Yes, I appreciate the irony of an optimistic post about the Reds built around a metaphor of brightening skies while the Opening Day game is rained out. But let’s persist and use the overcast and now unoccupied moment to assess where the Reds stand in relation to being good.

Reconstruction of the team progressed too slowly for most of us. You can choose from a dozen narratives to explain it. The plan began with the timely ditching of Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon in December 2014. But subsequent months brought the halting, sluggish exodus of Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart.

Not only were many of the trades poorly timed or executed, they stung. The loss of one popular player after another were blows to loyal Reds fans.

Yet with each departure came the promise of better days ahead. Charles Lindbergh, who saw plenty of skylines, spoke of the necessity sometimes of seeing distances beyond the visual horizon. Reds fans have had to do a lot of that lately, scanning the horizon for the arrival of the next competitive Reds team. In fact, we’re still staring and, on occasion, blinking at an uncertain future.

After all the leaving, the losing, after sorting and not enough sorting, it’s more than fair to ask whether the Reds are finally done rebuilding.

It sure would be tidy to give a definitive answer of yes. But that cheerful dawn isn’t here, just yet. The messy reality is there aren’t distinct beginnings, middles and endings for these things. Yes, the Cubs and Astros were able to put dramatic exclamation points at the end of their projects. But quick World Series championships aren’t common.

For the Reds, it feels like the target date for winning again is perpetually moving, always a year in the future. Like the 5-10 minute wait at Seinfeld’s Chinese restaurant.

Before we get to specifics, it’s worth reminding ourselves that change for the better can happen quickly. We only need look back a few years to see an example from here in Cincinnati.

*   *   *   *   *

It was the spring of 2012. The Reds had surprised the baseball world, winning the 2010 NL Central championship, led by league MVP Joey Votto.

But a menacing cloud hung above the otherwise joyous landscape: the dreaded Votto Window and its impending, inevitable closure. The Reds first baseman would become a free agent at the end of the 2014 season. The narrow opening for success was shutting.

Yet like brick and mortar, competition windows can be remodeled. Two full seasons before Votto’s ETD, he and Reds ownership agreed to a deal covering twelve seasons at a price of $251m. Joey Votto will turn 41 years old during 2024 when the final club option expires on his contract.

Were the Reds lucky or smart? The front office may have been optimistic about Votto’s future, but I doubt anyone expected he would become arguably the greatest hitter in franchise history, one of the best all-time in baseball.

Still, the Reds took a wrecking ball to that skinny Votto Window. With the stroke of a pen, they built an enormous vista of possibility.

*   *   *   *   *

Until recently, the vast length of Votto’s contract had been beyond comprehension. Its duration even challenged the practical dimensions of spreadsheets displaying Reds future payroll commitments. Votto’s row of seasons ran right off the page. 2024 was beyond the horizon. I’m not sure I ever tried to visualize the Reds after Joey Votto.

That changed when the Reds inked Eugenio Suarez to a contract that runs through 2025. The Suarez extension overflowed with symbolism. A player from the initial group the Reds acquired in rebuilding became the first to outlast Joey Votto, at least in a contractual sense. Suarez now has a row in that salary spreadsheet that ends further to the right than Joey Votto.

But more important than what the new Suarez contract says about the middle of next decade is what it conveys about the present. Much like last year’s mid-season promotion of Luis Castillo, the long-term commitment to Suarez puts in place a solid vision of the finished rebuild, circa 2019. You can add Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, Tyler Mahle, Sal Romano, Amir Garrett and others to the picture, but don’t stop there.

Reds ownership and the front office will spend and acquire much more. The stocked and refurbished minor league affiliates will develop more.

Here’s an important rainy-day message of this post: Don’t judge the Reds by the 2018 Opening Day roster and dugout. Those 25 player names and coaching staff are nowhere near as important as the team they’ll field the second half of the season and the manager they’ll employ in 2019.

Nick Senzel and Alex Blandino are already better than Cliff Pennington and Phil Gosselin. Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Brandon Finnegan and Kevin Shackelford will get healthy in coming weeks.

By July 1, Senzel will join the infield cornerstones of Suarez, Tucker Barnhart and Votto for good. His position yet to be dictated by how well Jose Peraza and Scooter Gennett perform. Jesse Winker will be a regular in the outfield and his welcome combination of hit, on-base and power skills will be a productive new part of the offense.

