Here’s my latest piece for Cincinnati Magazine. You’ve all heard the curious statement by Reds’ president of baseball operations Dick Williams about the “winning culture” around the Reds. I have a little different response to that quote, and that’s the focus of this week’s column. Here’s the conclusion:

And management needs to be doing everything necessary to ensure that the right pieces are in place for that culture to surround a team that can compete for a playoff spot next year and for the foreseeable future.

Should we give this current ownership/management team the benefit of the doubt? Not necessarily, and I’ve been very vocal in my criticisms when I think they’ve blundered. But Williams is correct: This is a team that can compete with the best teams going forward. A winning culture is beginning to creep into the clubhouse, onto the field, and into the stands.

And the Reds just told you that you should expect nothing less than winning baseball in the future. Now they need to deliver.

Read the entire piece.

34 Responses

  1. Jbrat22

    Good thoughts, as usual. I tend to agree that:
    1. Williams is right, the culture has shifted.
    2. Certain people/writers created a kind of straw man argument by taking that statement and creating all different kinds of theories about what it means.

    The one thing I will disagree with, though, is that this team can be a playoff contender for the long term. Next year? Possibly. But the Reds lack the players with top-of-the rotation talent that it takes to consistently be good. I think the only way they acquire that talent is by trading Iglesias. If you have to package him with Scooter, Hamilton, or whoever and throw in some money to offset their contract.

    Many have argued that the Reds should sign a top-end FA SP or two. But why would someone like Patrick Corbin, Dallas Kuechel, or whoever the proposed FA sign in Cincinnati when they can most likely get more money elsewhere and, more importantly, play in a ballpark that is more pitcher-friendly?

    • da bear

      Who is going to trade starting pitching talent for a relief pitcher given the importance of SPs?

      The Reds have a pitcher with top of the rotation talent: Raisel Iglesias.
      I’d take 5 or 6 innings of Iglesias over 32 starts vs. the way he’s been used in his Reds career. If 160 to 190 innings is too much of a strain then use him for 2 or 3 innings at a time in 60 ballgames, mostly one run games or tied situations.

      • Jbrat22

        Alex Colome (Andrew Moore), Craig Kimbrel (Logan Allen #87) and Andrew Miller (Justus Sheffield #27) trades, to name a couple off the top of my head. All of these trades involved other decent prospects, as well. There are at least a few others I don’t feel like looking up. Iglesias is as good as these guys.

        My guess is that the Reds feel they can compete for the playoffs next year and don’t want to give up their closer.

  2. David

    The Reds have some talent. But I don’t think they have enough talent to climb out of the hole that Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini dug for them in the period when the Reds were actually winning (2010-2013). There were not enough players in the pipeline (minor leagues) that were groomed and promoted to keep the team good. All their pitchers in the rotation became free agents around the same time; Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Matt Latos. But the Reds cleverly signed Homer, who has been pretty much a disaster. And Devin Mesoraco….ditto.
    I also give you…..Skip Schumacher, and some other notable “veteran presence” players from that era.

    Having said all that, the Reds do not have the talent in their system to climb out of this hole. Votto is declining, a blind man can see that. Billy Hamilton with his microscopic OPS of around .601 is really not a major league offensive player. Peraza, etc. We all get the picture.

    And really, the main bugaboo is still and remaines starting pitching. After the last few years of “sorting”, I don’t think the Reds are any closer to actually forming a solid “winning” rotation. There are some promising arms, but nobody, and I mean nobody, has really stepped up and proven that they can be solid starters and winners in the rotation.
    To compete, the Reds will HAVE to go out and sign a significant amount of talent. And trading Raisel Iglesias alone will not bring in that talent. Again, Reds fans over estimate his value on the market for “closers”.

    Anything can happen, but I don’t honestly see the Reds being competitive for the foreseeable future. It is too steep a hill to climb.

