The Reds have made it very clear in both words and actual deeds that they intend to play seriously in the free agency market.

“There will be a next, we can tell you that. We can’t tell you who,” Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams said Thursday after a press conference to formally announce the signing of Mike Moustakas. “We do have flexibility to keep going. We will continue to do deals. I’m not going to pin down a specific number, but we can do deals this big if we find the right fit that we need to have.”

“We believe that we have the ability to create a team that’s going to go to the postseason next year,” Williams told C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic earlier this off-season. “That’s the goal. That’s what we think we’ve got the chance at doing.”

These are just some of the reasons why the Reds may be among the big newsmakers at this year’s Major League Baseball Winter Meetings, which have begun in San Diego. General Manager Nick Krall said last week that the Reds have literally made contact with every free agent on the market.

Overpaying is part of playing at the higher tier of free agency

It has been interesting to see the reaction of some Reds fans here at Redleg Nation, on Twitter, and elsewhere on social media. The reactions have ranged from overwhelming acceptance of the Moustakas signing to many who have expressed that the Reds overpaid the former Royal and Brewer.

The truth is, they did. But any team that is going to be in play for high-end free agents knows that overpaying is part of the equation. The White Sox paid 31-year-old catcher Yasmani Grandal $73 million over four years, or an average of $18.25 million guaranteed. Moustakas, also 31, will receive $64 million guaranteed over four years, or $16 million average. Based on what we know about the effects aging typically has on baseball players as they reach their mid-30s, the chances are better than average that both Grandal and Moustakas will be performing at well below the level they have in recent years when they reach the final years of their deals.

Twenty-nine-year-old pitcher Zach Wheeler received $118 million over five years from the Phillies last week. The reaction of Philadelphia Inquirer reporter David Murphy:

The original blueprint (of their rebuild) called for the Phillies to spend two or three seasons spinning off their few remaining assets, rebuilding their base of young talent via trades and draft picks and international signings, and using their major-league roster as an audition stage, thus maximizing their chances of uncovering a legitimate player or two who would not have had the opportunity to reveal himself on a team striving for wins.

Alas, something went wrong with this construction project. Three years after it began, the concrete still had not set. The young talent that was supposed to serve as the foundation for the future failed to mature.

If the Reds are truly going to be active in the upper-tier free agency market this year and in the future, we’re going to have to realize that overpaying is a given. Did you see the report that the Yankees have offered pitcher Gerrit Cole $235 million over seven years? That’s $35 million per year. After the news that Stephen Strasburg got more than that, expect the price of Cole to rise significantly higher. The chances that Cole’s performance metrics will decrease significantly over the next seven years are high, as are the chances that he will suffer an injury to his pitching hand/arm/elbow/shoulder. The Yankees, if they sign Cole at that number, will never realize a full return on investment.

That is unless you believe that a world championship or two constitute that ROI. That’s how the teams like the Phillies and Yankees are operating, and Reds fans have to get used to that idea.

And, Reds management has to get used to the idea that they are not going to allow a contract that turned as bad as Homer Bailey’s did to diminish their spending in future years. If that mindset continues, this team will never have an extended period of success.

Prospects are not more valuable than established major leaguers

Another big change in mindset among both management and the fan base must come regarding the value of minor league prospects. During the recent years of the rebuild, the Reds were reticent to trade young prospects, and that was according to the plan. But now that the rebuild is officially over, Reds fans must get over the mindset that the future is bleak if it doesn’t include the young “prospects” currently on the major league roster and in the minor league system.

Teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers – perennial World Series contenders – use their minor league players as assets to be dealt for proven talent. Williams and Krall have already begun operating in this realm, with the deals that sent Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray to the Dodgers and Taylor Trammell to the Padres. In both trades, they acquired proven major league players to help the team win now.

In October, Rosecrans asked Williams, “Do you have the prospect capital remaining to make impact deals?”

“I think so,” Williams said. “Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder. But we certainly have guys at the top of our system that have been asked about. I would say, we’ll also be looking at spending money in the free-agent market where we don’t have to give up prospects..”

If the Reds want to make a trade for an established player at a position of need, willingness to surrender younger, controllable talent is almost a given. In effect, it would be a trade of an immediate future of contention at the expense of the possibility of some of the younger players developing into longer-term prime assets for other teams.

Many Reds fans have mindsets of fans of a team without a championship for decades

Many Reds fans are reacting to the news of these apparent shifts in the mindset of the team’s front office with the same responses that have been burned into their consciousness for the past five or so years, including:

  • Don’t risk overpaying someone because we’ll be hurt by having to eat that bad contract down the road, or we won’t have that money to spend on someone else who could help
  • Don’t trade those minor league prospects, because they might become players who are good for this team for six controllable years

These mindsets have become, in effect, habits. We have no idea what it really takes these days to create a winning Reds baseball team, because the last World Series champion here was 29 years ago. We’ve all gotten into the mindset of fans of teams who “tank” as part of the strategy of a “rebuild.” It worked fabulously for Houston, but as noted above in the case of the Phillies, it doesn’t always work.

What we might see this week and for the rest of the off-season is a Reds front office that has turned over a new leaf and is ready to be creative and aggressive in order to put a playoff-caliber team on the field.

Keep this in mind: If the Reds are going to sign Didi Gregorius, they are going to have to overpay for him. He is sought-after by several teams. So if they do sign and overpay him, don’t be shocked. Understand that the front office is trying to put together a team with a chance to make the playoffs. It’s a welcome change, and it will require a change in the mindset of many long-time Reds fans.