Like a pot of water under a slow flame, you don’t notice the window closing until the moment reaches full boil. Yet, along the way, there are clues, small bubbles forming below, wisps of steam that announce a full roil is not far off. Such was the temperature of Mat Latos on a beautiful fall day on the Ohio River:

“[Baker] sent Price to the mound with an impossible task—put out the fire currently consuming Mat Vesuvius. Latos just stood there the whole visit, unflinching, shaking his head and grinning like a madman, repeatedly mouthing to Price the words, “I’m fine, man.”

Pablo Sandoval stroked a single. Bases loaded. National League MVP Buster Posey stepped in for the Giants, and Latos had nowhere to put him. Latos continued to overthrow his pitches, but battled the MVP to a 2–2 count. Here was the moment. The 45,000 in attendance were anxiously subdued, probably remembering the rocket Posey had launched into the seats on the first pitch he saw from Latos back in Game 1.

If Dusty Baker remembered it, he wasn’t acknowledging it. One pitch later, history repeated itself as the Giants’ superstar relocated a 94 mph Latos’ fastball to the left field seats. Almost as soon as the ball left the barrel of Posey’s bat, Mat walked off the mound without turning to witness the ball’s trajectory. If he flinched, the television camera from center field never caught it. Game over. Series over.”

The window didn’t close on that day. Perhaps it closed a year later in that forgettable Wild Card game, the moment the baseball dropped distractedly from Johnny Cueto’s hand onto the receiving earth as PNC Park vibrated, coming to full boil.

If not then, it surely slammed shut nine months later as Joey Votto limped back to Cincinnati from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, his Double-A  rehab stint from a bum quadricep turned proof of concept failure.

If it seems all too painful to revisit, well, too bad. The manner in which the 2012-13 seasons were extinguished is a cold and callous reminder that the Reds must now stretch their bright future as far to the horizon as possible. Just as the Reds cannot afford to have another lost season—and make no mistake, they must get demonstrably better RIGHT NOW—neither can they afford to forfeit the future in an effort to take a giant step in 2019, getting a fan base’s hopes up, only to slide prematurely into another protracted rebuild. The pieces must be moved with considerable care, Jenga-like, lest the entire rebuild come tumbling down upon itself.

Make no mistake. This would be a disaster.

Get the Pitching is owner Castellini’s incantation, a clarion call to action. It may be. It is almost certainly doing double duty as a public-relations tool, meant to slow the growing freight train of criticism on the airwaves, on social media, in watering holes across the street, echoing off the cold Crosley Terrace concrete. But for the moment, let the imagination fly and believe that minority owners such as car salesman Jeff Wyler willfully acknowledge that pitchers, like eggs, are not cheaper in the country —that several inches of dollar bills are going to be spent and big moves are going to be made.

There are two avenues that lead to Get The Pitching Boulevard: free agent cash and prospect treasure. The problem with heading down Prospect Avenue is the steep price it will cost to get a a rotation difference-maker, a Kluber or Greinke. It would begin with one of the Reds’ top three prospects—likely two—and definitely would include a supporting cast of prospects that would deplete the system and force the Reds down another narrow path before the team would once again have to sell off assets and start over. For while the Reds have a considerable depth to their farm system, it shouldn’t be confused with the elite systems, such as the San Diego Padres. Yes, the Reds can cash in now, but is this an ALL IN moment?

I reject that plan. I hope the new regime does, too.

* * *

Any fantasy baseball trade imagining specific players has a miniscule chance of actually coming to fruition, but such mischief offers breadcrumbs for finding the way home. And home is multiple deep runs into the postseason. Here is one such path:

Noah Syndergaard is the talk of the hot stove season—and for good reason. A dominating and downright frightful presence on the mound, the Viking God of the Fastball is available not because the Mets are tearing it down, but rather because their new GM is going for it and needs to fix a glaring need for offense in the here and now. A dismal 23 rd in MLB in runs scored, 29 th in batting average, the lack of Met offense is best illustrated by Jacob deGrom’s historic Cy Young season, his 1.70 ERA garnering only 10 wins, due to the pittance of run support his teammates provided.