  3. Dewey Roberts

    WVREDLEGS, I agree with you post, as I almost always do. I guess it is because I spent 6 years in Dunbar, WV as a kid that we think so much alike!
    I would rather the Reds get one good player than three mediocre ones who will probably never do anything. The Reds seem to like numbers over quality. Their trades seem to be target less. Instead of identifying specific needs of the big league club and trying to fill those needs, they seem to be trying to get as many young players in the high minors as possible. Well, most players in AAA never make it to the majors except maybe for a cup of coffee.
    We need another Bob Howsam who understood how to build a team from the ground up. He made trades with a purpose.

  4. Jbrat22

    How can you be THIS down on this team/franchise? They’re playing winning baseball and are finally fun to watch for the first time in forever. Not trading Harvey is not going to break this rebuild. When they saw they weren’t going to get anything for Harvey, they immediately brought up Stephenson to get him ML innings.

    Very few teams in baseball are giving up their top prospects, especially young, controllable pitching. That is why the Reds “settled” for the package including Wisler and Sims.

    Votto is *might* be on the downswing, but is still a good player. Suarez is essentially taking his place as one of the most productive hitters in baseball, with Winker and Senzel hopefully coming on strong to replace some of the lost offense as well. Not to mention Peraza and Schebler, and other young pieces getting experience that might prove solid. Mahle, Castillo, Romano, Desclafani have all shown that they are capable, albeit inconsistent. The rebuild isn’t over yet, but it’s certainly on the upswing. There are just a few more pieces to put in place. They’ve made some shrewd moves and finally have some talent, with one of the best farm systems in baseball. All is not doom and gloom…

    • David

      Votto is in decline. Period. He has hit nine home runs this year. Steve Mancuso stated his high +wRC the other day, but that makes him a $25 million dollar a year singles hitter, who plays a sub mediocre 1st base defensively. I don’t hate Joey or am angry, and he may rebound next year, but his best years are behind him. He had several really good years in a row, but the team was lousy, so…..so what?

      And we have NO pitchers that have stepped up. Desclafani is injury prone. Romano, Castillo, Mahle have looked good for stretches, then fallen back. You would think after this far into the rebuild, that management could point to one or two pitchers and say “They are a big part of the future!”. Nope, no one. We have hopes, but nothing more than that.

      Show me really, the shrewd moves in the last year. The signed a couple of relievers who are having good years, and signed Eugenio to a very team friendly contract. As stated above, why is Matt Harvey still a Red? Why didn’t they find a trade for him in July? Will they keep him and sign him to a contract?
      In essence, they traded Mesoraco for him and will retain nothing. Zero.
      Why is Billy still here and playing EVERY DAY?

      Sorry, no. This team is in a hole and can’t climb out, without spending a lot of free agent money. And that too is no guarantee. The so-called rebuild has been half-baked with no planning. It is an illusion spoken about in hushed tones to Reds fans, to keep the faithful waiting for a winner.
      And waiting it will be.

      • da bear

        I get you love Votto. He had an awesome offensive year last year. And yet the Reds won 68 games?

        The reds would be better off without Votto at $25MM a year, reallocating those resources toward acquiring better pitching. Won’t happen with Votto’s no trade and his desire to finish out his career in a small market town near Toronto.

        Why use WAR to arrive at a ‘market value’ without considering budget limitations? You can’t pay players big market salaries if you don’t have big market revenues. Suarez’s contract is ideal for a team of this market. He’s a huge bargain, and bargains are what small revenue teams need to compete with big revenue teams.

        Only those teams in New York Boston LA Chicago SF can afford or get away with making mistakes and overpaying for aging talent.

      • Jbrat22

        Baseball is the ultimate team sport. That Votto produced at an MVP level is even more amazing considering the players he had around him. He has very little control over how good the team is. Additionally, I’d like you to look up Votto’s numbers when the Reds were winning 90+ games. The fact that you’d insinuate that he has never done it on winning teams is laughable. He’s had a down year compared to what he has produced in the past. That doesn’t make him a bad player. As Steve mentioned, he’s already outproduced his contract, so bringing up his salary makes no sense.

