The words roll smoothly off the tongue like a threadbare tire on new tarmac, so here it is: “it’s not over ‘til it’s over.” The Cincinnati Reds could still solve their shortstop conundrum via trade before the Goodyear sun sets on Joey Votto’s fresh red kicks. Absolutely.

But, sorry, yeah, it feels pretty much over.

Having been squashed by the recent penny-pinching whims of ownership, the creeping murmur of the moment suggests the Reds will hitch their shortstop wagon to a patchwork of infielders and pray for divine intervention from the baseball gods in the form of fortuitous bounces, bounce-back seasons, and, well, the Shift.

In the words of the great Miss Shirley Bassey, “it seems quite clear, that’s it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.”

To fully grasp how predictable all this was, we must, dear reader, venture into the past via Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine to the year 2012.

After a breakthrough 2010 season, hastily followed by a disappointing 2011 campaign, having recently harvested four prospects from the system soon to be in full bloom – Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto, and Jay Bruce – having traded away much of what was left in the form of Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger, and Yonder Alonso for #2 starter Mat Latos – the Reds were right where they wanted to be.

Almost.

You see, the Redlegs still had a leftfield problem. The Jonny Gomes/Fred Lewis Experiment was played-out. What remained was a giant, gaping hole in the championship plans of the team down by the river, plans majority owner Bob Castellini laid out when he and his ownership group took a controlling interest in the Reds in late 2005.

While the Reds’ front office was working the trade for Latos, outfielder Carlos Beltran was looking for a new team. Coming off a season with the Mets and Giants that saw him launch 22 home runs and hit .300 with a .385 OBP, he could have been the final piece in the puzzle for the sure-to-be playoff-bound Reds.

But Walt Jocketty was playing with Monopoly money, while John Mozeliak was removing the rubber band and peeling off fresh benjamins like Tony Soprano at Meadow’s sweet sixteen party. The St. Louis GM would sign Beltran for 2-yr/$26M. Weeks later, the Reds would settle for Ryan Ludwick via a 1 year, $2.5M contract. Yes, Ludwick and Beltran went on to have very similar and successful 2012 seasons, but who thinks Dusty Baker wouldn’t have rather had Beltran’s 6-year 137 OPS+ average to fill out a lineup that was in its once-in-a-decade wide-open window over Ludwick, who was 4 years removed from his 151 OPS+ season in San Diego? In place of Ludwick’s injury-wrecked year, how likely is it that Beltran’s 2013 All Star season would have prevented Cincinnati’s desultory 2013 finish?

But that’s what the Reds’ coffers had to offer as the 2011 calendar turned over to 2012, as the payroll inched upward an incremental 6 or 7 million dollars at a time when the Reds were primed to make a run to the World Series. Yes, ownership would sign Votto to the largest contract in organizational history in April of 2012, but his previous contract would play out first, and the real money wouldn’t kick in until 2016.

The Votto signing would turn out to be a false flag, an olive branch to the fans, yes, and an even bigger PR victory, but, in hindsight, not a full commitment to winning big. Money to Votto. Thanks. More money to Brandon Phillips. Kudos, Bob. Going the final mile was another matter.

There’s nothing sui generis about this moment as the Reds prepare for the 2021 season. I’ve seen it before. You’ve seen it before. Shirley Bassey has seen it before. It’s Ryan Ludwick all over again.

Ownership is not the only one repeating history. We on the public side of the railing blame those most immediate to us. Players. The manager. Then the GM. It’s an old fable. First Jocketty. Then Williams. When Williams left, having done all we could reasonably ask of a GM, rebuilding the foundation of the organization, bringing the Reds into the 21st century, hiring some of the brightest, cutting-edge minds in the field of pitching development, having coaxed ownership into spending free agent money in a manner they never had before, Doug Gray wrote back-to-back pieces here asking the questions, “WHAT WAS THE BEST/WORST REDS MOVE OF THE DICK WILLIAMS ERA?”