So here comes Brodie Van Wagenen, who no, is not a character from Animal House, but rather the new GM desperate to remind the Mets what it feels like to reach third base. Van Wagenen needs upgrades at catcher, second base, centerfield and the bullpen. It’s why—as of this writing—only Robinson Cano’s physicals stand in the way of a trade that delivers him and bullpen magician Edwin Diaz to Flushing, Queens. Some feel Cano is on the downside of his career, fresh off a PED suspension and dragging behind him a large and foolish contract courtesy of some ghost of GMs past. The Mariners seem desperate enough to pay down $20M of the remaining $120M on that contract, but the Mets will still have to shoulder a sizable chunk for a player who will be approaching 37 years old when the playoffs next roll around, not to mention surrender their third best prospect and their best pitching prospect, among other assets.

One wonders what the Reds could have offered to get Thor. The Reds have a second baseman they could easily move. Gennett would be an instant upgrade offensively for the Mets. He carries none of Cano’s Yankee reputation as a hitter, but he’s every bit as good right now, doesn’t burden the frugal Mets’ spreadsheet, and his expiration date could be farther off. Raisel Iglesias isn’t Diaz, but he isn’t far off; and pitching in Citi Field would drop a Home Run/Fly Ball rate that dings his FIP. His reworked contract offers cost-certainty. Add in a Curt Casali and/or Robert Stephenson. Would that have gotten it done?

Of course, the chances of any of this happening are now as good as Birnam Wood coming to high Dunsinane Hill. That’s not the point.

The players in this fantasy deal don’t measurably impact the future the way parting with Nick Senzel or Taylor Trammell would, particularly if the Reds were to continue to make moves—and by trading for a top-of-the-rotation starter, there would remain plenty of $$ to fill other holes. Now that center field is in play with the non-tender of Billy Hamilton, how about signing Andrew McCutchen to a modest two-year deal to hold down the fort until the cavalry arrives in the form of Jose Siri or Trammell? Yes, Cutch is 32 and will never make us forget Hamilton defensively, but he could still manage Great American Small Park’s cozy acreage without too much downside. With a 2018 OBP of .368 and a 118 OPS+, the Reds could not just live with that, they could thrive.

Dallas Keuchel remains an intriguing possibility. He may very well wait until another coveted pitcher like Patrick Corbin or Nathan Eovaldi sets the bar with one of the Park Avenue franchises. But, a ground ball pitcher needs a solid defense behind him, all the more reason Gennett should be gone and the young Senzel kept at second base. However, should the Reds come up short in their quest for a dominant starter, they could pivot away from the obvious and build a pitching staff in a different way in two steps.

Tandem Starters
Pair Amir Garrett and Cody Reed with a four-inning target for each. Pair Michael Lorenzen with Sal Romano. Employing tandem starters with the last two rotation spots would allow the young Reds pitching prospects to continue to develop without the stress of going the dreaded “third time” through the lineup or amass innings totals that would require them to be shut down at the end of the year. Yes, that approach puts considerable stress on Castillo and Mahle to keep improving while pitching in a traditional role, but doesn’t that need to happen anyway?

Build an Uber Bullpen
Make it bulletproof. Carry 13 pitchers on the 25-man roster. Spend the bulk of the free agent money on relievers. Target Adam Ottavino, David Robertson, Zach Britton and maybe even Joe Kelly or Cody Allen. Sign two. Spread free agent pitcher risk around instead of lumping it all into one great hope. Imagine the following bullpen:

Raisel Iglesias
David Robertson
Adam Ottavino
Jared Hughes
David Hernandez
Robert Stephenson

Could you keep Anthony DeSclafani healthy if you never ask him to go more than five innings? Could BobSteve’s career as a starter be reborn by having him tandem start if Romano or Garrett proves ineffective as starters?

Yes, these ideas are outside the box, perhaps even outside the imagination of the new front office. But so was the Opener before Tampa Bay began showing the way as they are wont to do. Maybe with newly empowered leadership at the top and on the field, the Cincinnati Reds are ready to join the Rays at the vanguard of baseball thought. Wasn’t that the reason for hiring David Bell to begin with? To dramatically rethink how baseball is done in Cincinnati?

