Yeah, so I did write this last year. The Reds only ended up moving Raisel Iglesias, and you can always fashion a bullpen out of the leftovers, scraps, and spare duct tape you have laying around if you’re determined enough. The Reds didn’t move anything else, and were competitive until the season’s final throes. Really, it took a historic winning streak from the St. Louis Cardinals to keep them from chasing the last wildcard spot until the season’s final day. Eighty-five wins aren’t anything to hire a band over, but it also can be a good launching point. Especially when you’re the Reds, where even the modest height of 85 wins is an altitude you haven’t seen in nearly a decade.
The notions of “rebuilding,” at least the ones we grew up with and would still make sense outside of MLB’s distorted, hedge-fund mentality, are that you only decide to blow it up when your team has become too old, their chances for competing have run out, and it’s only going to get worse. That you’ve absolutely exhausted everything as far as spending in free agency and trading from your farm system to prop up what you have on the MLB roster, and now the foundation has been taken over by possums and one bad step in the living room is going to cause the toilet to fall through the floor or something. The Giants are an example of doing everything you can to keep what you have afloat or more.
The Reds, however, are an example of just blowing up the house before anyone has ever lived in it.
The Reds are not at the end of a cycle, but that won’t stop them from acting like it. They traded catcher Tucker Barnhart over $7 million. Tyler Stephenson had taken over the main starting role, but considering he isn’t even at arbitration yet, the combined $8 million they would have made is hardly a crime for the catcher position. In an even bigger crime, the Reds simply let Wade Miley, a more than solid mid-rotation starter who was worth 5.7 bWAR last year with his sub-4 ERA, be claimed off waivers by the Cubs rather than pay him $10 million, which is nothing for a 3-4th starter. They just let him walk.
Maybe there wasn’t much they could do about Nick Castellanos opting out of the last two years of his deal, but he certainly has seen the writing on the wall. Promises of more shedding have been made. The Reds will be stripped for parts.
While the Reds weren’t a terribly young team, they were hardly old either. Jonathan India, Jesse Winker, Castellanos, and Stephenson were all under 30 last year. In the rotation, Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle were also under 30, with Sonny Gray having just crossed into his 30s. That’s a decent enough team right there. Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo could arrive in 2022 for full-time roles on the pitching staff.
While the Reds were seven games off just the wildcard spots, it’s not like the NL Central is where monsters live. The Pirates and Cubs are still multiple years from trying, if they ever get there. The Brewers have that scary top of the rotation, but also score runs only a few times a week. The Cardinals needed that historic winning streak just to escape mediocrity, where they easily could end up again next season while waiting for Jack Flaherty to stay upright for more than a week at a time. The gap is certainly scalable. Especially if the Reds added a center fielder, kept Castellanos, and maybe dipped into the rich shortstop market while they were at it. They could also do with a couple of relievers, but who couldn’t? Getting to 90 wins wasn’t really all that hard for this outfit.
But no, that’s too much, and 85 wins is the ceiling of what the Reds are willing to pay for. The Reds are actually a smaller market than most, with owner Bob Castellini not being as uber or evil wealthy as his cohorts. The Reds only averaged just over 18,000 per game in attendance, but how does that get better by getting worse? The Reds spent $134 million on payroll last year, and if that’s not manageable for an MLB team, then that’s on them and not the system. That should be below whatever the minimum is in the next CBA.
2021 was the Reds’ first competitive season, in a full/real season, in eight years. And that’s apparently all Reds fans, however many are left, are going to get. How do you build momentum to grow your attendance when you compete once a decade? Why will fans latch onto any winning team, knowing they’re all going to be packed off and shipped out the following winter? There’s no reason that the Reds can’t be Milwaukee, they just don’t want to be.