The leader had given everything to the club. Years of frustration were building. Other players begged him to go to the owner. There were clearly upgrades that needed to happen and the team was well below the salary cap. It just made sense. So, he went to the owner and delivered a blunt message, one that had festered inside him for, yes, years.

“You have to be aggressive in the pursuit of winning.”

The owner remained steadfast. Stubborn. Unmoved. So the leader demanded a trade.

Long before Employee No. 19 became a thing in the Queen City, there was Employee No. 9. Or the unadorned name I preferred: Nine. Carson Palmer did what nobody had done to Mike Brown. He stood up to him. Called him out on his cheapness, his shabby ownership ways; his Iago sensibilities, succumbing to the late-nite whispers that told him to first and foremost, “put money in thy purse.”

You would have thought the fan base would have rallied around Nine, a player who lifted a suffering franchise with his play, only to suffer a gruesome injury against a hated rival in a crucial playoff game, then rehabbed in record time to get back onto the field and compete. But, no. Palmer became a pariah in Cincinnati, a symbol of the team’s dysfunction. Indignant fans sided with the owner. They called Nine a quitter and much worse.

For all the social media hate for the owners today, there’s still very much a “billionaires versus millionaires” sentiment that permeates the bar stool, the line for helmet nachos, and maybe even The Pitch. It goes like this: “a pox on all your houses.” But, mostly, the venom is directed at the players. Why? Because through our playground fantasies, we share a common ground. We can’t relate to the hedge fund guy with yachts and castles, but we can easily imagine ourselves hitting a free throw to send the game into overtime, or fielding the ground ball that ends the inning. And we cannot understand why the players are not happy making money we can only in our wildest dreams conceive of, while playing a game we so love.

Ownership has made a cold calculation. It took a flyer with the acquisitions of Trevor Bauer, Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Sonny Gray—and watched as the pandemic unraveled the best laid plans of mice and men. As Joe Sheehan wrote a year ago:

Playing in one of the smallest media markets in baseball means they make, as estimated by FanGraphs’ Craig Edwards, $48 million in local TV and radio money, a bottom-ten figure. Due to the pandemic, the Reds did not benefit from any local revenue sharing, as that program was suspended. Finally, attendance at Great American Ball Park will be limited to start the 2021 season, so leveraging the success of the 2020 team will be hard to do.

Sheehan’s conclusion today is that the Reds have gone into Pirates mode, but I believe the Castellini Family has turned their lonely eyes to the Tampa Bay Rays, and their model of how to run a franchise. The spending spree that left them busted at the blackjack table taught him a valuable lesson. The lockout and the subsequent agreement only burnished the schooling.

Folks keep referring to this as another rebuild. But this feels wrong somehow. They are not tearing it down with an eye toward competing in what has become the traditional way, sacrificing a season or three, biding time, making trades, moving prospects to fill holes while waiting for the whole to congeal into a winning machine, then adding a couple of well-timed free agents. This is a philosophical reset; an organizational shift; a way to compete going forward that eschews not just the big ticket signing, but meaningful free agent signings period. It’s budget baseball. It’s The Rays Way all the way.

They will rely on young, cheap players to provide production at Costco prices, jettisoning players just as they become too expensive, realigning resources on-the-fly; and use that line-item veto with impunity. They will churn relentlessly. Ownership is going to bet the organizational people can identify and mine talent that others miss. The problem is that mining talent is only half the equation. Developing it is the other half—and the Reds just shed themselves of some of the brightest development people in baseball for reasons unknown to everyone but themselves.

Another problem is that you cannot simply go farm-to-table with a baseball team. You must supplement with $$, dipping the occasional toe into the free agent pool, finding those players who can plug holes and bring experience and guidance to a clubhouse filled with driven, if callow youth.