The former received 39 comments, and the latter 83. So, it’s no surprise that Nick Krall is being blamed for the latest offseason, just as Williams was before him, and Jocketty before them all. The last GM to escape our wrath was Wayne Krivsky – and that was only because he was fired before he could disappoint the populace and join the others to form our new Mount Rushmore of despised GMs.

When will we ever learn?

Bound and gagged with payroll constraints and with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, it’s time we turn our lonely eyes to the ownership group of the Cincinnati Reds.

When Mike Moustakas was signed, there were concerns, not the least of which was a 4-year deal for a player who likely wouldn’t be worth it the last year or two. It was those first two years of hopeful production that would be the difference, that would carry the burden of the rest of the contract. The same could be said of Nick Castellanos and even Sonny Gray, who signed a very favorable contract that is ticking away season by season. Having wasted time, Bob Castellini now sees time wasting away at all those favorable contracts his front office negotiated in recent years. As ownership retreats, the sand in the hourglass of those friendly signings continues to slip away. Add Eugenio Suárez’s deal to that list. Locked behind those private suite doors, ownership is effectively sabotaging its earlier success. It’s the inversion of all that previous well-intentioned spending. The dragon is now eating its own tail.

There is an entire class of player who doesn’t fall into the category of coveted starting pitcher or elite superstar. Many were available at reduced prices. Yet, Reds ownership is stuck in their Ryan Ludwick mentality. Thus, no viable shortstop in Goodyear. No obvious replacement for two-fifths of the rotation and the back end of the bullpen.

All of this is unfair to Sean Doolittle. A good guy who could be a bargain if he returns to form, he’s a smart pickup by the Reds. Unfortunately, he’ll be the new Skip Schumaker in Reds fans’ eyes if things go poorly. He’ll become the latest social media avatar to the cheapness that has too-oft been the Reds’ legacy, not because they are cheap, but because they won’t go that last mile.

Behind Castellini is the ownership group and the unknown sway they hold. Whether the investor is VC entrepreneur Jack Wyant or minority owner and automobile salesman Jeff Wyler, we’ve been told they’re just along for the feel good ride. “You write a check and you go to the games, and that’s the extent of your influence.” Maybe. But, ever since Wyler invaded our Sony Trinitrons to sell the idea that “cars, like eggs, were cheaper in the country,” it’s had me wondering if he, the Williams family, and the rest of ownership think baseball players should be cheaper in the country, too. We know better, as former Red Johnny Cueto and current Dodger Trevor Bauer told us with their backs as they walked away to bigger towns, greener bank account pastures.

I hope that someone with Mr. Castellini’s ear is on social media and shows him this:

If the above is true, what a shame if the Reds don’t leverage their newfound dedication to cutting-edge development techniques like the Tampa Bay Rays have done for years, while having the wisdom to eschew the Rays’ empty-pocketed economics.

Meanwhile, in some quarters, “enough” has a decidedly different definition:

… when it came to free agency, the Mets pursued big fish, but lacked the tactical or financial push to land Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto or George Springer … you can explain each away. But that is a Wilpon thing, close but no big star in free agency. Cohen pledged not to spend like “a drunken sailor.” However, generally handcuffing the organization to stay under the $210 million luxury tax threshold is being done why exactly?

It’s no longer a choice of smart player development vs. big spending. Both now exist side-by-side, each in service of the other. Ownership doesn’t have to heed the advice of the New York Post and put payroll into luxury tax territory, but they’ve got to do better than fall outside the top third of industry payroll every year. They’ve got to tell the public what the organizational plans are if they expect people to plunk down their disposable income, especially in these volatile times. They’ve got to show people they’re willing to go that last mile to compete for a championship, not just make a postseason that, if Major League Baseball has its way, will soon include your local beer league team.

As Shirley said, “Some people don’t dance if they don’t know who’s singing.”

36 Responses

  1. LDS

    Excellent article. I guess Reds fans just need to get comfortable with mediocrity.

