You were sold a bill of goods. Heading toward the All Star break, you were told that because the Reds were a handful of games out of first place, they were contenders; that they could have been somebody. You were told on the airwaves, in print. You stuck your chin out, pugnacious and without pose. Even Dick Williams played along:

“I’d add. I like this team. I think the fans deserve an aggressive approach to making deals.”

Manager David Bell gave the boilerplate response, the one you can find on page 12 of the dog-eared manual Dusty Baker left behind in his office: The Book of Hank:

“I don’t want anyone else in our clubhouse. I love the team that we have. We have the talent and we have the ability. We just have to get better.”

You can’t blame either man for talking this way. One has 25 players who go out there every day grinding it out for the Big 162 and they want to know that somebody in the dugout stands with them. The other has The Big Man standing behind him who wants tickets sold between now and October 1. Nothing closes up the Call Window faster than a signal that the team has already packed up the trucks and is getting ready to head south for the next good year.

But Williams also has a plan and much of that plan involves building from within, not chasing moonbeams and bumgarners. Sure, if the Reds had crept to within a couple of games of the Cubs, they might have gone out and added a reliever whose name you’ve never given a thought of in this Year of the Puig. But, they were never going to swing some deal of considerable prospect largesse to the hapless New York Mets in order to land Noah Syndergaard—or even Zack Wheeler.

The real problem isn’t that the Reds have lost 7 of their last 10 games. It isn’t even that they were never going to be able to creep into the wild card game and win, only to face the Dodgers, who have more talent than any team, including the Yankees. The real problem right now is the disconnect—the disconnect between fans and front office.

The paying customers were never into this thing called The Rebuild. They didn’t understand it then. Some still don’t understand it now. It doesn’t help that everywhere one turns, one reads the phase “this never-ending rebuild” on blogs, behind paywalls and over the car radio. As if the recent example of the Houston Astros never happened. As if the Philadelphia Phillies haven’t had seven straight non-winning seasons and, despite spending “stupid” free agent money, are frantically paddling with their heads barely above .500.

Then, there’s the fact that more than a few people believe that rebuilds are just a euphemism for tanking, perpetrating fraud on a gullible public while the ownership group stuffs their Tom Ford slacks full of tuition money for their Ivy League-bound children.

This year was oft-referred to as the Bridge Year. But the Dodger deal was first and foremost about getting Homer Bailey’s contract off the books for the Reds and clearing cap space for the Dodgers to have the flexibility to go after Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, had they felt so inclined. It also did double-duty. It got rid of a Dodger problem child in Puig and it gave the Reds fan base a little hope and a desire to head downtown.

Only the Sonny Gray trade was about the future. The rest was about cushioning the bumpy rebuild ride one more season.

Had a few players among the everyday 8 performed up to expectations this season, this remarkable pitching turnaround would have been rewarded with a National League Central race that included our boys in red.

Only 4 teams have scored fewer runs than the Reds this season. It’s a testament to the pitching that they’ve hung around as long as they have. But, aside from Castillo and Gray, no one has had the kind of season that lifts all other boats. There have been spurts here and there, but nothing sustained. To make matters worse, a glance at the minors reveals a similar malaise taking place. No one is having a breakout season on the bus circuit; not Taylor Trammell; not Tony Santillan; not Jonathan India.

Fans have largely given up on Votto, written his epitaph, wondering out loud why the Reds don’t just DFA the old codger, never mind that stars of all ages have misbegotten seasons, like Jose Ramirez and Paul Goldschmidt.

The Reds have a solid core, even if you don’t want to wait for Jose Peraza and Jesse Winker to mature into guys who can become above-average players or don’t believe they ever held that promise to begin with.

The wholesale turnaround of the front office should give one hope. The unfortunate reality is that after suffering the Jim Bowden Era, watching Junior limp to the finish line of his HOF career, after years of engaging in the Jocketty Jeremiad and throwing rocks at Bryan Price and later, Jim Riggleman, there is little patience for Dick Williams and Co. People are already calling for Turner Ward’s head, as if he’s a coaching Boll weevil, infecting bats an ruining the harvest. Stop.