        I don’t know what to tell you about pitching. Obviously it hasn’t worked out the way everyone wanted it to, but all three of Romano, Mahle, and Castillo are 25 or younger. If you expect young SPs to pitch like Cy Young candidates and be consistent, you’re not being realistic.

        Matt Harvey is still a Red, has a 4.5 ERA, not great peripherals, has been inconsistent, and IS STILL TRADABLE.

        How many shrewd moves do you need? You just stated 3, two of which solidified one of the worst bullpens in the history of ML baseball for pennies on the dollar, and you forgot about the GG Catcher they signed to an extension and the 2B they got off the scrap heap that turned into an all-star as well.

        Billy is still here and playing every day because he’s providing value defensively to an OF dealing with injuries now. Prior to Winker and Schebler getting hurt, the Reds found a way for 4 OFers to be on pace for 450 ABs. Please tell me you aren’t one of the guys that wants to give journeyman AAAA OF Mason Williams a shot in CF. I’m not a Billy apologist, and would love to have seen the Reds trade him, but just because he can’t hit doesn’t mean he’s absolutely worthless.

      • big5ed

        Uh, if you use positional adjustments, per FanGraphs, it shows that Hamilton has the highest DEF rating among the regulars, and Votto has the lowest. I am all in favor of cherry-picking stats to support one’s favorite players, as I unabashedly do it myself. But I at least admit it, rather than pretending to be simply looking at unbiased numbers.

        Hamilton is rated by Baseball Savant to have the highest outs above average among all major league outfielders. He is objectively outstanding defensively. Votto is not outstanding defensively. I will grant you that he is pretty good at handling throws. He is awful at most everything else, including particularly his utter addiction to going after grounders to his right that the second baseman ought to field. He did it yesterday, but lucked into an out.

        Votto has been superb offensively until this year. His slugging percentage since the All-Star break is .327. For the season, he slashes .242/.375/.341 against lefties. Votto’s average exit velocity, per Baseball Savant, ranks 140th of 277 players, tied with Johan Camargo. (Suarez is 30th.) His hard-hit percentage is 162nd, between Jay Bruce and Greg Bird. (Hamilton is last.)

        Votto’s main skill (and he may be hurt) is drawing walks. My belief is that his ability to draw walks can be expected to decline soon. That belief is premised upon the fact that Votto’s stats against the NL Central are worse than against the league in general. The NL Central teams no longer fear Votto’s bat, and their approach to pitching to him is changing accordingly.

        The Reds are well-advised to begin to plan for Votto’s decline.

    • roger garrett

      I agree with you but they are still a 70-72 win team this year.They are better but so is the rest of the division and by a wide margin.They went out and got players while we watched.Our division has 4 teams over 500 and we can’t overlook that.Right now its possible that 3 teams from our division make the playoffs.

  5. roger garrett

    In any sport the rebuild must never ever have a cry of we think we can we think we can until you record says it.In baseball every team has a stretch where you play well but you can’t let it confuse you as to who you really are.Maybe without the bad start this team is close to 500 but every team in our division is better so we still are looking up.Its almost as if DW and crew are in a vacuum and won’t look at the competition that continue to try and improve their teams.They are willing to stand pat and wait on the minor league guys who are always 2 or 3 years away.If this was a corporation regardless of the cash flow they would have been sold or bought out long ago.They obviously are ok with a 70 win club every year or they would do something about it.One thing you can bet on is that they won’t get fleeced by trading a player that has value because they don’t trade players like that until they don’t have any value left.

  6. Jeff Reed

    I’m perplexed by this winning culture business. Winning should always be the point of the game. I think this ownership and front office gets too enamored of players and lets time go by when they are the most tradeable. The Reds have a good farm system but most prospects do not make the grade and after four years of the rebuild the starting pitching staff is still in flux. I think until there is new ownership that is more active and willing to spend money, the Reds will not be moving up in the standings.