    • MuddyCleats

      Been there and done that! Unfortunately, it’s inherent w/ being a Reds fan. Props to ownership for putting a very good team on the field last season, unfortunately, it’s the exception to the rule in Cincy.

    • CI3J

      You know, I was lucky enough to have been born early enough to witness the Reds win 3 World Series titles in a span of 15 years. Further, they won their division 5 times in 20 year span (’75, ’76, ’79, ’90, ’95). When I was growing up, the Reds had a well of goodwill from their 70’s heyday, and even through the 60’s they were mostly a team that always had a winning record. After a string of miserable seasons in the early 80’s, the Reds went right back to winning.

      Then suddenly, from the late 90’s onward, with only a few blips (’99, ’00, ’10, ’12, ’13), the Reds became perennial losers. They went from being a respected, generally well-thought of franchise to an afterthought, or worse, a joke. It’s been pretty shocking to try to reconcile the Reds of my childhood and teen years with the Reds of today. When I was growing up, it was cool to be a Reds fan, and they had a national following. Now? I get the feeling the Reds have become a niche team, even in their own city.

      This article perfectly highlights why. I feel like the Reds of 10 years ago were at a crossroads. If they could have really gone for it an won a World Series or two, that could have catapulted them back to respectability and a destination franchise, and the previous decade would have been an aberration in their otherwise mostly successful history. Instead, that brief “window” 10 years ago was the real aberration, and the Reds have just gone right back to another decade of losing.

      It’s really sad. An entire generation has grown up in Cincinnati and has only known the Reds as losers for most of their history. And it all comes down to the incompetence of the front office for the past 25 years.

  2. SultanofSwaff

    Yep! As I’ve said before, ownership will pocket at least $750 million in profit if they sell today—a quadruple return on their investment in just 16 years—how did your 401k do over that span??? If they truly cared about winning, they could simply trim a little of that profit in order go big. These moments have only appeared twice at most during their tenure, so it’s not like they’re being expected to shell out every year or two. And heck, if the investment pays off in a world series appearance, the deals pay for themselves.

    • Woodrow Thedaug

      How does that work though? My house triples in value, doesn’t mean I can make the payment on the new truck. I get the point – but it takes operating revenue to pay yearly salaries, not franchise value. I suppose they could sell shares or a percentage for some kind of annual annuity or yearly cash return.

      (Hmm. Off to the internet to look at trucks …)

      • Tom

        Yep, my house is still climbing in value and I would like to spend on new toys, but one does not support the other. Unless I liquidate the house and become homeless.

  3. Scott Patrick

    Love the article. Being saying this for a while it is a ownership problem. If the Reds are ever going to be relevant then this ownership group needs to go.

    • TR

      Not only is major ownership change needed in baseball but even more so in football. Lets see what happens with Cincy’s recently acquired third franchise in major league soccer. A new soccer stadium in the West End is a good start.

  4. Bred

    Good article, Richard, except that it thrusts a dagger into and deflates my bubble of enthusiasm for the upcoming season! It is getting harder each season to know the Reds, save expanded playoffs, don’t go the extra mile to construct a roster that plays meaningful games in September.
    Yes, the way the team is run is confusing and frustrating as a fan. IMO

    • JayTheRed

      You could always do what i’m doing this season. Pick a secondary team if you don’t have one already. Follow this secondary team a little closer than normal. I’m picking the Blue Jays they seem very interesting and exciting. I was born in Toronto so I have a little connection there too. I haven’t completely given up on the Reds I am watching the games already and I am hoping just like everyone else is that some magic happens this season for the Reds.