The Reds—like many smaller market organizations—have spent a lifetime paddling in the deep end of the pool, thrashing about, keeping their heads above water, while the Giants, Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees paddle by in style, papering over their mistakes with checkbooks as full as a tick.

Me? I heard the window close when, with Mat Latos hurt, the Reds rushed Johnny Cueto back from injury, first with a 60 pitch start, then 80, before declaring him ready for the 2013 Wild Card game. He wasn’t. But the Reds were thin as a Paris runway model by then. Even getting past the Pirates on that night would have left them threadbare, still as midnight, with nowhere to go.

I don’t want to watch that happen again for a long time. If it be a sin to covet prospects, I am the most offending fan alive. So forgive me if I hold close Nick Senzel, Taylor Trammell and Jonathan India. Forgive me if I put my hope in the unpredictable, but magical appendages of Hunter Greene and Tony Santillan. Prospects are just that: prospects. They’ve done nothing yet. But the payment for all the sodden rain-delay drives home from the ballpark, hearts plucked from the chest, the nightly opposing dugout celebrations and all the emotional weight of those 90-loss seasons has been the kind of draft position where the next Kris Bryant, Alex Bregman and Andrew Benintendi are found. Somewhere there lies the next Reds core to go along with Castillo, Winker and Eugenio Suarez. There may even be a coaching staff and front office in place now that knows what to do with it.

The Reds may be embarking on the baseball version of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. Can the Reds and their fans delay gratification just long enough to finally build lasting success?


20 Responses

  1. Phillip

    As I did stand my watch upon the hill, I looked toward Birnam, and anon, me thought the wood began to move!

  2. cfd3000

    I’ve long been on the “trade Scooter” soap box and like the idea of McCutchen in center and Senzel at second. And I agree that the Reds should not bargain away their very finest prospects – Senzel, Trammell, India, Hunter and Santillan. Perhaps one could depart (NOT Senzel) but otherwise you’ve sold the future for a slightly less bleak present. But there is a prudent path to relevance, and if the remainder of moves this offseason are as astute as I believe the beginning moves to be, then maybe, just maybe, the Reds are on that path. We can dream, right?

    • jveith1991

      The fact that most of the Reds’ top prospects entered the offseason injured (Senzel, Greene) or following poor performance during the season (India) does nothing to help their trade value. Add to that the fact that Gennett battled shoulder issues throughout the season and is only under control for one more year, and you get a GM’s nightmare. Then add to this the fact that the Reds are in the toughest division in baseball. The Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals are all trying to return to the postseason in 2019, and the Pirates have shown no signs of rebuilding after managing to finish 2018 with a winning record.

      The Reds definitely need to add pitching this winter, but will likely need to do it via free agency rather than trades.

  3. jveith1991

    If Greinke waived his no-trade clause to come to Cincinnati, what would the trade look like? He is owed $104.5 million over his age 35-37 seasons. Even if the Diamondbacks sent $20 million in the deal, would they expect much of a return in terms of prospects?

    • Rut

      Yeah, I don’t think Greinke would cost much if amything in prospects. But I also don’t see the Reds ponying up that sort of cash… one thing to keep in mind however is that like $10mil of Greinke’s yearly salaries are deferred

      • Jim Walker

        A person looks at the nontenders other that BHam and wonders why carry them beyond the rule 5 pare down and make them MLB FA’s versus outrighting them even if that meant letting them be a minor league FA if they had the service time.(except the one guy who was just a waiver claim obviously).

        And why the hurry to outright someone like Dilson Herrera into minor league free agency immediately at the end of the season versus either holding him on the 40 man over the winter since they didn’t want these other guys; or, at least nontendering him and making him an MLB FA.

        Must be some CBA nuance I am not aware of in play here.

      • Jim Walker

        But if they weren’t going to need the 40 man spot by the Rule 5 draft, they could have just left him on the 40 man until the tender date with the effect of making him an MLB FA or alternately gone on and tendered him and held him into MLB spring camp. The cost of the latter would have been 30 days pay for the first 16 days of ST and 45 days pay if released after that but before the end of ST.

