We’ve all seen it. Four cars roll up to a four-way stop. They sit, paralyzed, waiting for someone to make the first move.
Welcome to MLB’s Winter Meetings.
This is how it goes. The players looking for the once-in-a-lifetime haul. The buyers waiting for a bargain. Each side looking both ways for the fool about to step on the gas and boot-scoot it thru the intersection, sending chrome and chaos everywhere. In the past, the New York Yankees have been that team—and given Brian Cash-man’s boastful proclamation that “we have a fully operational death star”—they may very well still be. However, this year, the Philly Phanatic has upped the ante, vowing to spend “stupid money” in search of wins.
For years now, the Red Machine has always been the last to leave the intersection, allowing everyone else to go ahead before cautiously heading along their way, four cylinders a-banging.
Nevertheless, the Reds have now made a Winter Meeting move. No, they haven’t flashed a shiny money clip, opening the gull-wing doors of their rental Tesla and cocking a “get in” finger in the direction of Dallas Keuchel yet, but there’s plenty of highway left. And anyway, the Winter Meetings have become a place for baseball execs to play “what if” with each other during the daytime hours, while everyone else retires to the hotel bar, comparing frequent-flyer miles, watching Freddie from Flushing stroll by in fresh pair of Skechers with his authentic Mets jersey tucked into his jeans. Nothing has to happen. Everybody just feels each other out before heading back to their respective offices. Which leaves the rest of us watching. And waiting.
It’s easy to be pessimistic; much harder to find your inner optimist.
The optimist in me says the Reds are going to bust out the bitcoin and bring payroll to something approaching league average: about $140M. The pessimist in me worries that when Bob Castellini said “we’ll have the highest payroll ever,” he meant he was tossing a handful of Hanukkah gelt coins atop the 2015 payroll of $115M before calling it a day.
The optimist in me says the Reds will find a way to divest themselves of Scooter Gennett and spend the cash in other areas of need, such as centerfield. The pessimist in me thinks they will be stuck with a second baseman nobody much needs, similar to the way they were saddled a year ago with Zack Cozart.
The optimist in me says Tanner Roark is just the beginning. The pessimist in me worries that Get the Pitching is spelled Get the pitching with a lower-case “p.”
No sooner had the Reds made the Roark trade than the Twitterverse exclaimed “That’s it??!!!” in unison. Of course, that’s not all that’s happening, even if New Tanner is the only pitcher under the tree by the 25th. There has to be a first move, right? And this was a very nice one. A reliable starter who makes regular trips to the mound is something loyal visitors to GABP haven’t seen in a very long time. One year of control means he’s not the future, he’s the NOW, but now is important. The cost was negligible—a lower-level prospect.
The holy grail is the pitcher who moves the needle, whether it’s Keuchel, Kluber or someone else. The irony is that as analytics have led teams to readjust their thinking about paying for past performance, fans are now begging for the kind of antithetical purchase that—had Walt Jocketty made it—would have had the more sabermetric among us howling with rage at the short-sightedness of it.
But as Hyman Roth once said, “this is the business we’ve chosen.”
The optimist in me says the Reds will thread the needle, finding an affordable starter to go along with Roark, someone who will be around for a few seasons, while saving enough cash to supplement the outfield until Trammell gets here. The pessimist in me says the Reds will put a bow around Trammell and send 7 years of the next great Reds outfielder to someone else for two years of some high-profile name who is gone in the blink of an eye.
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The optimist in me keeps coming back to David Bell. Less than a year ago, he was the newly-minted farm director of the San Francisco Giants, winners of three World Series Championships this decade, an organization that shows no fear of walking within spitting distance of the luxury tax line. About to embark upon the task of rebuilding the fading Giants in his image, he walked away from that challenge before he ever really got started and came to Cincinnati, Ohio?
More Money? Maybe. A familial calling? Perhaps. Lunch with Gapper? Sure. Still, there had to be more. I’m guessing promises were made. Bell just didn’t get an office close to the action at 100 Joe Nuxhall Way so he could share the executive men’s room with the boys in wingtips. Promises were made. Big promises. First, that the new manager would have a major say as one of the architects of the new Cincinnati Reds. Second, a lack of money wouldn’t be an issue. It would be there, as necessary, like an ATM, albeit one with a spending limit. Third, decisions would always be made using information and technology—cutting edge stuff to go along with good, smart scouting at all levels of the organization.
The Reds promised something big. Otherwise, Bell is still in San Francisco and Derek Johnson and Turner Ward aren’t here. That’s gotta be it, right?
New mechanics are in town. Time to be optimistic.