GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Broadcasting icon Marty Brennaman is entering his 41st season of calling Reds games on the radio, having started out with the team during its Big Red Machine years in 1974. He was a 2000 winner of the Ford Frick Award during ceremonies at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
During his tenure, Brennaman has been known for being open with his opinions of the team, and that was true this spring, when he had a conversation with MLB.com about the Reds as they head toward Opening Day.
MLB.com:You've been around this team for many years. Going into another season, what are some of the things you like about this team that would give people confidence -- and give yourself confidence -- that it could be a player in the National League Central?
Marty Brennaman: Mark, I like some of the approaches that Bryan Price has taken. No disrespect to Dusty Baker, but we did not see a very aggressive team on the base paths when Dusty managed here. I think there was an assumption made concerning certain players that they weren't capable of stealing a base -- i.e., Zack Cozart, who stole 30 bases the year before he got to the big leagues and didn't have one attempt to steal last year.
Bryan made it perfectly clear even before the club gathered in Goodyear that it was going to be a very aggressive club, not only going first-to-third and second-to-home, but also in terms of stolen bases. We saw evidence of that in Spring Training, which really enthuses me, because I think it's the kind of game that will be very appealing to fans who come watch this club play at Great American Ball Park. And I think it's the kind of thing that we all know puts additional pressure on the defense and heightens the chance of [them] making mistakes.
We all know the Cardinals have set the bar and that's what everybody is shooting at. It will be interesting to see how this whole thing plays out.
MLB.com: How many wins are you estimating?
Brennaman: I told the owner of this club a number of weeks ago that I thought this team would win 89 games, and that's one less than they won last year. I think he would have liked to have heard a nine in front of whatever number I said.
I think this club has a great chance of being in the postseason. They're going to have their hands full trying to beat the Cardinals to win the division. Not to say that they can't. I think that they can. But at the same time, I don't think the Cardinals have hurt themselves at all, even though they lost Carlos Beltran. They signed Jhonny Peralta, who I think is going to fill the void at shortstop that they suffered with all year long. They made the deal for Peter Bourjos from the Angels.
The one thing [the Cardinals] have to be concerned about that nobody talks about is how many times have we all seen young rookie pitchers break into the big leagues like they've been around for 25 years, and all of a sudden the second year comes and something happens? We've seen it more often than not. If that type of thing happens with some of these young pitchers, and they've already lost Jaime Garcia, the Cardinals could have some problems.
MLB.com: Getting back to Bryan, what about his personality will make it so he can handle the rigors of the job, especially when you get into August and things aren't always going well?
Brennaman: I think he will handle it well, because for me, he's a very low-key, laid-back guy.
I can't wait to see him lose his mind for the first time on some type of incident that occurs on the field and he really has to get bent out of shape. I don't know if he's capable of doing it or not.
I don't know if what I'm getting ready to say makes any difference at all, but it does to me. Of all the managers I have dealt with in 40 years, all of them have baseball savvy, otherwise they wouldn't be where they were. He's the most intellectually bright guy that I've ever dealt with from a managerial standpoint.
I think in the long term that will stand him in good stead. I'm not worried about him doing the job. If they face adversity late in the year, whenever the adversity comes, I don't think Bryan Price -- because of his personality and makeup -- will have any problems dealing with it.
MLB.com: How much are this team's fortunes tied to the success or failure of Billy Hamilton?
Brennaman: I think a lot. You're talking about killing two birds with one stone. You're talking about the center-field position, and you're also talking about the leadoff position.
If, for some reason, it doesn't pan out, now they've got a problem. Now they have to find a center fielder who, first and foremost, has to be able to go get the ball. I don't think that will be as big a problem, because they have people who can do that. Now you face the same old deal that we've seen before -- before Shin-Soo Choo came last year. You've got to move Brandon Phillips or somebody else to the leadoff spot. You've got to change everything around. It takes people out of their comfort level. If this kid is ready to face the demands of being in the big leagues and [being] productive, this is going to be some kind of exciting baseball team, because we all know what he's capable of.
MLB.com: In the offseason, there weren't many moves made to address the offense. It was lacking last season. How much do you think Cozart, Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier can fit in the equation to pick up some of the slack?
Brennaman: I think you have to throw Ryan Ludwick in the mix, too. We all know what happened to him.
I've been a Zack Cozart fan since the kid came to the big leagues. I talked to him in Spring Training. I still maintain that he's a kid capable of hitting 20 home runs or more a year. He finished the year batting .254, which is not too bad -- somewhat misleading because he finished with a rush to get the batting average to that point.
I think in Mesoraco's case, it's just a matter now of going out and playing. I have confidence in the people that are brought into question of what they are capable of doing to enhance this ballclub's chances of scoring runs.
In Todd Frazier's case, 2014 is going to be the year he will prove to people 'Yes, I'm an everyday player,' or 'No, I'm not.' I think this is a very important year for him.
I may be wrong, but the increased run production that people expect out of this club in order to enhance their chances of winning, I'm not concerned about it, because I think it will happen. I think the maturation process of kids like Cozart, Mesoraco and Frazier will continue and hopefully put them in good stead to help this club score runs, because as we know, last year, this club was runs-deprived at times.
MLB.com: You were one of the people in the big debate about whether Joey Votto drove in enough runs. You obviously didn't think he did. What kind of year do you think he's going to have this year?
Brennaman: I think Joey Votto is going to very subtly change his approach at the plate. I'm not talking about a radical change, because he's convinced that the way he is doing it is the right way. But I think he also knows that subtle changes have to be made.
He's one of the best hitters in baseball. Despite the fact, I think it was not a good year for him last year because he knocked in only 73 runs. He led the league in on-base percentage. He led the league in walks. Well, that's all well and good. But I'm not so sure, if that continues, that this club would not be better served if he batted in the No. 2 spot in the batting order, which we both know is not going to happen.
I'll always remember the conversation I had with Jim Leyland last year … I ran into him on the street. I said, 'Jim, answer a question for me. You've got the best hitter in the game. Does he expand his strike zone when he comes to the plate with runners in scoring position?' He said 'Yes, [but] not much. You're not going to see him chase bad pitches out of the strike zone. But if the pitch is an inch or two off the outside corner, and he can handle it by getting the meat of the bat on the ball and driving it the other way, he will,.'
I'm not so sure we aren't going to see some of that from Joey Votto this season."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.