Baker said he liked what he saw.
"There's no way we can have as many broken bones as we had this year," Baker said.
Those broken bones led to a thin outfield and an Abbott-and-Costello game of who's at short this season. But those injuries opened opportunities for young talent to showcase itself, and that talent has given Baker reason for hope.
"There's a lot of reason for optimism," Baker said.
For one thing, the bullpen should be stronger, and Aaron Harang, the resident ace, should return to the top-of-the-rotation starter he was on Opening Day. Jay Bruce will be more seasoned, and so will Joey Votto. Jerry Hairston Jr., injured for a bulk of the season, could also be back into the everyday mix if he signs with the club again.
Right-hander Johnny Cueto should be better, right-hander Edinson Volquez should be better and veteran Bronson Arroyo should be a nice complement to a healthier Harang.
That's a good jumping-off point for 2009.
The Reds' roster, though, will undergo a remake of sorts, a remake that started with some in-season moves this season. They'll have nine free agents.
"You don't like too many free agents because it's hard to replace everybody," Baker said. "I've never been on a team that had this many free agents."
Now the question becomes which of the free agents should, or can, the Reds keep. Regardless of who the team keeps, Baker will have a team with a better bench and more speed.
"I love speed," Baker said. "You can do a lot of things with speed."
Speed must play a significant role in 2009 because Baker won't come into the season with the heavy thunder of Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. in the Reds' lineup.
"We'll have a different team," Baker said. "But we have a very good and young nucleus."
He got plenty of opportunity to look at that nucleus, thanks to the rash of injuries that have kept players like shortstop Alex Gonzalez, outfielder/infielder Ryan Freel and outfielder Norris Hopper down throughout much of the season.
Throw in the late-season injury to second baseman Brandon Phillips, and Baker has been able to make judgments about what he'll have to work with next season.
Baker thinks he'll have plenty. In the offseason, he hopes to enhance his team's strength, recognize its weaknesses and act accordingly.
"What you want is some light at the end of the tunnel," Baker said. "What you want is some hope -- real hope, not manufactured or fake hope."
The way his Reds have played the past couple of weeks, Baker has plenty of real hope at the end of the tunnel.
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less