The final scene of the film Cast Away has Tom Hanks’ stoic and heroic Chuck Noland in the middle of a dusty Texas road, the camera barefaced and unapologetically revealing a man standing not just figuratively, but literally at the crossroads, as if we hadn’t already gotten the message at the end of reel three. When the news came over the transom that Dick Williams was stepping down as President of Baseball Operations and Chief Bottle Washer, I thought of Chuck, looking in one direction, then another, as he contemplates the future and what it might portend. While I’m pretty sure of our protagonist’s next move, the hint of a smile creeping across his face as the screen fades to black, I’ve got nothing when contemplating the road Williams—and the Cincinnati Reds—will head down now.

Teams have gone down one alleyway before, only to backtrack to head down the familiar thruway with more Sheetz truck stops, the highway with recognizable billboards and reliable rest stops, i.e., the road more comfortably traveled. The Boston Red Sox forged a solid foundation under Ben Cherington’s leadership, building a farm system nonpareil, only to show the young GM the door, bringing in Dave Dombrowski. The ex-Detroit Tiger leader’s sole aspiration was jumping onto the HOV lane, stepping on the accelerator, and spending Cherington’s prospect gelt and owner John Henry’s money in pursuit of a quick championship. The end result left the farm system barren and owner Henry unwilling to continue spending to keep perhaps the second-best player in baseball, Mookie Betts.

Why? Possibly because he’d lavished so much extravagance on counterfeit services, the best example being one Pablo Sandoval and his overstuffed $95M contract. The day an overweight Panda swung at a pitch and broke his belt, his corpulence spilling out of his uniform—well, it was a fitting metaphor for the way a baseball organization, bursting at the seams with wealth in both cash and prospects, was willing to stuff itself with talent options. Dombrowski bought brought the Red Sox a World Championship, plus two seasons wielding the highest payroll in the game. He finished by rewarding his 2018 heroes with gluttonous extensions in celebration before pushing back from the table. Having done all that, Dombrowski’s reward was to get fired himself, his skills no longer suited to the difficult task of rebuilding an organization from the ashes of bad contracts and a depleted farm system. Owner Henry’s zigging—then zagging—should be a reminder of what the rich do when money is at stake and the unexpected occurs.

Baseball lost money, gobs of it, in 2020. From the owners’ perspective, the money spigot was completely shut off until late July, and only then turned back on to a relative trickle with only cardboard fan cutouts and perhaps some branded face masks to keep the masses connected, and—oh, forgive me—pour a little money back into their purses.

You don’t have to be Colonel Mustard to see the clues all around. The above-mentioned Red Sox had no interest in building their future around Mookie. Cleveland see little value in one last season of Francisco Lindor, one of the best players the game has to offer. The Chicago Cubs, still hungover following their long-awaited championship, now have no real desire to keep Yu Darvish. The Tampa Bay Rays, a bat flip away from a World Series championship, traded away their best pitcher. Baseball has gone into a full retreat as the immediate future of the game remains murkier than ever.

Yet, baseball has almost always been awash in money. Long before Amazon, Netflix, and Zoom reaped gigantic rewards in a world suddenly sequestered in their homes, Major League Baseball was feeding voraciously at the money-trough, raking in almost half a billion more in 2019 than they had the year before, the 17th straight year of record profits. Nevertheless, while some focus on Forbes franchise valuations and the eventual windfall ownership groups will pocket at the time of sale as an argument that owners should continue to spend, and spend bigly, an important point is missed: that’s not how the rich operate. While the rest of us would take our Lotto winnings and spend it on god knows what, the rich take their windfalls and put them into the service of making even more money. When a venture isn’t returning the expected profit, the checkbooks close. The rich version of austerity is a tin of roe poolside at home instead of beluga caviar overlooking Central Park at Per Se.

They look ahead and see another season with limited attendance, at best. Unbelievably, the pandemic is worse today than it was at its horrific beginning almost a year ago, displaying a shaking and swaying of the world’s infirmity. Vaccines are scarce and many may refuse to take them. Even if a large swath of the country gets vaccinated by summer, how many will be willing to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with their neighbors? How many who have suffered financially will have the disposable income to flock back to baseball and its $5 hotdogs and $14 beers?