        To my point about how they handle prospects, for as little as 30 days pay (about $90-95K), they could have held onto Herrera through arbitration season and had the possibility of recouping some return on him as part of a trade.


    Nice job Richard! Very thought provoking.

    The ‘uber’ bullpen idea seems the most likely possibility for our favorite baseball organization. However, might it be possible that ‘the times they are a changing’? I have begun to think this as a real possibility!

    Continuing with the ‘uber’ bullpen theme, this seems to be not only the least expensive route to take, but the least disruptive to our precious prospects as well. When you consider not a single one of the group including Senzel, Siri, Trammell, India, Santillan etc., have been lost in this scenario…well, that makes for a very compelling case!

    A knee jerk reaction by Bob, or DW for that matter, resulting in a rash expenditure for someone like Thor or Grienke seems highly unlikely in reality. It reminds me of the similar ‘goose chase’ last year for Ohtani.
    All the time DW spent chasing that elusive prize seemed doomed from the start. He is not Bob Howsam and these aren’t the Redlegs of ‘70-‘74…are they?!

    Well, I guess we shall see. The earth has shifted under our feet a couple times here in the last few weeks. How long before the winter meetings?
    Maybe, just maybe, we are in for a new direction rather than yet another swift kick to our groins. Delayed gratification indeed!

  5. jveith1991

    What about getting Mike Leake from the Mariners? Though he has a full no-trade clause, I am sure he would waive it to return to Cincinnati (he waived it when the Cardinals traded him to the Mariners). He is owed $31 million over the next two seasons, with an $18 million mutual option or $5 million buy out for 2021. He certainly is not an ace, but can be a solid number three pitcher in the rotation.

  6. bouwills

    Again & again people point out how the Reds traded away their best assets (players) at the worst possible time & got very little for them. True. Then they either claim or infer that our current best players shouldn’t be traded. Well- it’s deja vu all over again. Right now the Reds could get a premium in talent (prospects) by trading Suarez, Iglesias, Gennett, Hughes, & even Barnhart. Then they would have an elite minor league system, perhaps better than San Diego. The Reds ownership/management lost the 2018 & 2019 seasons back in 2014 & 2015. They can’t save the 2019 season now. Adding 2 TOR sp this offseason maybe gets the Reds 4th place in the division, at best 3rd place. The window opens no sooner than 2020- if a bunch of preparation is done this year. Obviously few will agree with this perspective, until 2022 or so.

    • Michael Smith

      CI3J Votto has a no trade clause.

  7. cfd3000

    Two comments here. First, while I agree with your basic point that the Reds have not yielded as much as they could and should have in trades the past several years, most prospects don’t turn into all stars or even starters, and on this list I think both Matt Harvey and especially Cody Reed are worth far more than the nothing you’ve given them credit for. Second, what’s the point? You might as well type up a list of all the dates that the Reds lost on last year. They’ve been bad, in a tough division. They are, for the first time in a long long time, starting to make the hard choices that must be made. There are some key points all of us can agree on – they need better pitching, they need a few upgrades in the field, and they should make those upgrades with the check book instead of by trading away prospects as much as possible. No, we shouldn’t forget the lessons of the past, but all the games they can win are only in the future.

  8. Gerardo Helguera

    The next window for the Reds begins by signing a legit pitcher just like the Cubs did when they signed John Lester. After that signing the Cubs weren’t expected to make the playoffs let alone go to the NLCS but they did. Go get Dallas Keuchel for 4 years and set this team up for 2020 and beyond. I’m not saying they are but I can see this team capable of improving by at least 15 more wins if you get a Keuchel. It’s time to invest on a good piece if you are serious about winning. The Reds have a young and talented pitching staff to build around Keuchel for the future.

  9. Gerardo Helguera

    About the Cubs signing of Jon Lester I meant the club wasn’t expected to do much on the 2015 season since they were coming off a 73 win season in ’14. The Lester signing was one of the main reasons the team improved 24 games to a 97 win team. Go Get Keuchel!

