So the Cincinnati Reds are kind of screwed, everyone. In 2012, the Reds' pitching staff had one of the very best seasons, by ERA+, in modern baseball history. They won 97 games and crushed the National League Central. Most of the pitchers responsible were 27 and under, and it looked like the Reds were going to be very good for a long, long time.
Cut to the present, and four out of their five starting pitchers are pending free agents. There's no money to pay them because a fifth of the payroll is going to an older chap who missed the most of last season to injury. They finished 14 games under .500, and they're considering trading Jay Bruce, a reasonably priced 27-year-old at the absolute lowest value of his career because there are so many holes in the boat, you might as well see what you can get for the signal flare.
Earlier in the month, Joel Sherman relayed the unenviable position of the Reds:
Word is their general manager, Walt Jocketty, has told his troops the team should follow one of two very definitive routes: 1) All in. 2) All out.
The Cardinals are always a formidable team, and the Pirates aren't going to crumple into a pile of eyepatches and feathers just because they lost Russell Martin. The Brewers are a win-now team, and the Cubs aren't going to be a win-later team for long. The Central is going to be tough. And for a team that was lousy last year, the Reds have so many trade chips. Every prospective contender, from the Dodgers to the A's, is drooling about Johnny Cueto. Mat Latos and his disappearing fastball aren't the draw they once were, but teams would line up. The low-upside, safe pitchers like Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon will interest the teams that need to fill out a rotation.
Everyone wants something the Reds have. They could have quite the garage sale. Herb Alpert records and costume jewelry everywhere, with a little girl guilting you into buying her crappy lemonade. No one would blame them.
Maybe I'm an eternal optimist, which isn't the type of person who should run a baseball team, but I would like to offer my suggestion on which of those two routes to travel down. That suggestion is all in, you jackweeds. There are several baseball reasons that we'll get to, but an emotional one is what I keep coming back to: Teams never know when they're going to be the 1993 Pirates or 1995 Royals, teams that walked around with toilet paper stuck to their shoe for two decades while we all laughed.
That's not really optimism, I suppose. That's fear. Well, good. Look the fear straight in its beady eyes. Picture a team with Homer Bailey as the only known quantity in the rotation. Picture the fans turning on Joey Votto, who won't deserve it. Picture a string of semi-prospects and suspects never panning out, no matter how much you beg. If that's the underworld you seek, there's a way to get there a year sooner.
Of course, that's the worst-case scenario. The Reds really could get a pallet of prospects shipped to their front door, and some of those prospects could turn out quite well. More than a few division winners have been built from garage sales that weren't nearly as spectacular as the one the Reds could put on. There's compelling logic behind the idea. To get around it, you need to get the moribund lineup to be average, at least, and you need to show your work like an algebra problem. I'll do my best.
- Joey Votto needs to get healthy
- Brandon Phillips needs to have a dead cat bounce
- Billy Hamilton needs to improve
- Jay Bruce needs to bounce back
- The Reds need to find a left fielder
The word "need" is misleading with a list like that. Three out of the five might be enough to make the Reds a contender with this pitching staff. When you put it like that, it seems reasonable. It seems unreasonable not to try for it. The Reds need an outfielder. That's what all-in means to them. They don't have to figure out how to rebuild 4/5ths of the rotation. They don't need to give eight years to Max Scherzer because they're desperate for an ace. They need to walk down to the Melky Cabrera store and pick up a Melky Cabrera. Even better, he has a website set up. Don't even have to leave the house. If not Cabrera, then Colby Rasmus. Heck, even Norichika Aoki. Trade for a dude. The Reds have the easiest offseason shopping list in baseball.
Offseason Must Reads
Offseason Must Reads
If it doesn't work, if Votto is still hurt and underwhelming, if Phillips is absolutely done for, if Bruce is entering the Ben Grieve zone without explanation, if Billy Hamilton literally goes the entire year without reaching first base, well, they still have garage sales in July. Maybe the prospects won't be as shiny, and maybe fewer teams will be interested. There's a risk there.
Back to those 2012 Reds, though. The thing people forget about them is that no one really expected them to be the class of the National League. They were 79-83 the year before. They had a below-average pitching staff. The only way they were going to contend anytime soon is, I don't know, if a bunch of people got better all at once.
It happened. And while the Reds are kind of screwed, it doesn't take a lot of MAYBE SKIP SCHUMAKER CAN HIT 30 HOME RUNs to figure out how they might improve on last year, how they can contend. If they're not sure, they should repeat the mantra: Teams never know when they're going to be the 1993 Pirates or 1995 Royals. The Reds might not be good for a long, long time. There's no sense in making that future come to them before it has to.