There’s more. Beyond the 2021 season, baseball’s one-tenth of one percent see a collective bargaining agreement that expires in the weeks following the next World Series. The rich guys see another work stoppage on the horizon, possibly as early as the middle of the upcoming 2021 season, as players look to regain the position lost over the years while the owners keep their books hidden and cry poverty.

Availing myself (regrettably) of talk radio last week, I was treated to the sound of the iHeartRadio shofar bleating out the tired unvarnished tune of another rebuild on the horizon at Great American Ballpark.


The most hated. The most reviled. The word banished from our local lexicon just a season ago and the mournful melody it provokes is back on the deejay platter, spinning itself into hearts and minds across the tri-state, because of course it is.

The Reds have indeed begun shedding salary. Gone are Raisel Iglesias, Archie Bradley, Curt Casali, Brian Goodwin, and Robert Stephenson. None of those players materially change the Reds’ fortunes. It’s the Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Eugenio Suárez rumors that are freaking out the fanbase. Right now, it’s nothing more than conjecture, but the fact that Reds’ brass are listening intently may tell us something.

That something may not be “rebuild,” but likely a pause while they wait for the game and it’s power struggle to shake out. Also, the playoff expansion has made winning the division less important. If all you have to do is “get in,” maybe spending more to secure dominance in the form of a division title becomes less important. If the Players Association, weary of six years of player servitude only to be told as free agents that no one is willing to pay for past performance, decide to strike in say, August, well …

Last off-season, Williams made a Moustakas withdrawal from the owner’s ATM and received a paltry 139 ABs for his splurge. The dollars for Castellanos came with a disappointing exchange rate of 0.1 WAR. After a season of silent turnstiles and the likelihood they will turn slowly, if at all, next spring, Bob Castellini and other MLB owners appear to be skittish about further spending. The value signings of Gray and Suarez that were supposed to power the team going forward could easily be wasted to circumstances beyond the Reds’ control.

Steve Cohen, the new rich guy on the block, has something to prove to New York Mets fans, so it’s no surprise he’d take advantage of Cleveland, snatch Lindor and perhaps sign him long term. The Toronto Blue Jays $150M commitment to George Springer adds to the widespread belief “there’s gold in them thar hills” not just out west in Dodgertown and Arte Moreno’s Big A, but up north in Canada and east in Flushing, Queens, too. Right now, these guys are still outliers.

I wonder what Philadelphia ownership is thinking now, having traded away their best pitching prospect and more for another non-winning season with J.T. Realmuto, followed by 47 games and less than 200 plate appearances in 2020. Just guessing, but I’d bet the Reds are glad they kept Hunter Greene when so many were clamoring to send him on his way for two short years of the much sought-after catcher.

While some were fretting about a wide-ranging search for his replacement before it was announced that Nick Krall was taking over Williams’ role as head of operations, I keep coming back to something owner Bob Castellini said to Paul Daugherty in the first month of the 2018 season when he was asked if he’d been too involved with baseball operations, and quickly cut the question off:

“No. It’s bull. We make decisions collectively. When we meet, we all give our opinions. I will come in and say, this is what I think we ought to do. If I don’t get a lot of opposition, we make the decision based on what I say. I do not get overly involved in our operations.’’

We don’t know what the owner’s relationship will be with Krall relative to the relatively free rein he gave to Williams. It likely doesn’t matter much at this moment. Baseball’s uncertain future has turned the sport upside down.

It’s entirely possible the Reds are going to lean heavily on their development team now, mine the gold within the organization, rather than spin the wheel on established performers who are getting long in the tooth. Trevor Bauer may be gone, but he leaves behind Kyle Boddy and a new way of doing things. It’s not a stretch to think that his eccentric and trailblazing way of preparing to play the game has rubbed off on not just his fellow players, but people up and down the organization. Remember, the Dodgers may have spent money, but they also found forgotten players like Max Muncy, who turned himself into a star by changing his approach at the plate. When folks talk admiringly of the way the Tampa Bay Rays do things, whether they know it or not, they’re not just talking about the eye they have for talent, but also their ability to develop it. If that’s where the Reds are moving, call it what you will, just don’t call it a rebuild.