  7. BigRedMike

    This continues to be the trend from National media. Questions around what the Reds plan is and the lack of aggressiveness and over valuing of own players.

    Attendance is dwindling, ownership basing decisions based on popularity of players within in ownership, on the way to a 4th straight 90 loss season.

    There is one legit offensive threat, one great hitter aging/decline, 2 decent corner OF’s that seem to have injury issues.

    A couple decent young starters and the continuation of providing starts to over the hill 5 ERA starters with injured arms.

    In addition, the Reds are in a division where the teams are aggressive and attempting to compete with the Cubs and Cardinals.

  8. Keith

    I’ll trade a winning culture over a month or two for a team set up to win consistently. I see a team that got hot for a few months but still has a starting rotation full of question marks and a team playing checkers while the other teams in the division are playing chess.

  9. roger garrett

    Yep and lets roll the dice one more time.

  10. roger garrett

    I like that checkers and chess thing.

  11. roger garrett

    Its just gives the appearance of trying something because they won’t do the right thing.Dilson just wants to play and would coach 3rd if he could just get on the field.No reason not to let Ervin play every day.As long as Billy is here he will play and the Reds will lose a bunch.Of course he is not why they lose its just he doesn’t help on offense enough to help them win.Only for the Reds would a player in year 5 that can’t hit or get on base play 145 games and my money is on him to do it again in year 6 at around 6 mil per year.I would smile a lot if I could get away with that.

  12. Scottya

    I agree with you 100% it’s time for the FO to deliver on their word. The core of players: Votto, Suarez, Barnhart, Castillo, Iglesias, Lorenzen makes up a great clubhouse and leadership. Gennett, Hamilton etc are hard working great teammates also. The clubhouse is developing a winning culture and the team has been winning over the past 80 games+-

    It’s time for the FO to push to playoff contention via free agent signings and possibly trades. The Reds need to make some bold and competent moves this offseason re: homer bailey, scooter gennett, billy hamilton, sal romano, robert stephenson, etc.

    There are going to be lots of players that move the needle by maybe 1 to 2 war that are available for cheap short term contracts this offseason: for example. Mid rotation SP’s: Nathan eovaldi, Jeremy Hellickson, Hyun Jin Ryu, Matt Harvey, Garrett Richards. Corner Outfielders: Michael Brantley, Marwin Gonzalez, Leonys martin, Stephen Pearce, Nick Markaikas

    If every advantage is taken this team can make the playoffs next year for about a 135 million dollar payroll.

    This rotation will equal a repeat of 2017 and 2018 season’s:

    1. Luis Castillo
    2. Anthony Desclafani
    3. Tyler Mahle
    4. Robert Stephenson
    5. Homer Bailey

    The Reds FO needs to be bold and put together a rotation of something like:

    1. Patrick Corbin
    2. Charlie Morton
    3. Luis Castillo
    4. Anthony Desclafani
    5. Hyun Jin Ryu/Jeremy Hellickson/Nathan Eovaldi/Clay Bucholz/Matt Harvey

    This can be done and the payroll can end up around 135 million, if the right moves are made. Go do the math. Free up 20 million by trading Scooter and Billy and add a good bullpen piece. Add approximately 50 million to sign Corbin, Morton and ryu for example.

    Half measures are not acceptable. I think the Reds FO should sign 3 starting pitchers.

  13. Bill j

    Someone guessed the Reds would sign J A Happ over the winter.

    • Scottya

      That would be one smart step in the right direction, but not near enough by itself.

  14. eric3287

    Perhaps the Reds should leave the “winning culture” nonsense to teams that actually win more games than they lose. Not for 50 games or 60 games or 80 games but for 162 games. There seems to be an inverse correlation between a team’s winning percentage and how often they invoke selective endpoints. The Reds have the 4th worst record in the NL right now. Oh how we’d laugh if the Padres talked about their “winning culture,” and yet that’s essentially the kind of organization the Reds are on par with. A poor man’s San Diego Padres.