The people who own the Reds have money. Lots of it. That doesn’t mean this is a binary choice where you believe the owners are either billionaires or liars. If there are no small market teams anymore, there surely remain “smaller” markets. True, ticket sales do not carry the all-importance they once did because of all that TV money and revenue sharing. But, it’s also a fact that if Gerrit Cole’s arm fell off shortly after signing his $324M contract, the Yankees would be hurt, but they would walk on. If the Reds lost Gerrit Cole, it would cripple them for years and years.

But, yes, the Reds have money. Lots of it. Enough to make a run with all these young players the real Rebuild rewarded them with not that long ago. And this is the real crime here.

With hard-won fan rage, the bugle has been sounded, announcing Nick Krall’s malfeasance, as if any GM wants to slash payroll and excommunicate beloved and productive players. But do not blame Krall for being sent out to face the firing squad of public opinion with little more than a blindfold and a cigarette. When Walt Jocketty was ridiculed for bringing in Skip Schumaker and Jack Hannahan, it never occurred to some that the owner, having spent $225M on Votto and another $73M on Brandon Phillips, might have told his GM to make due with a handful of ducats while filling out the rest of the roster. Surely, Jocketty would have rather had Carlos Beltran in the outfield for the Reds in 2012, but the Reds GM was playing with monopoly money by then. Instead of offering the 2-year $26M deal Beltran got to play for St. Louis, the Reds settled for Ryan Ludwick on a 1-year, $2M deal. That was the owner making decisions that the GM had to execute. You can take that to the bank.

Hard as it might be, it really is important to keep one’s eye on the ball when assessing blame. We get tired of blaming those out of our reach, so we aim for fresher, more attainable targets. A media guy once told me it was old news blaming Mike Brown for his football team’s problems. Nobody wants to rehash that obvious fact. So, Zac Taylor became the entree du jour. Krall is excoriated for being a poor wordsmith, for failing to suit the action to the word, the word to the action, when even Charles Dickens couldn’t fashion honesty while following the edicts of a modern day Scrooge running the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club. Blaming Nick Krall for the return on his trades ignores the obvious difficulty in negotiating with those on the other side of the table who are already aware of ownership’s commitment to relieving itself of those pesky, expensive employees no matter the cost in wins. Nick Krall might be a capable GM. He might be a bad one. We don’t know because he simply has no leverage, being sabotaged by a meddling owner who’s admitted more than once he relishes having the final say. But we have a lot of fan bullets to use. Why spend them on just one guy? What fun is that?

Never forget the conversation Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer once had with Castellini. When Doc asked if he’d been too involved with baseball operations, he was swiftly cut 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.’’

Meanwhile, Joey Votto remains on an island, with little more than a rubber dinghy and a paddle to make his escape. He watched his best friend, Jay Bruce, banished to the East Coast. Now he gets to watch Eugenio Suarez pack his bags for the West Coast while Votto sits on the bench, more alone than ever. His World Series dreams—and our World Series dreams for him—are surely gone now.

It’s downright shameful.

The hashtag WWJD resonates. What would Joey Do? What should Joey do? Like Nine, should Nineteen demand a trade? Who would trade for a 38-year old making franchise money in the twilight of his career at a time when big data baseball has figured out that players in their 30s no longer have the value they once had?

Should Votto make the symbolic gesture anyway, stand up to ownership the way Nine did? Would it even matter?

We haven’t done enough winning,” was the most strident thing Votto has said to date.

But, dear fan, you knew that already.

55 Responses

  1. Alex

    Welp. The mike minor deal showed this team ain’t never gonna be the rays. Idk who they are. As far as I can tell, given the decisions taken together make no sense at all, the reds make decisions like family guy writes the show. Seals push a decision ball into a tube. One day, we get rid of a lot of the player development staff we brought in, give 19 jobs to the pitching coach, than we slash payroll, the next we slash more, than we sign old utility guys, than we trade for a vastly inferior version of the previously cut Miley for the exact same price. That’s not the rays, that’s a monkey on meth.

    Again, it’d be one thing if all they were doing was selling off. Perhaps that meant that the trust fund baby losers the williams and big bobs would be selling. But whatever this new version is, I want no part. Please trade votto so I have a team to root for.