For the first time in a long time, the Reds have a plan top-to-bottom. Systemic problems have been addressed. Baseball people at all levels are on the same page. The owner seems to be allowing his employees to do their jobs. There will be no falling in love with Scooter, no last minute long-term contract.

All that’s happened is that too many players haven’t performed this season. And it’s happened all at once, up and down the system. Players careers are not a straight upward arrow, but it’s important to recognize that now, neither are they straight downward arrow either.

The game now is not just about making savvy trades and stunning draft selections, it’s taking the talent you already have and transforming it, the way the Dodgers did with Max Muncy and the way Trevor Bauer and Adam Ottavino have done for themselves.

For me, the most interesting hire of the season by the Reds was that of Caleb Cotham. Making his bones in analytic techniques at Driveline—the baseball training factory—Cotham represents the next wave of teachers who are going take player performance to a higher level.  As Travis Sawchik and Ben Lindberg wrote in The MVP Machine:

“In baseball’s old-school scouting parlance, ‘guy’ is a versatile label, employed, one scout says, ‘like how Smurfs use the word ‘smurf.’ A non-prospect is not a ‘guy,’ or (said dismissively) just a guy; a prospect is a guy; and a top prospect is a GUY, or a guy-guy. Players aspire to ‘guy’ status.

“Talking in terms of “guys” and “ceilings” suggests that there are identifiable limits. Yet more and more players are figuring out how to go from non-guys to guys or from regular guys to guy-guys, which raises a radical possibility. Maybe there’s no such thing as an absolute ceiling, or the ceiling is high enough that no one knows where it is. An maybe more guy-guys are out there than we ever believed before.”

I think the Reds know this already. That’s why Cotham is there. It’s why Bell was able to talk Turner Ward into leaving the Dodgers and Derek Johnson into buying into the Reds plan.

Nobody wants to hear it this morning. That doesn’t matter. The big, bold future is still coming. It’s just been deferred a little longer.

33 Responses

  1. SultanofSwaff

    I agree with the thrust of the article. However, I think the true test of whether the new front office has a real mandate will be what happens at the trade deadline. It’s all about Mr. Castellini. If we see these impending free agents hang around we’ll know ownership is more concerned about avoiding another 90 loss season than setting themselves up for future success. It will tell me a lot about whether I should continue investing my time and money in this team. It pains me to say that as I’ve been a die hard for 45 years, but everyone has their limits.

  2. Doc

    Nice analysis, Richard. Makes a lot more sense than the comments being posted in other threads.

  3. RichS

    “They still have a solid core…” Who do you include in this solid core?
    Your analysis sounds like it came from the PR dept. I keep saying, “yeah but…”

  4. Big Ed

    I pretty much agree with all of this. They aren’t really sellers, either.

    The under-appreciated parts of this year’s stage of the rebuild are that (1) the Reds have maybe $80 million (if that) committed for next season, and (2) it figures to be another buyer’s market for free agents to fill in some holes.

    The Reds figure to make their mark for 2020 in the off-season, not at the trade deadline next week.

    None of their deadline bait really figures to bring much in return. Roark might bring a decent minor league arm, but the contracts of SS Iglesias, Gennett and the middle relievers have little trade value. Puig is a special case for several reasons, and maybe they will package him and a Raisel to the Rays for a good prospect, but I expect a quiet deadline.

  5. burtgummer

    I doubt most Reds fans believed it anyway.
    They need to use their heads and sell off guys on one years deals.
    Puig,Roarke,Iglesias,Scooter,Hughes and Hernandez have no future in Cincy.
    There are some decent arms that will be available thru free agency grab one to take Roarkes spot

  6. Aaron B.

    For all their analytics this brain trust never saw a need for a true centerfielder on the bench? They run Winker out there in CF multiple times? Billy Hamilton wasn’t worth a few million to be a backup, and even if he refused that role they couldn’t find someone like him to be a back up. This is a well written piece but I don’t agree that the front office knows what it is doing. The shifts are a mess. Re-inventing the game of baseball doesn’t make sense to me. The record speaks for itself. Despite a positive run differential they are losing games. Turner Ward subscribes to swinging for the fences. That may work in cavernous Dodger Stadium, but GABP is a launching pad and you should be putting the ball in play. Just my 2 cents.

