In evaluating today’s trades, there are two aspects to consider. Both are important. You can weigh the detailed plus/minus for each player and reach a conclusion about whether the Reds received enough value for Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon. We’ll get to that, but that’s not what this post is about.
The second way to analyze the trades is what they say about the direction and leadership of the organization.
Coming off the disappointing 2014 season, the Cincinnati Reds had given every indication they were going to sign a new left-fielder, put together the now-healthy pieces of their 2013 and 2014 teams, and banking on their great starting rotation, make a serious run in 2015. But in the past 48 hours, with reports circulating that CEO Bob Castellini had ordered general manager Walt Jocketty to cut payroll by as much as $17 million, the organization’s strategy for 2015 had become decidedly more unsettled.
Then, around noon ET today, the Reds traded two of the five pitchers that had been presumed parts of the rotation.
Big picture? The 2015 Reds still have Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake at the front of their pitching rotation. In trading Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon and Chris Heisey, the Reds cleared nearly $15 million in salary. Maybe Latos (elbow, fastball velocity) and Simon (various on- and off-field reasons) were prime trade candidates anyhow. The Reds added organizational depth in the middle infield, catcher and pitcher.
But as the Reds announced those two trades, just a few minutes apart, the organization’s direction — and the underlying reasons driving it — became no clearer.
Certainly you can look at these moves as early steps along the path of carefully rebuilding the team. Trading players with one-year of team control who you are unlikely to re-sign to acquire young players who can fill roles is as smart and formulaic as it comes. Then sign a cheap LF like Nori Aoki. It’s a direct strategy dictated by baseball considerations. Trade a little short-term pain for long-term payoff.
And maybe today’s salary clearing is the first step of reloading, not rebuilding. Maybe Walt Jocketty takes that $15 million and a few of his stockpiled pitching prospects and goes out and gets an elite left-fielder, maybe even a young one with several years of team control. Trade pitching for hitting and be highly competitive in 2015.
But what about those rumors of the CEO ordering salary trimming? That presents a troubling third possibility.
If today’s trades were caused simply by meeting that demand, then they aren’t part of a carefully calibrated baseball plan. You can’t dress it up as smart tactics. It would plainly be ruthless budget cutting and, oh by the way, reneging on the promise to do what you can to bring the city a winner. Does the owner have the right to do that? Absolutely. And as I’ve written many times before, regardless of how wisely you think he’s spent it, Bob Castellini has up-to-now been enormously generous with payroll.
But whether the money drove the strategy or the strategy drove the money makes all the difference.
Sometimes when you blink, the path forward becomes clearer. Not today. Those two trades, made in the blink of a baseball organizations eye, didn’t provide real clarity of direction. Not yet, anyhow. For that, we’ll have to wait and see where the payroll ends up. The Reds spent $114 million last year. They’ve now slashed salary for 2015 to just below that amount. The team may turn around and add more players and get the number back to well up over $120 million, which is what was expected, particularly given ever-rising revenues. I’m still optimistic that’s the direction the club is heading.
But if ultimately, if the Reds are operating under orders to cut payroll to $110 million, then today was just Thursday, Bloody Thursday.