented young players together, trading away expensive veterans like Eugenio Suarez, Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and others to rebuild the Reds. It's working. There's no reason to mess with success. In this off-season, Krall has added several veteran players to make this young squad even better.

The new guys

selfie of man in Reds hat and reds sweatshirt
Howard Wilkinson
Howard Wilkinson may be 'an old guy' but he knows his stuff when it comes to 'the new guys.'

The Reds spent a boatload of money in the off-season on veteran free agents, all of whom will have big roles to play in 2024. Jeimer Candelario, a former Cub, was signed to a three-year, $45 million contract. Candelario, a proven RBI guy, will get much of the time at third base this year.

The rest are veteran pitchers.

Frankie Montas, signed to a one-year contract with an option for 2025, did well in Spring Training and has earned the job of being starting pitcher on Opening Day against the Washington Nationals.

RELATED: Reds Opening Day game returns to WLWT-TV

Maybe the happiest man on the Reds roster is relief pitcher Brent Suter, a 34-year-old lefty who was signed to a one-year contract with an option for 2025. What makes Brent so happy is that, at long last, the Moeller High School graduate is coming home to pitch for the team he cheered for as a kid. His MLB career has so far taken him to Milwaukee and Colorado, but now he will be back home.

Two other free agent signings, veterans both, should be a big help to the pitching staff — reliever Emilio Pagan and Nick Martinez, who will likely be a spot starter and reliever.

The injured list

The bad news for Reds fans out of the Goodyear training camp was a rash of injuries.

McLain, possibly the young Red with the most overall talent, will miss a lot the season after undergoing left shoulder surgery Tuesday. The Reds don't have a timetable for Matt's return, but it will be months. The good news is that the Reds have an insurance policy in the form of a late Spring signing — infielder Santiago Espinal, who, two years ago, was an American League All Star for the Blue Jays. Jonathan India is available to play second base.

T.J. Friedl, who was scheduled to start the season in centerfield, is out with a fractured wrist. It's a pretty big hit for the Reds; T.J. was their most reliable lead-off hitter, leading the majors in bunt base hits last season. Will Benson will pick up most of the slack.

Starting pitcher Nick Lodolo will begin the season on the IL, along with relievers Ian Gibaut and Alex Young. Lodolo could be back in the rotation by late April.

Jonny's back!

There was a lot of fretting going on over the off-season for Reds' fans who were convinced that Jonathan India would be traded away for pitching.

There was a possibility of that, but once the Reds started signing veteran pitchers to free agent contracts, that possibility disappeared.

RELATED: Grand marshals named for 105th Findlay Market Opening Day Parade

It's hard to imagine that a 27-year-old player who won the National League Rookie of the Year award only three years ago can be the leader of a major league clubhouse, but that is exactly what Jonathan India is. He will be the ultimate utility player this season, a Swiss Army knife of a player who can play just about anywhere on the field — first base, second base, outfield. Pretty much anywhere.

His teammates — especially the young ones — need him there more than ever.

How dumb is this?

Infielder Noelvi Marte is ranked by as the Reds' number one prospect. He was a late season call-up in 2023; and made an immediate impact, both in the field and at the plate.

Then, in Goodyear, Marte was suspended by MLB for 80 games when he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). The suspension also will keep Marte out of this year's playoffs, should the Reds make it that far.

Some kids have to learn the hard way.

No more Votto. Time to get over it.

joey votto, in a red baseball jersey and white baseball pants, mid swing
Ross D. Franklin
Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto watches his home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the second inning of a spring training baseball game Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Yes, JDV is gone.

I knew that at the Sept. 24 Reds-Pirates game last year when manager David Bell had Joey come out on the field after he singled in what would be his final at bat at Great American Ball Park. I've never heard such an outpouring of affection for a player in my life; it went on and on, with everyone in the ball park standing and cheering one of the greatest players in the history of this magnificent baseball franchise.

Every one of us, all 31,191, knew at that moment it was over. There would be no Joey Votto in 2024.

Opinion: If you love Joey Votto, you have to let him go

Anyone with a lick of sense knew that the Reds were not going to exercise their option to keep JDV on at $20 million this year — not after the now 40-year-old player hit .202 in 2023 and .205 the year before.

It wasn't going to happen. It was never going to happen.

I take a backseat to no one in my admiration and affection for a man who gave us 17 seasons of remarkable, Hall of Fame-worthy baseball.

Joey Votto is a living legend.

Votto has been trying to hook on with his hometown team, the Toronto Blue Jays, this Spring. He had one at bat — a home run — but he injured his ankle that day and will start the season at the Blue Jays' camp in Dunedin, Fla., more or less a rehab assignment.

It's still not clear if he will ever play in another big league game. All Reds fans wish him the best. All Reds fans feel privileged to have watched him play for so long.

But it is time to move on.

Time to move on to a young, hungry ball club — now seasoned with some veterans — who can and will do remarkable things in the months to come.

It's going to be a great show. Let's get it on.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.