      Go Reds Go Blue Jays that is my mantra for 2021

  5. Roger Garrett

    Good article and it is and will be history repeating.Same front office doing the same things with the same people.Trying to see the fans a bill of goods while at the same time yelling we can win.Last year there was some hope when they got Moose and Nick but whoever heard of giving 2 opt out years at 16 mil per and 4 years to a player past his prime.Its one thing to take a shot but its another to handicap a small market team in doing so.Soon it won’t matter as the article states because MLB will become like the NBA and the NHL and that we can make the playoffs every year.Of course as we all know that just means terrible baseball.For me I will continue to be a Reds fan here in North Carolina just like I have been for close to 60 years.I am a glutton for punishment.Go Reds

  6. JB

    Bob is like every owner of every business in that they want to budget and make mega profits. Their system is set up so they sit in their offices and watch their management team take the heat for the cost cutting. Owners dont care about anything but profit at the end of the day. Owners toss the peasants or workers a few trinkets once in awhile to keep them happy and blind them from the real issues or take the heat off of them and act like it’s not them and it’s the GM or managers fault. I dont blame Krall here for this off season. It’s all on Bob and his tight pockets. Rich people dont get rich by being loose with their money. I believe the only way the Reds get to the promised land is if the their farm system can become elite and the Reds hit on some of these “flyers” that they sign that nobody wants. The rich doing their shopping at the Dollar General. At some point the Reds will lose more and more fans because the younger generation wants to either cheer for a constant winner or find something better to do. The older generation of fans like myself will die off and wont get replaced. Time will tell. It always does.

  7. Hotto4Votto

    Pretty good stuff. Overall I agree it’s more on ownership than the GMs. And I’ve certainly made enough comments about the ownership and how Reds fans deserve better.
    For the record, I was largely positive about Williams tenure. I thought he did a good job overall. There were moves I liked and some I didn’t care for as much, but as a whole I thought he was so much better than Jocketty.
    As far as Krall goes, I’ll agree he hasn’t had enough time or the resources. My gripe with him is that he, knowing full well the restraints ownership put on him, came out and said that the Reds were reallocating money for payroll and that the main priority of the offseason was to get a SS. Then he did neither. The Pirates spent more money in FA than the Reds did, there was no reallocation happening and no SS happening. I understand the restraints he’s operating under, I just don’t like it when GMs flat out lie to the fan base. Just come out and say standard GM-speak like “we’ll look at every avenue to improve the club” instead of citing specific tasks that you’ll fail to accomplish.

  8. Daytonnati

    The thing that bugs me most about the Reds is their reluctance to promote their most highly-touted prospects. They instead bring in retreads and journeymen to take up space while the Winkers, Senzels, and Stephensons languish in the minors till their 25 or 26 years old. Controlling the service time clock seems to be their primary goal. The Reds need pitching and two of their top prospects – Lodolo and Greene – might possibly be the answer, but no, they will require another year of “seasoning”.

    • Roger Garrett

      Now don’t get me started on this subject.It drives me nuts of course because we are a losing franchise and not a team that competes year after year for a title.I get really upset when I hear service time and the just awful statement well this player is blocked at the big league level by another player.Senzel was the last guy I seem to remember that was blocked in the infield so he was moved to the outfield.Now we are discussing the need of a shortstop,talking about overpaying for our second baseman,not knowing if Suarez will bounce back and always talking about Joey’s decline in a span of 2+ years.Not to mention what to do with Aquino who got a cup of coffee in 2018 and won’t be 27 until April but seems to be the odd man out in an already crowded outfield.Talk about a lack of vision or a lack of a plan.

  9. RojoBenjy

    I agree, Richard. The blame is on ownership. Both for not spending wisely and strategically, and for meddling.

    “Having wasted time, Bob Castellini now sees time wasting away at all those favorable contracts his front office negotiated in recent years.”

    Read Daugherty’s interview with Bob Castellini from April 2018. The key tone-deaf quote, “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.’’ To now quote Inigo Montoya, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    https://www.cincinnati.com/story/sports/columnists/paul-daugherty/2018/04/24/paul-daugherty-bob-castellini-still-believer-despite-cincinnati-reds-embarrassing-april/547641002/

    Cincinnati professional sports are held hostage by poor ownership. Tis our lot in life.

