By Hal McCoy
The two bold-faced question marks involving the 2021 Cincinnati Reds are:
—Who is the shortstop? And that’s no Abbott & Costello act, although sometimes it seems so.
—Who is the closer and what is the makeup of the bullpen.
Spring training opened this week in Goodyear, Ariz. and if fans expected those questions to be answered by now, well, think again.
Reds manager David Bell appeared on a Zoom press conference this week and he did more feinting and ducking than the last man standing in a dodgeball game.
That is no fault of his. . .he honestly doesn’t know because the front office did him no big favors this winter.
Asked about the shortstop spot after the Reds failed to sign one or trade for one in the off-season, Bell said, “I feel great about the options that we have. I’m not ready today to name a starting shortstop.”
That would be because there isn’t one.
“We know who we have and we’re familiar with our personnel and the options we have and we feel great about that,” he added.
So they feel great about Kyle Farmer, Alex Blandino and Dee Gordon. . .names he mentioned. He did not mention Jose Garcia.
“We’re not going in without an idea of what is going to happen,” said Bell. “Kyle Farmer has played the position and we know Alex Blandino, what kind of player he is.
“He didn’t get any opportunity last year, but to his credit he continued to work and did everything he could at the alternate site and on the taxi squad,” said Bell. “He has put himself into position to get a really solid look at that position.
“We have great options, but we’re not ready today to really name a shortstop,” he added.
Blandino’s total major-league experience consists of 92 games and 197 plate appearances with a slash line of .234/.348/.308. His 2019 season came to a halt in July when he tore up a knee on a play at second base against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Farmer spent the last two seasons as a utility player for the Reds. In 2019 he made 197 plate appearances and his slash line was .236/.279/.410. During last year’s shortened season he made 70 plate appearances and was .266/.329/.313.
Another possible option is Dee Gordon, whom the Reds signed as a free agent just before spring training. But his experience at shortstop is limited. The Reds signed him primarily as a possible bench swingman.
“Yes, we’re excited to have Dee here,” said Bell. “I’ve seem him play for a long time and he has been a really good major-league player for a long time, an excellent career.
“He can do a lot of things,” Bell added. “He has a chance to add speed to our team. Over the course of his career he has increased his versatility. We know he can play the infield, he has played some outfield. That gives him the best chance to make our team.
“That’s not limiting him from stepping in and becoming a regular eventually,” said Bell. “I know he has not played shortstop on a regular basis for a few years. He will get opportunities in spring training. . .we’d like to see him play there because of the athlete he is. I saw him years ago play (shortstop) every day in the minors.
“He has experience and we’d like to see where he is at that position at this point,” he said.
So shortstop remains as wide open as the Snake River Canyon.
The bullpen? The closer? The Reds traded closer Raisel Iglesias and did not tender Archie Bradley a contract. They did sign Sean Doolittle, a left hander with a string of successes with the Washington Nationals.
“He has been a successful pitcher for a long time,” said Bell of Doolittle. “He has pitched in big games as a closer and in the back end of big games. He is going to add a lot, not only to our bullpen, but just bringing in a quality person and teammate. He has worked really hard this winter to get himself healthy and strong.”
Bell, though, wouldn’t anoint Doolittle as his closer, nor Amir Garrett (who wants the job) nor Michael Lorenzen.
“Our focus right now is we want our relievers to do everything they can to prepare themselves for the season to win as many games as we can,” said Bell. “The roles, a lot of the time, take care of themselves.
“We feel really good that we have a lot of options at the back end and the idea is to have a lot of options,” Bell added. “The availability changes from night-to-night.
“As we know, the seventh or eighth can be as important, or more important than the ninth,” he said. “That’s my message to the pitchers. . .just prepare themselves for the season just to help us win games. I know players like to know their roles, and it is important. But it is just too early to define that.”
In other words, the Reds have a lot of options — good, bad or indifferent — but answers to the shortstop and closer situations are not there yet.