By July 1, Anthony DeSclafani will be pitching every five games. Luis Castillo will emerge an ace. A few of the young pitchers will become solid major league starters. We don’t know which of them it will be and we know it won’t be all of them. But they don’t all have to make it.

Because at the 2018 trade deadline, the front office will look for big opportunities. Yes, they’ll be shopping spare parts like Adam Duvall, Scooter Gennett and Devin Mesoraco. But Dick Williams will also be searching for important long-term pieces. The small-market Milwaukee Brewers’ have set the bar with the dual acquisition of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain (and probably still to go: a top-tier starting pitcher).

This will all come together for the Reds in 2019. Then in 2020 we may see Taylor Trammell in center, Tyler Stephenson behind the plate and Hunter Greene on the mound. Cheer for these young Reds as we watch them develop.

*   *   *   *   *

That’s the brightening horizon, visible even on this cloudy day.

But if we’ve learned anything the past few years it’s that the path forward isn’t static. That line, where the Reds metaphoric earth meets its figurative sky, it isn’t fixed. Renovations seem chaotic right up until the project is finished. The view of your destination can fog up even as you near it. Yet, we know organizations can accelerate timelines and broaden competition windows with new contracts. Players breakout and become stars. Change, after years of waiting, can come fast. Like popping the lid off a jar that’s been difficult to open.

Here’s a bit more irony. When we do finally greet that horizon, a new one will emerge. Change in perspective is an inherent feature of the horizon. The goal of a winning record turns into the aim of the Reds making the postseason, which is replaced by the objective of the NL pennant, followed by the ultimate achievement of a World Series championship. Then more than one.

Reds fans have been through a few years of failure so profound it’s been hard to keep a grip on the path forward, let alone stay focused. Loss of faith is understandable. And for a bit longer, we’ll have to find satisfaction on our own terms. But the wait is now measured in months, not years.

Next March the metaphor will be a sunrise, come rain or shine.

32 Responses

  1. wizeman

    I am with you on this one. Have been waiting for this group to mature for what seems to be a long time. Way more comfortable with the vision with Dick Williams. Really looking forward to watching this group compete.

    Then I look at tomorrows prospective lineup and see Schebler and Duvall and not Winker against a right hander. Have to admit… small amount of throwing up in my own mouth takes place.

    Two steps forward is almost always accompanied by one step back.

    • Kettering Reds Fan

      Hello, Steve.

      This was too good to pass up, but there wasn’t any good place to put this, so it’s here (and, as snarky posturing, I tacked it to one of your comments to ensure you’d see it. This is right up your wheelhouse. Apologies as necessary)

      This isn’t a direct response, per se, but it does sort of tie in with the theme of brightening horizons. In this case, it references developments in the game to link analytics -directly- to player development in the minors – which is something we’ve discussed as a way for the Reds to find a competitive edge. It’s now getting tested, the preliminary results seem encouraging and its still early enough that the Reds can be innovators/pioneers.

      Today’s (29 March 2018) Wall Street Journal, p.A14

      “The Data Wonk Who Became a Coach”

      in which the Astros send their top datametrician – Sig Mejdal – down to their single-A affiliate for a season as a uniformed, on filed coach. A lot of good synthesis and reality testing ensued to reconcile datametrics with real-time, real-world behaviors and develop best practices for player development and, even more importantly, introducing new concepts at a very early stage – to players, but also coaches, managers, et.al. While preliminary, the results were sufficiently encouraging that Mejdal will be spending time in a similar role at all 4 minor-league affiliates this season.

      Why can’t we do this?

    • CP

      I don’t want a retread manager either, but getting fired from Boston is hardly disqualifying. They have a different set of standards than this organization and a guy like Farrell would be a decent manager to get from the Reds’ perspective. Not fantastic, but he isn’t a Dusty Baker-type either, the Red Sox during his run were one of the leaders of analytical driven decision making, and Farrell successfully navigated those waters.

  2. wizeman

    I agree with that. I did not always feel this way but do now.

  3. wkuchad

    I was just discussing the exact same thing with a co-worker. Is there any chance our starters can average 8 innings a game!? :-0

  4. wkuchad

    The Reds set their OD lineup. Reed called up to be the 5th starter, because Price wanted Garret in the bullpen against the Nationals.

    I still have hope for Reed, but I was a lot more excited to see Garret start the year in the starting rotation. I really wanted him to establish himself as a major league starter from the get go.

    As noted above, our bullpen looks BAD.