    The Reds will have to go 21-23 over their final 44 games to avoid a 4th consecutive 90 loss season. The belief that the 2019 Reds can even be an 80 win team let alone a playoff team relies almost entirely on wishful thinking. The starting pitching just HAS to be better (it doesn’t), Nick Senzel will be healthy and playing every day (probably in Louisville to learn yet another new position), Scooter Gennett will be May Scooter (1.139 OPS) and not April, June, July, or August Scooter (.757, .835, .787, .500 OPS).

    Sometimes to create a real winning culture you have to trade pieces that have value to both make room for younger players and just change the make up and identity of the team. The 2014 Chicago Cubs traded two starting pitchers and two regular starting and an above average starting pitcher. This is going to sound radical, I know, but to change a losing culture into a winning culture you need to change the players. The Reds are still at least 2 years away from seriously competing with Cubs/Brewers/Cards/Pirates for an entire 162 game season and not just 1 month of it.

  15. I-71_Exile

    The Reds made a pitch for Shohei Ohtani. They are aware of the Japanese market.

    • eric3287

      To be fair, being aware of Shohei Ohtani doesn’t mean you are aware of the Japanese market, it just means you can read a newspaper/blog/etc. It was also kind of amusing just how much time and effort the Reds put into that pitch just to have Ohtani lump Cincinnati into a basekt of like 27 teams to be eliminated immediately, followed by Dick Williams throwing a temper tantrum and basically refusing to admit they lost out. Like, they tried really hard and that’s supposed to count for something. It just kind of neatly summed up the entire Reds rebuild; thinking if they just really mean it when they say they want to win magically they will win.

  16. bouwills

    Winning culture? Methinks the Reds are actually entering into a long & very serious “power- outage calamity”. The Reds currently have hit 119 HR, while giving up 171 HR (most in the ML). To be playing in GABP & have the opposition hitting about a third more HR than you do is absolutely not part of a winning culture. The Reds will probably have less HR production next season with Winker in LF full time (not Duvall) & Votto with less HR production (it appears). Whether it’s Senzel or Scooter @ 2nd won’t appreciably increase Reds HR production. As long as it’s Hamilton, Peraza, & Barnhart in the middle Reds won’t get much help in the HR dept. there either. As for the starters, Mahle, Romano, & Castillo are all over 20 HR so far. DeSclafani, Harvey, & Bailey would also project 20+ HR to date (had they pitched the innings that Mahle, Romano, & Castillo have pitched). Stephenson has only pitched 4 innings this season in the ML, but career-wise he has allowed 21 HR in 125.2 IP. All 7 of those sp project about 30 HR over a 180 IP season. Williams has a roster for 2019 that will not likely have a winning record at home.

  17. BigRedMike

    Trading for Archer is not aggressive?

    Getting rid of a huge fan favorite is not the sign of a team understanding roster deployment?

    Pirates had a 5-16 stretch in May-June, should that be thrown out?

    The Pirates are above .500 and the Reds are 14 games below .500. Not sure that they are very close.

    • Joel

      All good points. But the Reds traded our best pitcher, Cueto, and a (today) 3 WAR pitcher in Mike Leake. Plus, Chapman, Frazier, Cozart and Bruce. The only reason the Reds didn’t trade our best hitter the way the Pirates did was due to McCutcheon’s contract being only 6 years and Votto’s about 3 millennium (+/- a millennia). That’s pretty aggressive, if you ask me. It does, however, show some less than good management in that Votto is locked up forever rather than being able to trade him for value, and we all know how badly the Chapman trade went down. Meanwhile, the Pirates were able to make some deals without giving up a decent offensive core of Polanco and Marte, who have put up wRC+ of 118 and 112, respectively. I just don’t know if I buy the portrayal of the Pirates being more aggressive. Smarter, maybe.