Back to Dick Williams now, standing in the middle of his own dusty crossroads before taking off for what he hopes are greener pastures. It’s an odd time for a man who just ascended to the right hand of the throne to suddenly step down just as the organization was moving in the right direction. At 49, he’s young. He’s not retiring, but in his own words, moving on to other family ventures. Personal and professional considerations aside, you have to think he saw the very uncertain landscape before him, the decisions he knew the owner was going to make—and decided to head down a more familiar road once traveled.

22 Responses

  1. greenmtred

    Great quote from Castellini. If he was, indeed, offering it as proof that he isn’t calling the baseball operations shots, he either has a tin ear, is utterly oblivious, or has a well-developed sense of irony. I would welcome a rebuild if they actually rebuilt and showed skill doing so.

    • RojoBenjy

      That quote was gold and I used it a hundred times. Tin ear is most likely. He is out of touch—too used to being surrounded by yes men is what that sounds like.

      Also, Doug cleaned up the quote, as did Daugherty. He said bull, but it was followed by the vulgarity for what comes out of the north end of a bull facing south. Daugherty referred to it as “spit” in his column.

  2. DataDumpster

    Great article. Of course, its pretty obvious that almost all of the owners are working almost exclusively in cash flow mode. The players may want 162 games but don’t bet on it. The players could strike but the owners don’t care. They will probably be losing money on most games anyway. So, why spend big on a season that may ultimately fail anyway?

    After the end of last season, I predicted that the Reds would cut salary because of the failure of David Bell to get any return at all on the pricey acquisitions made and the underperformance of the team under his management.
    So, let’s just pretend that we have an extended exhibition season where we can evaluate if all our big contract men can bounce back, who of all the cut rate minor league players signed will deliver, give time for the budding shortstop of the future in house to mature, and most of all if David Bell is the right man to take this club forward. Such an approach will answer a lot of questions and set up for a more predictable 2022 plan. Besides, the fan base is so used to “wait for next year” in this town, none of this is hardly surprising.

    • doofus

      Moose and Miley were not available all season (virus protocol and injury?); Akiyama and Castellanos took a nose dive at the plate for 1/2 the season; and, it is David Bell’s fault?

      I do not like Bell’s constant “tinkering” with the lineup and is in game moves, but the negative ROI is not Bell’s fault.

      • DataDumpster

        1) David Bell fired the hitting coach he inherited that led the Reds coming in 7th overall in average. After two of Bell’s coaches, the Reds dropped to an abominable .212 avg. with almost every hitter declining significantly.
        2) Bell has not allowed any player to get in a groove with his constantly shifting lineups, pinch hitting, and experiments with unproductive minor league players. Analytics rules over game sense.
        3) Bell (and the GM) have put together a 3 outcome offense (K, BB, HR) that fails badly at anything other than the 3 outcomes.
        4) Bell either does not emphasize fundamentals or his players are not motivated because they are very inept when it comes to baserunning, defense, sacrificing, and most other skills not associated with an upper cut swing.
        5) Bell is not inspirational, charismatic, or even a good interview for the post game. He never has any insight, change of strategy, or “firing up the players” skill. He just spits out “stay the course”, we’re working so hard, and bad luck stories.
        6) Bell had four progressively worse losing seasons managing in the minor leagues. His other baseball experience is varied and useful but he has not stayed anywhere long enough to make a difference. He should have never been hired.
        7) Bell embarrassed himself in a big way with his pathetic balls and strikes arguments during his first year to set a record for getting thrown out of the game. Think umps don’t remember this?
        8) The playoff record of 22 scoreless innings couldn’t solely be placed on Bell but how does a team that was the hottest in baseball the 2-3 weeks prior to this perform this badly. Perhaps Bell’s decision to pitch to the baseball MVP in the last inning, bad substitutions and lack of any attempt to advance runners instead of swinging for the fences, and the infamous attempted double steal with two outs.
        9) With regards to Akiyama, this is the type of player the Reds badly need. He was an everyday player in Japan with high batting average and good overall skill (except his arm). Despite him needing to acclimate to a different country and different league in a very shortened season, Bell immediately platooned him, varied his place in the order and pinch hit for him several times. His development was delayed due to lack of playing time until he flourished late in the season.
        10) Bell seemed to have no urgency to win games but instead followed a “everybody gets to play” model. How many ABs were wasted on players put on DFA or batting sub .200. How many free agents like Bradley, Strop, etc. were hardly used at all.