  5. kmartin

    Steve, you say in the “by July 1” part of the post that: “Jesse Winker will be a regular in the outfield and his welcome …” As long as Price is manager I am skeptical about Winker getting a significant number of PAs.

    • Jeff Reed

      As long as the front office continues the jam up in the outfield and Price, who favors Hamilton, is the manager, Winker will not get a significant # of PA’s.

      • David

        My prediction is that Winker will have less than 60 AB’s by mid – May. 20 AB’s as a pinch hitter, and maybe 40 AB’s as a starter.
        By mid-May Billy Hamilton will be batting .225 or .230, with a 0.280 OBP. And batting leadoff most of the time. Except when Ervin starts in CF against a left hander.

  6. Tom Mitsoff

    This opening series without Iglesias could get a little messy. You can’t count on Peralta … yet. I think Price will go with right vs. right and left vs. left matchups over the final two or three innings if they are ahead, without Iglesias, the closer, and Hernandez, a presumed setup man.

  7. Tom Mitsoff

    I would be all for Greg Holland, but he had a bad second half in 2017. That’s one reason he has stayed unsigned for so long.

  8. Tom Mitsoff

    I live in Wisconsin, and my co-workers are stoked about the Brewers. We’ll see about that starting pitching …

  9. eric3287

    This is absolutely the correct answer. If you replace Senzel’s name with Peraza it would read exactly like the preview article for the 2016 Reds.
    Everyone knew BP/Cozart would be traded in 2016 or moved to the bench to make room for Peraza to play every day. We all know how that worked out.
    If you replace Senzel’s name in this article with Winker’s, it would read exactly like the preview articles for the 2017 Reds. I
    Opening Day 2017 everyone knew that Winker would stay down long enough for the Reds to get that extra year of control, then be playing every day. Schebler/Duvall would be traded or moved to the bench to make room for him. We all know how that worked out.
    Absent any injuries, I would personally be surprised to see Senzel in the major leagues before September call-ups; Scooter’s 4 HR game has made him essentially untouchable to the front office, so Senzel isn’t taking his spot. He’s not playing SS at AAA so any Peraza struggles will result in Cliff Pennington being handed the starting job.
    I think there is a lot of wishcasting from the fan base about what the Reds will do. There is zero history of them inserting a star prospect like Senzel into the starting line up and replacing a veterany veteran.

    • BigRedMike

      It does seem a little hopeful for Reds fans to think that Senzel will just start everyday at 2B instead of Gennett. As you noted, the Reds showed a similar path with Winker, yet, the same 3 OF’s are ahead of him.

  10. jazzmanbbfan

    You state this: “Williams is dragging his feet afraid to make necessary personnel decisions, afraid they might backfire.” Are you saying this as fact or as an opinion? Do you know DIck Williams, do you know his thought process? I don’t. You might very well be right but he hasn’t been in this position long enough for me to be making those kinds of conclusions.

  11. David

    That’s is the essence of Brian Price thinking. When the starter gets shelled, then they will have Garrett in the bullpen to pitch in a game that is already lost.
    I can’t wait for Reed to start and get shelled. Then we may see Garrett in relief in a lost cause.

  12. james garrett

    Are we talking about the same guy who was punished all of last year because Price said he needed to throw strikes and wasn’t good enough to make the 25 man roster this year?Is this also the same guy who at the start of spring training was told he was competing for a spot in the pen?Surely he isn’t now the 5th starter?Reed is a common name so it must another guy.

  13. Sliotar

    There are several aggressive, very optimistic predictions in this piece.

    Whether realized or not, there are things to look forward to, such as watching which young SPs make it, Price being replaced and Bailey eventually getting off the books (wish him well), and using his slot for a livelier, younger arm and the money to fill holes.

    I watched the Cubs for a bit this afternoon. Top six in lineup:
    Happ
    Bryant
    Rizzo
    Contreras
    Schwarber
    Russell

    Including Rizzo’s club options, all are controllable through 2021 and all well under 30 years old.

    That is formidable, and unless the Reds can get past that, and the Cubs checkbook and Theo Epstein, the best they can hope for is a play-in game to get a shot at a playoff series. Not to mention the Brewers and the Cardinals competing for a play-off spot, just in the division.

    The Reds could very well finish in last in the NL Central this season, and still be improving in grafting and developing its core roster, enabling a jump up the win curve in 2019 and realistically thinking play-in game in 2020.