      What’s the big deal about trading for Chris Archer? The guy is 30 years old in about a month and a half, and while he’s put up some great numbers in the past, this year he’s on pace just over a 2 WAR and xFIP approaching 4.0, which suggests decline. Yes, that’s better than any starting pitching we’ve got, but it remains to be seen if that was a good move for next year ($7.5 million) plus 2 option years.

      • Jbrat22

        I agree with the Archer comment…he has never had an ERA+ north of 121, and has been league average or worse since 2016. There’s certainly value in having reliable SP that take the ball every 5 days and give you a chance to win, but the Pirates gave up the equivalent of Tyler Mahle and Jesse Winker, plus for him.

        No thanks.

  18. BigRedMike

    Being positive is a great thing, there just needs to be legitimate analysis of the roster and the teams they are competing with.

    4 seasons of terrible baseball is an indicator that things are not on the right path.

    • roger garrett

      Well said and you are exactly right.

  19. Davy13

    Action speak louder than words. You can say you have a winning culture, but it doesn’t mean you actually have it. A couple of months (June & July) of +.500 record is nice adjustment, but far from the formation of a “culture”; it is not even a turnaround yet as August is a losing month so far.

    It is not even the record so much, but it is the mindset & effort to field a winning ballclub with offseason acquistions, lineup decisions, and farm development.

    – Farm development: promising winning culture (Senzel, Trammell, Greene, Santillan); jury is still deliberating

    – Lineup decisions: overall not reflective of a winning culture; RLN has rightly called out management on this; not inserting Winker everyday, inserting Hamilton everyday, not placing your best BA/OBP guys at the top of the lineup; not playing younger players more often to see if they’re part of the future

    – Offseason acquisitions: this is the area that has frustrated me the most as a fan, and, IMO, the winning culture has not been thoroughly proven. I have to agree with others who have pointed out that the ownership has not opened their wallets beyond a couple of long-term signings to fulfill their promise to the fans to strive to be a winning team, year in year out. I know it is a for-profit business, but it is an entertainment business at the heart of it. Management is called to put out a product that entertains the fans with wins. It has been suggested that it is better for the team to sign one quality FA player than multiple mediocre ones. I agree. Also to pull the trigger on trading unproven prospects for young, proven stars.

    This offseason will be telling to see if the team really has or is on the way to having a winning culture.

  20. sezwhom

    I know a winning culture when I see one but for the past few years, all I see is a last place team.

  21. bouwills

    Sorry, GTR, I’m an eternal optimist when it comes to the Reds but this “winning culture” is just another in a long line of company PR without any substance at all. They rolled this BS out because, once again, they failed to accomplish what they needed to get done by the trading deadline. In no way was the Reds re-build designed to find young players whose talents fit this ballpark- or sometimes- even this league. I’d say 3 position players do well here in Votto, Suarez, & Barnhart. On the pitching side, only relievers. Hughes, Hernandez, & Lorenzen have combined for about 150 innings while allowing only 7 HR total. Beyond that, where’s the plan? A bunch of talented flyball pitchers in a small park? Some high OBP guys, short on baserunning & defense? Not a winning culture in my book.

  22. Davy13

    I’m a life-long (40+yrs) REDS fan. Will continue to be…winning culture or not.

    On a different note, one of the reasons that I love baseball is the stats. I love the stats, reading the boxscores, etc. So in recent years I have so appreciated the expansion of baseball sabermetrics to the game. Thanks to RLN, I am being educated constantly. So, I have a question for Steve Mancuso, Chad Dotson, etc.

    It seems that analytics data about a player contribution and value (wRC+ or FIP) is evaluated in isolation. Are there any sabermetrics data about a player’s value when combined or in relation with other players’ contribution? Basketball coaches is analyzes this when considering putting together certain lineups on the court (e.g. +/- when players ABC play together vs ABD). I hope my question is clear enough.

    Appreciate it!