  7. TR

    The Reds have a solid core? Just who are in the solid core as another last place finish and 90+ loss season looms.

  8. Richard Fitch

    Yeah. Well, this speaks to exactly to the paragraph about fans so beaten down by the disappointments of the past, so used to taking their frustrations out on everyone associated with the Reds, that they no longer believe in anything.

    The Reds certainly have players that have red flags about them. And if one doesn’t believe that players like Peraza and Irvin will be anything other than role players, that’s a fair opinion.

    But the notion that the players having down years–including the player you referred to as the Reds most cherished prospect–“just aren’t very good” is pretty negative and based not on facts, but IMO, feelings of disappointment at the moment we are in now.

    As for Williams and Krall being part of the problem, those are the guys leading this analytical revolution within the organization. The day Williams was named as the future GM, cries of nepotism and narrow thinking were blatantly leveled at the Reds. And indeed, if I were a young, Baseball Prospectus hotshot who had interviewed for the job only to hear that the son of one of the owners had gotten the job instead–I’d feel that way, too.

    But, I’m not.

    It turns out that Williams and his Private Equity background made him very much an outsider in the way that mattered–the kind of out-of-the-box thinker that has led to a total overhaul of the organization, whether you want to admit it not. Will they have the success the Astros have had? Maybe not. Championships are hard to come by. My point is that it takes years to turn organizations around. And the Reds aren’t finished yet.

    On the one hand, you suggest the Reds should be looking to raid other organizations like the Dodgers and Cubs of thinkers, but think the Reds luring Turner Ward away was a mistake. Hell, it was Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi who hired Ward away from the Diamondbacks.

    As a fan base, we are in that collective place where every other organization that is winning now has the answers, where the Reds can do no right. That’s not only a dangerous place to be as a fan, it also may be far removed from reality, as well.

  9. citizen54

    Good to see a well-measure take after seeing all the knee jerk reactions in recent game threads. I’m actually glad the Reds have no reason to trade away the future for a shot at one wild card game.

    • Rod

      As someone who watches about 90% of all the games, they are who their record says they are. I never thought they were going anywhere. My goal for them this spring was for them to make it to .500 this year. That’s not looking likely.

  10. Bill J

    Remember Pete they hired a manager from outside the organization, even though his father is in the front office.

  11. Alex

    This is very well written despite disagreeing with it’s theme. Hey look, I subscribe to analytical baseball sites and follow the minor league prospects too. Until the W/L column changes I ain’t buyin’ the Dick Williams Era.

    In Clifton Luke Fickell didn’t ask for three years and talk about how difficult it is to fix a mess. He just went out and did it.

    • Michael Smith

      Interesting analysis Alex. Not relevant to baseball but still interesting.

      The cubs were dead last in the NLC for 5 years before they jumped back on the scene. The Astros never won more than 76 games in their six awful seasons before 2015. The twins lost 90 plus games 5 out of six years before they rebound in 17, fell back in 2018 and finally have arrived in 2019. By the way the list goes on from here but I am too tired to put up the Brewers. The only team that I looked up that kind of retooled on the fly was the Rays with one 90 plus loss season.

      • Alex

        Respectfully….Compare the current Reds to those teams all you want. The Reds are the Reds, not the Theo Epstein 2013 Cubs who were stockpiling monster talent through lopsided trades or the Luhnow Astros drafting Correa, Springer, and Bregman.

        My Fickell analogy was flippant, intentionally so. But Dick Williams is not Epstein or Luhnow.