  10. 3rdbaseTom

    Richard’s article cut to the core of Reds recent history. This old-timer remembers the seasons when you didn’t need to have “giveaways” just to get fans in the seats. The “on the field product” made you want to come to the ballpark.

  11. MK

    I am always amused as someone speaks of spending other people money or lack of spending. The Reds have not been alone in the industry with “penny pinching whims”. Did I miss all those tickets that were sold last season. Heck the organization is worth a billion dollars unfortunately that does not equate to cash. My home is worth quarter of a million but I sure don’t have that cash lying around and don’t want a loan. Sorry I couldn’t read the rest of the article after getting to that stupid perspective.

    • citizen54

      If you were Bob why would you agree to more signings after seeing how bad last year’s signings performed? Can you really blame Bob for being a bit skeptical of free agents? It doesn’t matter how much of a value this years free agent class is. Bob still has to pay for last year’s class. Add in the reduction in gate revenues and it should have been no surprise that the Reds weren’t going to be big spenders in free agency.

    • RojoBenjy

      I don’t aim to tell a man how to spend his money, but I sure can have an opinion on whether or not he spends it wisely.

    • Manuel T

      Telling someone how to spend their money?! We’re not talking about some private citizen, we’re talking about a guy who CHOSE to be a professional franchise and made some promises at the beginning. The Reds are a public institution, so to say we can’t tell the guy how to spend his money is an utterly ridiculous statement. Sports fans in cities like Cincinnati have a right to demand accountability, especially when ownership often plays a stupid shell game. For someone to take it upon themselves to buy a professional team, their goal should be to win a championship not piss on our leg and tell us it’s raining. Then sell of the team for a huge profit. Tell a guy how to spend his money? Now that is a stupid statement! I’m not telling my neighbor he should spend more on vegetables.

  12. citizen54

    The biggest reason the Reds are stuck in mediocreville and trending downwards are because of the moves made by Williams, not Castellini. The current Reds team makeup resembles a team that has just gone on a successful 4-5 year run instead of a team that peaked at 31-29. Williams left the Reds with an aging team, saddled with untradeable contracts. Why would anyone blame Castellini for reining in the spending after last year’s free agent debacles? As a matter of fact the reason the Reds had to trade Iglesias for nothing is exactly because of the bad contracts from last year. Just imagine how much better the Reds would be if they spent on this year’s free agent class instead of last year’s.

    Williams’s short sighted moves have also left the Reds with a depleted farm system. After 6 years of 60-70 win baseball, the Reds farm system should mirror that of the Pirates. Instead the current Reds are in the bottom half or bottom 10 depending on where you look. You can fault Bob for his moves in the past but the current state of the team is on Williams.

    • MrRed

      Yes, no doubt about it – Williams made those moves on his own. That must be why he resigned with so many years ahead of him in his career.

      While we’re on the subject, I wonder why Jocketty bumbled so miserably in designing the “rebuild”? Or why Krall fell flat on his face this offseason after announcing that finding a starting SS was the top (only?) priority? So many questions, so many variables. I wonder if we should first look to answer these questions by searching for a common denominator?

  13. VegasRed

    And the last few moments illustrate how big bob avoids responsibility for all the years of losing despite his promise of championship baseball in Cincy. Come on man!

  14. Woodrow Thedaug

    The Cincinnati Reds are a profitable enterprise. The best third-party estimates to be found are out of Forbes, and they indicate an operating profit of between $14 and $23 million per year in the years leading up to 2020. (That’s a Marcus Semien, not balancing either the one-time MLB media sale payout OR the lack of any gate or reduced media payouts in 2020.)

    But if you look at the Reds as an investment, what duty does a managing partner have to provide some level of income or profit to investors? Castellini does not own a majority of the Reds shares – as far as might be known, it seems he may own a majority of the voting shares though. In any case, it is likely he has a fiduciary duty to provide reasonable care in operation to the other 17 investors though (https://www.mlb.com/reds/team/front-office), unless their agreement notes otherwise.