  10. Mike V

    Agree on every point Richard .. HANG ON TO THE PROSPECTS and ride it out .. If you need to buy a free agent pitcher DO IT . But that’s it . That’s the only way to have any shot at long term success.

  11. jveith1991

    The Rays went from 66-96 to 97-65 from 2007 to 2008. Obviously they are the exception rather than the rule, but it shows what is possible. This was with them having the second-lowest payroll in baseball, under $44 million on Opening Day.

  12. eric3287

    I’m not sure it’s fully appreciated yet just how bad the Reds have mucked up the Scooter Gennett saga. There are 3 options left: 1) Trade him, 2) Extend him, 3) Keep him for 2019 and let him walk.

    1) Scooter will be 29 in May with only one year of team control left. It is extremely unlikely any team would trade for him and give up a major league talent with multiple years of team control left. It seems equally unlikely that a team, would give up a AAA, near MLB ready prospect for 1 year of Scooter. A trade with Scooter as the centerpiece would likely be for a prospect at AA or A+

    2) I know it’s just projections, and I know Scooter has beaten his the last two years, but Fangraphs projects that Nick Senzel will be better than Scooter this year. Like a full win better in 150 fewer PAs. Not sometime in the future, but this very season. Extending Scooter blocks a top 5 prospect in baseball, and keeps Scooter for his decline (2021+) right when the window should be the widest.

    3) It’s extremely unlikely the Reds win 80 games this year. If the Reds keep Gennett, even if he has another 2-3 win season, it’s likely to be on another last place team. So the Reds will have claimed Gennett, watch him put up 10 WAR in 3 seasons of last place finishes, and then walk with just a compensation draft pick.

    The best option, in my opinion, is option #1. But I can’t imagine the Reds front office willingly taking the PR hit that would come with trading Scooter just after releasing Billy and trying to talk up this year as being competitive.

  13. Richard Fitch

    I agree with your basic points. I do think you overstate your case somewhat.

    Players who were near the end of their careers were never going to bring value in return (Rolen, Ludwick, Arroyo)

    Underperforming players with injury histories don’t either: (Ludwick, Mesoraco, Cozart)

    Some never had much value to begin with: (Stubbs, Heisey, Cingrani)

    You were never going to get serious prospects for a player with a huge contract like Votto’s. You trade Votto for salary relief and walk away.

    The Reds problem is that their entire pitching staff was reaching free agency at nearly the same time. They should have traded Cueto, Latos, Leake and Chapman when they had a couple of years of control left. And maybe Bruce, too. That would have brought something back.

    But as we are finding out years later, that was largely the owner’s decision-making at work.

  14. Redsman

    Keuchel, Leake, and Thor oh my! Keuchel certainly will command more than Leake who apparently makes 31 million over the next 2 years. Thor probably more still, not to mention the choice of our prospects. I like Eovaldi as the best of the FA choices, probably worth a shot. However, I respectfully again 2nd Richard’s idea of an Uber pen.

    I wouldn’t expect Ottavino and Britton combined to make any more than Leake’s salary and no prospects involved. Uber pen, Uber pen!

  15. roger garrett

    Personally I think its going to be another year of sorting through the young pitchers.I don’t feel the Reds will be willing to part with any proven major leaguers or even top prospects to get a top pitcher or two.Its take value to get value and the salaries need to match up as well but they won’t do it.While some see the move to let Billy hit the market as a solid move in the right direction I see it as two years too late since the Reds didn’t even get anything in return.The improvement this year,if it indeed happens,will come from healthy guys,as mentioned, and improvement from one or more young starters.We got better on offense with the departure of Billy so that helps as well.I can live with another year of sorting if they indeed do just that but another year of signing low cost free agent pitchers just to eat innings is just insane.This year should be to set up a long tenure of competing and not getting caught up with the rally cry of we think we can we think we can which its been now for the last two years.The next window can begin as early as 2020 if they get it right this year.Its not always about what a team does to get better its how far they have to go in their division.The Reds are not the Tribe who have no other team to worry about.We have sooooooooo far to go to compete.