  12. Curt

    Thanks for the article Richard. I too agree with the “general thrust” of it. The big unknown still is “the plan”. Do they have one? I hope so. You seem to feel they do. I honestly haven’t had a problem with the moves they’ve made just wish it could happen faster and bolder. The verdict is still out in my mind but i’ll roll with it. The deadline, post white flag game-plan, the Votto situation and upcoming off season will be a real test as to tuning in or tuning out. Hoping for the best.

    On another note, I am becoming less and less comfortable with the ever-changing line-ups, positions, etc. The only thing that hasn’t changed being Votto in the 2 hole and always playing. I get the benefit of guys being able to handle multiple jobs but it’s starting to come off as unnecessarily all over the place, desperate even. Manager over-thinking maybe, I don’t know. Hope “the plan” includes more stability in the starting 8. My Two cents.

  13. Jon

    To me, this winter is the true test of Dick Williams. 2019 was about stopping the bleeding with short-term upgrades. I believe this was in part due to the Reds wanting to continue to see what pieces they already had on this team and whether they made any improvement (Castillo, Mahle, DeSclafani, Peraza, Winker, Senzel). Management seemed to hope everything would work perfectly, that several players would have career years, and that they’d wind up in the wildcard race. That hasn’t happened. This winter is when the Reds will have to go “all-in”. As I wrote in a comment a couple days ago, there should be no prospect off limits in the right trade. This winter is about making the long term deals, either by signing free agents, acquiring major league players in trades, or by trading for major-league ready prospects.

    • citizen54

      Going “all in” is the kind of thinking that cripples teams for years. Gutting all your young talent and signing vets to long term deals for a small window of opportunity isn’t the way to success in this day and age, especially when the Cubs are still in their prime. I hope the Reds front office has more sense than this.

      • Jon

        I’m not advocating “gutting” the farm system. However, if the Reds can trade prospects to get a quality major league bat or two (like the Brewers did for Yelich and the Phillies did for Realmuto), then they should pull the trigger.

  14. Don A

    If I remember correctly, Dick Williams said that the rebuild was over before the season even started. Not sure they really have a plan!

    • Jefferson Green

      There is a phase between rebuild and going to the playoffs. It is where the Reds are in 2019.

  15. Jon

    To me, aside from having gone through five and soon to be six consecutive losing seasons, the worst part of this rebuild is that the farm system has yet to graduate any top prospects to the majors (besides Senzel). Winker was already in the system when the rebuild started. Realistically, are there any notable prospects that will improve this Reds club before the 2021 season (when, barring any trades, Trammell and India could debut)?

  16. CFD3000

    It’s an interesting, thoughtful, well written piece Richard, and as evidenced by the comments a thought provoking one as well. I lean more toward agreeing with you than not. These Reds aren’t that far off being a winning team. Run differential and their record in one run games already suggest they should be.

    But there are two key problems that have made the difference between losing and winning (and neither of them is defense or base running): bullpen and an unbalanced lineup. The bullpen problems are obvious, and need some fixing. Just as one example, if the Reds had won just half the games when Raisel Iglesias was the losing pitcher (I do believe reliever wins and losses are a more relevant statistic than for starters), this team would be at exactly .500. That’s without looking at Hernandez or Peralta or Duke or Stephenson or… But to me the big issue is the minimal offense coming from 44% of the lineup. In the NL you don’t expect the pitcher’s slot to be productive, but the Reds have 4 harmless slots every time through the lineup: 2B, SS, C and P. Here are WRC+ numbers for Gennett, Dietrich, Iglesias, Peraza, Casali and Barnhart: -1, 124, 77, 68, 95 and 54. Except for the HBP machine DD those are terrible. And no, that -1 is not a typo for Scooter. That’s the reason the Reds are struggling to score. As an example, those players reached base 3 times last night, all singles (including Graterol). The outfielders plus Suarez and Votto were on base 11 times, including a double and 2 home runs. If the FO and David Bell can make adjustments perhaps the Reds can chase down a .500 record.