    Sure, the value of the franchise has quadrupled since 2006, and at $23 million 2019 profit, that’s a 2.3% “yearly dividend”, not too bad for blue-chip stock. (I’m sorry if Chad has read this far. He was actually promised no math.)

    The Reds were 18th in payroll for 2020 and are currently slotted for 2021 at … 17th. (https://www.spotrac.com/mlb/payroll/) Now, there’s no such thing as a small market in modern sports – this comparison is only to revenue, and Cincinnati ranked 21st for 2019.

    End of the day, Castellini is serving as the lead in a corporate structure, and he may be doing everything tasked of him by the investment group – turning a nice yearly operating dividend and managing the increasing valuation of the asset. (https://www.forbes.com/teams/cincinnati-reds/?sh=135784c13003) Is there a budget? Absolutely, 27 or 28 of the other MLB general managers have been given similar direction, and only half of them have bigger numbers.

    Castellini, of course, doesn’t need the income, and neither do any of the other investors. Fans want owners to be custodians of a public asset, so he’s an easy windmill at which to tilt. It’s just too easy to yell his name while waving our arms. In the modern game, he’s no different than the last owner, half the current ones, or probably the next.

    This concludes my TedTalk. When do games start again?

    • MrRed

      So what you’re saying is, “it could be worse”? Is that a promise or a threat?

    • Richard Fitch

      If I remember correctly, Castellini publicly said the investment group was told there would not be dividends, so don’t count on making money off this. They were investing in the Reds as Cincinnati citizens who wanted to keep ownership of the franchise local. Profits would be sunk back into the organization to make it successful. So, all this fiduciary talk strikes me as off-base.

  15. Steven Ross

    I can tell you this, if Bell continues to bat Tucker 6th, it’s going to be a LONG season.

  16. Melvin

    The article is good in that it pretty much sums it up. They’re willing to come close but not willing to do what it takes to get over the hump. They’re not willing to sacrifice what it takes to really win it all.

  17. Tom

    Agree the Ryan Ludwick fiasco hurt the Reds. But this version of the Reds is more than one player away from being a winning team. Unless you are wearing rose-colored glasses. One other thing, at least the Reds are not the Pirates, another small-market team which has been losing for years. This year the Pirates will lose 100+ games while fielding a minor league team.

    • RojoBenjy

      Yes but Steelers fans deserve no less.

  18. DataDumpster

    An excellent article for discussion and some very good points made but I marvel at how the blame is primarily centered on Castellini and Williams (and moving toward Krall). I don’t know these men and how much influence they have on all the (poor) decisions, roster moves made, money allocated, etc.
    But, what about the Red’s manager, David Bell. He may may not receive all he wants but he’s driving this ship,
    correct? Who is given the task of telling the GM and ownership what the strategy is and what kinds of players are needed to realize that vision? Bob is asked to fund it and the GM to find the right players (which will be assiduously evaluated by all involved). If there is no consistent vision or strategy and/or if the players obtained are not properly coached and assimilated into the a coherent game plan, then “the machine breaks down.” That, is what has happened the last two years and I place the majority of the blame on David Bell and don’t blame Bob a bit for holding back after the negligible returns on his investments the last 2 years.

  19. DataDumpster

    This is the San Francisco local review 3 years ago after David Bell left the Giants after one year:

    “Bell was not just talking about swing planes and spin rates, but also biometrics and sleep patterns, nutrition and psychology. If a minor-leaguer is struggling, the staff will not just look at video, but ask the player if everything is all right at home and what he is eating. Minor-leaguers will do yoga for physical and spiritual well-being. 2018 was better than 2017, but it was still a failure. Bell’s job, after all, is about developing the minor leaguers.”

    Makes sense when one considers the players acquired this year. As far as managing, Bell’s record is pretty horrendous as was his father’s. Both of them had decent player careers but no accomplishments outside of the diamond itself.

    Maybe he can turn it around in the first half but if not, its time to bring up Plan B, if it exists.