        I could go on but I’ll stop and reflect on the only good thing Bell has done for the team (and himself). Hired Derek Johnson and crew. Without that development in the pitching staff, 2020 would have been an unmitigated disaster.

      • RojoBenjy

        DataDumpster- this is a beautiful, accurate, and nearly exhaustive summary of David Bell’s tenure with the Reds.


        Sitting Akiyama was sabotage, and the owner should have seen that and fired him after 40 games in 2020.

  3. Mark Moore

    Excellent article. Many things to ponder as we wait for whatever comes next. And I’m in the camp that says 2021 will NOT be a full season, will start late, and may end early as you noted due to a strike ahead of the new collective bargaining negotiations. None of that bodes well for 2022 and the game we all love.

  4. Optimist

    Interesting. But, Dick will be the managing partnering 5-10 years, perhaps sooner. Just needs a decent interval away, long enough for his transactions as GM to ripen without him, either good or bad. If Krall succeeds, then he stays, if not, there’s the next transition – Dick returns with a new front office.

  5. Steve Schoenbaechler

    That’s why I liked Krivsky and O’Brien. They looked to develop an organization from the ground up. “A house is only as good as its foundation.” And, they wanted a great foundation. Then, Castellini came in and let them go, hiring Jocketty. Jocketty let the home grown talent go and never bothered with development of the minors.

    I have no problem letting some talent go. No owner can keep 12 players making $20+ million per these days. So, it is expected to see some go.

    And, I have no problem letting some prospects go. Prospects have 2 uses: 1) Replacements for the major leaguers when they move on in FA, retire, or injury, and 2) for trades. So, if a prospect is currently “blocked” at the major league level, why not trade him off? It only makes sense. Either trade the prospect or the veteran. You should get value for one of them.

    I would look to develop like the Rays developed with maybe one other item I never heard the Rays do (maybe they never had to). I’d concentrate on the prospects, on the development of the minor leagues, etc. Use them to fill your major league roster. Use FA or trades to fill in any holes you may still have.

    • Reaganspad

      Jocketty was Dombrowski with no championship to claim for the effort

  6. David

    The Reds are not a “rich” franchise. Whatever your particular feelings are about Bob Castellini, he is, relative to most owners (not to us people) not one of the richer ones.
    They have to have some black ink at the end of the season, which they likely did not at the end of 2020.
    I think a lot of other teams lost money last year (I would bet all of them did). Some can weather the losses, others can’t. The Reds can’t, for very long.
    As I recall, after the 1995 season, Marge Schott stating the Reds had lost 60 million dollars since 1991, which is why the 1996 version of the Reds shed a lot of payroll and finished in last place (as I recall).
    Owners, as much as the fans have a love-hate relationship with them, cannot afford to lose money endlessly on their team(s).
    Unless the Reds are a lot shrewder with talent and acquisitions, I can’t seem them crawling out of the hole of 2021 that they are digging for themselves. I don’t think Krall is the guy that can do that, either. I have no idea who the Reds could hire that COULD do that.

    • Dean Rock

      You do realize, I hope,that the value of the franchise only goes up. I can guarantee you with a million percent certainty that Castellini can sell the team now and make a huge profit on his investment.
      Owners crying they are losing money should open their books to the public. Why do you think they don’t?

  7. Dean

    Castellini is the problem. He hired a career banker and family connection in Williams, who didn’t know what he was doing. He meddled (why do you think Billy Hamilton got 6 years to prove he’s useless and doesn’t belong in the everyday lineup?). And he is unwilling to spend money to pursue key free agents (save 1 season in last 7).
    Don’t fool yourself. This franchise is not at a “dusty crossroads,” as picturesque as that may sound. It’s at a dumpster fire burning for 7 straight years.

    • Richard Fitch

      Williams didn’t know what he was doing? Seriously?