    Long term I see the Reds getting better, and winning more games than they lose. Short term I’m hoping to see some trade deadline selling, some youth replacing veterans, and some creative opportunities for the Ervin’s, VanMeter’s and Aquino’s of the Reds world.

  17. Jim Delaney

    Agree the Reds were likely not going to be buyers this was sealed by hiring a new manager with no major league managing experience. A manager who has been dreadful managing the team in close games… the SF Giants are the hottest team in the game the past month, they have gone from sellers to potential buyers. They win close games because they have a manager who knows to win these games.. Bell and the analytical front office team dont know how to use a bullpen, a bench or strategy to play small ball.. this season is over for the Reds and
    the push now should be that they should be Sellers immediately. Roark, Puig, Gennett, Wood, Hughes, etc should be dealt by the 31st! This wont happen though because the front office has no plan. it’s all about trying to sell tickets.
    William’s needs to be fired, he has no clue and if Castellini wont fire him then he should sell his shares… this Williams guy doesnt know or understand the game.. his background is in banking..

    • Doug Gray

      “His backgronud is in banking”

      Take 15 minutes and look up the background for every GM and President of Baseball Ops in the game and what their background is.

  18. Jefferson Green

    Richard, as usual, I am glad I stopped back at RLN today to read your post – great writing, good points with reasons to back them up. Williams and Krall may not wind up as a successful team, but they have a solid chance at becoming (or already being) that. I have not heard anyone who has spoken with either of them at length come away thinking they are anything but sharp.

  19. Jefferson Green

    This season was always going to be a ‘bridge’, with a low chance of being a playoff contention year. Everything had to go right to be a team that would win over 85 games, and indeed that has not come close to happening. A rookie manager and a new coaching staff – and more importantly – new philosophies and new ways of preparing for each game were unlikely to have the machine running at top performance in year one. It is a good year to prepare for the future, to build a foundational philosophy that can more effectively perform game in, game out over the big 162.

  20. Rob

    The Reds have a lot of trade pieces but many of them are having blah seasons and are not going to bring near term upgrades. At the top of the list are Gennett, Raisel, and Hernandez. Then there are 2 month rentals like Gennett, Wood, and Roark. Jose and Derrick have low salaries and actually may be of some value. But the guys that really have value are Garrett, Lorenzen, Winker, Ervin, Puig, Trammel, India, Disco, and probably Stephenson. If it were me, I would be resigning Puig and Jose and listening on everyone else. I am convinced this team wants to win now and not 2 years down the road.

  21. LWblogger2

    Yes, those guys also raked. There are 3 HoF players from the BRM. Add Rose who were it not for his banishment, would be in. Add Concepcion who put up enough offense for a SS that an argument could be made for his inclusion. Then add Foster who was a well above average hitter during his time with the Reds. Then Griffey who was an above average hitter.

    He also seems to forget that before injuries robbed him, Griffey Jr. was an outstanding defensive CF.

    It’s not the ballpark and 1 dimensional players killing this team. It’s they aren’t hitting enough. They aren’t getting on base enough and they aren’t hitting it out enough.

  22. Joe Farfsing

    Lots of points made here today. Some of them are even coherent, and some of those are actually based in modern reality ????. The BRM broke up 43 years ago and people STILL try to compare teams to them. The Reds screwed up 5 years of this rebuild trying to do things the old way and FINALLY have a system and organizational plan in place. People want to blame Williams for things Walt and Bob C left him with. He didn’t draft Nick Howard or Nick Travieso or Phil Ervin or Tyler Stephenson. 2 of this teams’ last 6 first rounders (not counting 2019 or 2018) have actually reached MLB and Ervin is only now, at age 27, showing any bit of promise and he’s a just bench player.
    This current era started this past off-season. They made 2 promises- to improve pitching (check), and to raise payroll to a record level (check). Now they’ve promise to maintain payroll next year despite tons of money coming off the books. While I’m not taking anything for granted I think they’ve earned a little less of a jaundiced eye than previous regimes