Jocketty fields fans' questions at Caravan stop

Mesoraco, Reed among other panel members

January 31st, 2016
Fans got the opportunity to receive autographs as part of Reds Caravan. (Reds)

HAMILTON, Ohio -- Certainly by the final stop on the third day of Reds Caravan with the north leg of the tour, Reds president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty knew what would be coming his way during the question-and-answer session with the fans.

After all, Jocketty was acutely aware that the trades of two of his most popular players -- Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman -- were unpopular decisions among many of those fans.

"Most of them have been pretty good," Jocketty said of the questions on Saturday just before taking the stage at the Miami University-Hamilton campus. "A lot of the questions have been about Chapman and Frazier. Once we explain the situation, most people seem to understand. People come up and say they like what we're doing, they like the trades and like the direction we're going in."

About midway through the session, some of those questions came.

"Did you anticipate losing X-amount of fans?" one fan asked. "Is there a forecast of that?"

"It's part of the process we go through," Jocketty answered. "We're a small-market club. We made [a long-term] offer to Frazier last year when we signed him to a two-year deal. They countered, and it was high. We weren't able to get it done, and we didn't think we'd be in position to sign him next year. Chapman, the same thing. He'll be a free agent at the end of this year. We didn't think we'd be in positon to sign them. We felt they were at the peak of their value for what we'd get in return. These were not easy decisions.

"Not only were they great players, they were great guys. It was a difficult decision because we really like those guys, too. The calls I made to Chappy and to Todd were extremely tough to make. They understood it had to be done. We hope fans will embrace this club. We've got a lot of good players in return. The thing we have to focus on this year is how these young guys develop, build a new nucleus and find the next Aroldis Chapman and Todd Frazier from the group we have coming up the next year or so."

Frazier was part of a three-way trade to the White Sox that brought three prospects from the Dodgers, including second baseman Jose Peraza. Chapman was sent to the Yankees for four Minor Leaguers. Cincinnati spent much of the season looking to rebuild for the future by dealing away pricey veterans. Two other popular players -- Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips -- were not traded despite the efforts.

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"We're all going through [the rebuild] as fans; does it get somewhat blocked by not being able to move Bruce and Phillips?" another fan asked.

"Not necessarily," Jocketty replied. "We kind of had a plan in place that involved a lot of different things. We were able to do most of it, but not all of it. We like the club we have now. The way the club sets up, we think we have a good everyday lineup and good, quality young pitching that will continue to improve and get better each year. We'll probably go as far as the pitching takes us."

During the autograph session that followed, one adult fan could be heard telling Jocketty at the table that he liked the moves and looked forward to seeing the young players.

Jocketty was joined on the North Tour on Saturday by catcher Devin Mesoraco, pitching prospect Cody Reed, Minor League catching coach and former player Corky Miller, broadcasters Thom Brennaman and Jim Day and chief operating officer Phil Castellini.

Not all of the questions to the group were about the business of baseball. Several were ones that would be tough to anticipate.

"Did any of you see Star Wars?" asked one young fan.

"Jim Day goes to Comic Con as Chewbacca," replied Castellini to laughter.

"Who is your favorite superhero?" asked another youngster.

"Devin Mesoraco," blurted Miller, to more laughs.

Another fan asked the members of the panel who their favorite Reds mascot was. Mr. Redlegs stopped mingling with kids in the audience to wait for the answer. He did not like what he heard.

"It's a toss-up between Rosie Red and Gapper," Miller said, drawing the ire of Mr. Redlegs, who pointed at him and exited the auditorium in mock disgust.

"What's it like to be traded to a new team?" a boy asked.

"It was definitely a shock at the beginning," said Reed, who was part of July's trade that sent Johnny Cueto to Kansas City. "I was drafted by the Royals and thought I'd be spending my whole career with them. It was definitely worth it. When I got to the clubhouse, I was playing cards with them within the first hour. Building that relationship with them right away, it was like I had been there for the whole year. That was my main concern, learning a whole new system, but it really came quick and easy to me."

"How old were you when you got interested in playing catcher?" a kid asked Mesoraco.

"As a younger guy, I just wanted to play baseball," Mesoraco said. "I didn't care where I played -- infield, outfield or pitcher. Once I got to high school, I wasn't the fastest. I wasn't going to play outfield or shortstop. I kind of realized my best opportunities would be behind the plate. My freshman year in high school is when I decided, 'All right, I'm going to be a catcher.'"