  14. Indy Red Man

    Watching Cleveland a little bit tonite. Zimmer can’t hit and Michael Brantley is always hurt. Tyler Naquin is unproven as well. They could definitely use Duvall or Schebler. The Reds need to make something happen this year. They couldn’t move Cozart and they didn’t get Nimmo (CF with .379 obp last year) for Bruce like they were supposed to? I’m still excited for the season but its looking bleak with all the talent that was added to the NL Central.

  15. Jim Walker

    And in the process because the FO couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time, tne stage was set for the Reds to end up getting no return on Zack Cozart’s departure.

  16. Jim Walker

    My only divergence from Steve’s line of thought is that the Reds need to stop basing their plans on the recovery of oft injured pitchers. It is an old but still accurate axiom that a team can never have too much pitching. Thus talent and money spent smartly to acquire quality pitching is never wasted because if injured guys to recover form and durability, there will always be a market to move some pitching for other needs.

    • Dave Roemerman

      Is it really fair to say they’ve done that? They got three lefties for Cueto and ran out six young guys for the last two spots (Romano, Mahle, Reed – one of the three Cueto guys, Garrett, Stephenson, and Lorenzen), to say nothing of the youth of Castillo and Finnegan and Disco (the later two of whom, yes, have been oft-injured). I count 9 guys under 30, only two of whom have spent extended time on the DL – two who have ace (DeSclefani) potential and ace-level stuff (#3 or solid pen guy at worst).

      They’re also hopeful for Rookie Davis (eh) and spent the #2 overall pick on a pitcher. That’s 12 young arms, only 4 that have suffered injuries (I’m not counting Garrett, who missed limited time) and only one of whom is no longer with the Reds.

      • CP

        No, you are right, it’s not fair to say that. None of the young guys they’ve traded for or have tried to develop have “got it” yet, outside of Luis Castillo. If a few more of them do that, everything changes.

      • Dave Roemerman

        Yeah, the frustration has been the development. Well, that (Stephenson in particular) and some of the guys we got in trades (Lamb and Davis). But if the young guys in there with Bailey right now develop a bit, we’ll have a good staff and a nice rebound year.

      • james garrett

        Castillo has 15 starts in the majors.The rest are unproven as well because they haven’t or weren’t given a chance last year.In 2016 Finny and Disco got 30+ starts which is what these guys need so it will take this year an beyond to sort them out.Can’t do anything about the past and the wasted year but at least this year the Reds just need to let these young guys pitch either in the big leagues or at Louisville.Quit jerking them around and let them pitch.Last year Garrett was anointed after a few starts,got hurt and was never the same,had a good spring and is now in the pen.We could talk all day about Bob and Reed but its futile.Can you imagine what these guys are thinking.I am a reliever,no I am a starter,no I am being sent down,no I am not.Guys are being made into head cases.The Reds starting rotation will be much better this year then last despite all of this which is really amazing.

      • Dave Roemerman

        It is kinda amazing, right? Cuts both ways, too – amazing the stockpile of talent and how well be improved and amazing we were so horrendous last year.

  17. Dave Roemerman

    Wow. Lindbergh to Seinfeld to contractual spreadsheet timelines, all peppered with metaphorical (and ironic) skyline/horizon metaphors…and it was even pretty positive. Steve, I like your writing (and have for a few years), but this is easily my favorite thing I’ve ever seen from you. Great piece and thanks for the read!

  18. larry

    I’m in too. Superior article Steve. I share the concerns many of you have expressed regarding the starting pitching and their injuries, but nearly every team faces injuries in their starting pitchers – look at the t injuries to that great starting five the mets put together. We need S P depth, and I think we have it, albeit unproven to this point. I’m optimistic about the offense as well, it will be interesting to see what infield spot Setzel takes when he comes up. Will we trade a Duvall, Gannett or stand pat? I’d like to see Winker get five hundred at bats this year, but with outfield being this crowded, and a manager seemingly hell bent on playing Duvall, Hamilton and Schebler as much as possible, I think it will be a frustrating year for Winler until Price is removed. I still think this could be a playoff team by 2019. Go reds!

  19. Dave Roemerman

    Fun update – the Angels agreed to a deal for Cozart to play 2B. As he was headed to the airport to ink the deal, he got a call saying they just added Kinsler via trade and asking if he could move to third. Funny how it worked out .

  20. Tom Mitsoff

    Looks like Price has heard the collective pleas of Redleg Nation. At least today. 🙂

  21. Dave Roemerman

    I hate this post. It’s a good post, in that it’s spot on accurate, but I hate everything in it. Sigh