Votto says leadership not an issue for Reds

The other day, former Reds pitcher Mat Latos blasted the lack of leadership in the Reds' clubhouse the past couple of seasons, telling Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that the Reds missed Scott Rolen and Bronson Arroyo:

When Scott was there, we had guys doing exactly what they were supposed to do. After Scott left, we had guys with two years in the big leagues, in the clubhouse, on their phones, laying down in the video room, just hanging out during games, not in the dugout, not cheering their teammates on. Our dugout looked like a ghost town.

After Bronson, the same exact thing. We had starters in there roping our (clubhouse attendants), like, cattle-roping our clubbies. Guys on their computers, buying stuff, hanging out in the clubhouse. We had a guy with a year-and-a-half in the big leagues wandering around the clubhouse, hanging out. We had a closer in there sleeping until the seventh inning. We lose that veteran leadership, that’s what happens. You can’t have that ... it turns into a circus.

Reds manager Bryan Price disputed Latos' account, saying, "That is unfair and inaccurate. We have outstanding leadership from ownership through the front office, through the coaching staff, and we have outstanding quality character people in our clubhouse. It is ridiculous that we even have to discuss something of this nature. We have done nothing to deserve this."

First baseman Joey Votto spoke up on Tuesday, defending the clubhouse atmosphere and the Reds' disappointing 2014 season with .. well, a voice of reason. As you might expect from Votto. He told Cincinnati.com's C. Trent Rosencrans and John Fay,

Ever since Scott left, there's been a lot of talk about leadership and the importance of having one focal point. That's not how ... that's not what's really going on in the clubhouse. We're a group of guys who have come up in the organization together at different times. As we grow, we're doing it collectively. So there's not going to be one focal point. We're doing it collectively as a unit.

I know when we traded for Marlon (Byrd) the conversation was about his leadership qualities. Marlon's going to come here and be himself and bring what he brings and he's also going to fit in.

The thing I wanted to say is we're doing all right. We just lost last year. We won three of the last five years. We had a couple of not-so-good runs in the playoffs. There's a lot of variables involved. There's no excuses. We just lost in the playoffs, but we got there. We won the division two out of three times.

Last year, I would like to think was a bit of an aberration.

Amen. Votto went on to argue that a lot of the people complaining about the lack of leadership on the Reds aren't in the clubhouse or riding the team bus. Now, Votto or Price didn't address the specific allegations that Latos made so it's not fair to suggest Latos is a crackpot or making stuff up. You certainly want players invested in the game as much as possible and not in the clubhouse playing Candy Crunch on their iPhones.

But the problem with explaining a team's failures to a lack of leadership is that it's done after the fact. It's a convenient excuse for a lousy season. Does anybody make preseason projections and rankings on team leadership or team chemistry? Did the Red Sox have great leadership in 2013 and lousy leadership in 2014? It was the same team. Or is it simply that winning teams are described as having good leadership or good chemistry while bad teams lack it?

It's pretty easy to understand why the Reds declined from 90 wins to 76 wins: Votto played just 62 games; Jay Bruce hurt his knee and was horrible; Brandon Phillips is in decline and played just 108 games; left field and shortstop were offensive black holes; Homer Bailey missed some time; Latos himself made just 16 starts; the bullpen had the second-worst ERA in the National League.

As Votto said, "We just lost last year."