      Yeah, from one angle it was nepotism; from another outside the box thinking: hiring a not a traditional baseball guy, but someone from the private equity world with a different outlook.

      What did that different outlook accomplish? He reconfigured the organization from top-to-bottom. He hired analytic-minded people and brought the Reds into the 21st century instead of where they were–languishing in old school baseball thinking. Thanks to his leadership, the Reds active in the pacific rim.

      He turned the starting pitching staff into one of the best in baseball.

      To be sure, his legacy will be tied to how he drafted with those high first round picks the rebuild provided him with. Go ahead and dismiss with a wave of your hand the future contributions of Greene, Senzel, Lodolo, India and Hendrick.

      I prefer to wait and see the results come in.

      • Dean Rock

        Williams didn’t do anything with player development, save firing the head of it 1 or 2 years ago. He got the wrong 2 guys last year when Bob opened his checkbook. Realmuto and Didi would’ve helped us more than Moose, Castellanos, and Shogo. And let’s not forget Pedro Strop for $1.825 mil to throw for a month before being DFAd.
        He ran Billy out in CF for 6 straight years. Slow learner (that one may be on Bob, though).
        He engineered the 4 scrubs for Chapman deal.
        He gutted our farm system in Puig and Bauer deals.
        But most importantly, he had sufficient time to field a winner, but failed to do so. And that … Is what really matters.
        The Suarez and Castillo deals and bringing in Driveline guys were among his wins. The rest was just rhetoric.

      • Optimist

        Have to agree with all this – and consider the other angle – at worst, Dick W was average, which for the Reds was a big step up from what he inherited. At best, as you note, the next 3-5 years will show his results. And don’t forget the Sonny Gray deal in the plus column.

        For more specifics, I doubt if Dick was in the top 5 staffers involved in 6 years of Billy, and as for last year, did the Phillies really get more then the Reds? JTR is clearly the best of the lot, but they’re paying dearly for that, and the 3 Reds will likely far exceed Didi on the field and in the payroll hit.

        And it’s not really nepotism, as much as an interesting pre-ownership role. I still think he returns within 5 years as the managing partner. Until then, it’s the Krall/Bell show, and their first task is retaining the progress on the pitching development/coaching, and minor league revamp efforts.

      • Optimist

        To clarify, I’m agreeing with Richard Fitch.

  8. Roger Garrett

    Organizations that constantly lose all have the same issues but the biggest is that they have no clue how to win.All are ran by people that don’t how to do it and surround themselves with people that are worse.Bob needs to hire somebody that does and let him get it done but no he continues to recycle his own guys from the good old boy network.Your comment about Billy had got me going but you are so right.Its the same guys running the team and doing the same things.Same players on the field doing the same things.Laughing stock of the league as they continue to try and convince their fans they want to win.I would prefer they bring back Billy and Peraza along with Bronson and sign Tucker to a 10 year deal to give him more time to learn how to hit.At least the Pirate fans aren’t confused as to what their team is doing.No direction,no leadership on or off the field.Just terrible.

  9. Bill J

    is it just bad luck or does it seem the Reds and Bengals have the same management?

  10. Dean Rock

    “At worst he was ‘average.'”
    What a homer. Even college football coaches only get 4 years to make their mark. Go trade-by-trade during his regime, or look at the farm system and roster then vs. Now and tell me he was successful.
    Furthermore, if you and Fitch are insisting on waiting to evaluate him, know that the marks should ONLY GO DOWN if his high-first round picks flop! So far Lodolo, Greene, India Ty Stephenson and Senzel are not exactly can’t miss guys.
    And shouldn’t Williams be on the hook partially for failing to get the right people to develop other 1st round picks? Ervin, Blandino, Robert Stephenson come to mind.
    Look … The Reds stunk under his leadership, and I’m not exactly optimistic about 2021, despite the rest of the NLC tanking. And I don’t believe our farm system is considered above average, snd yet were on the cusp of another rebuild. That sux.

  11. Dean Rock

    You do realize, I hope,that the value of the franchise only goes up. I can guarantee you with a million percent certainty that Castellini can sell the team now and make a huge profit on his investment.
    Owners crying they are losing money should open their books to the public. Why do you think they don’t?