    What Cincy fans have going for them is that Mike browns stadium deal is up in 2026. And there is nothing tough, ayn rand style capitalists like trust fund baby Mike Brown and big bob love more than tax payer funded free stadiums. Mike being desperate to keep this deal for his families future means that he is forced to do the right thing to make right by the fans. So, let’s enjoy the ride Bengals fans!

    • Chris

      Giants are paying just over $5 mil for Boyd, who was a free agent. I’d risk Boyd coming back from injury any day, over Minor. There are incentives in Boyd’s contract that could net him another $2.5 mil, but that’s still less than Minor. Say what you want, but Krall, needs to be a bit more creative. Sure his hands are tied, but he still has his feet available, doesn’t he?

    • Johnny Sofa

      Exactly right. This team can “want” to be the Rays,” but it’s doing a terrible impersonation. The Rays invest in scouting, player evaluation and development. They make sensible transactions to gradually and consistently improve. They have a load of prospects so they can develop them or use them as trade chips. None of the above describes the Reds. What they’ve done the past few days is the same script that ruined the team 7 years ago. Big Bob pulled it out of the garbage for Krall.

  2. TXREDLEG

    Ownership has found its not about fielding a competitive team, its about having a seat at the buffet table. Mike Brown style.

  3. TR

    Regular season opens three weeks from today. The core of the starting eight, so-far, is Votto, India and Stephenson. It should be an interesting lineup.

  4. Klugo

    I will say, I felt the same way about Duke Tobin and the Bengals up until I saw Joe Burrow’s first game as a Bengal. That changed everything. Then we started seeing a lot of the FO decisions panning out. It’s not that easy in baseball- there is no one position in baseball as integral and important as QB- but these guys in the Reds FO look like a bunch of clowns right now and have for a while, imo. It was very curious to me the way DW left. I dont know what came first there, the chicken or the egg, but I could immediately tell that Krall was not the guy.

    • SOQ

      Sometimes one guy does bring something to a baseball team that kind of wakes everyone up. He can’t carry a team like an exceptional QB can a football team, but can still bring an element of leadership and swagger that changes the culture. Scott Rolen did that. Nick C also did that. When the Reds’ decided not to pursue Nick, the handwriting was on the wall.

    • Hotto4Votto

      And DW was honestly the only GM since Krivsky that I thought was actually building toward something and making smart moves. Not all his moves worked out, not all of them will, but I at least understood the process overall. Since DW’s exit it has been frustration heaped upon frustration with the FO moves.

    • Chris

      Here’s the problem. The Red’s version of Joe Burrow is not going to get a chance, and we have a few of them, but veteran scrubs will continue to start so our Joe Burrow won’t get much of a chance.

      • greenmtred

        India will start. Stephenson will start. I bet Barrero will, too, if he shows that he can hit. Some of the Greene, Lodolo, Ashcraft group of young pitchers are likely to get innings.

  5. LDS

    It’s going to be a long, long year. Of course, it’s always possible that JV repeats last year’s performance, Senzel stays healthy all year and lives up to his hype, Naquin, Aquino, and Farmer all extend their best months over the entire season and Bell figures out how to manage in the major leagues. Nah, I’m just kidding, ain’t happening, especially the latter.

  6. Hotto4Votto

    I think you’re being a little easy on Krall, and especially Jocketty. They both chose to work where they are. If they were talented enough to find employment doing the same job elsewhere they’d have offers. Jocketty has been Grima Wormtongue to Big Bob for years to the team’s detriment. There’s a reason the Cardinals wanted him gone. Even if Krall is nothing more than a yes-man he’s still culpable for choosing to stick around and “not give too much objection” to Big Bob.

    • Jimbo44CN

      All you have to do is listen to a couple of sentences to understand Krall is in way over his head and is nothing but a YES Sir Mr. Castellini Man. Sad and incompetent.

    • Johnny Sofa

      Yep, Jocketty still has his hands on this. I’m surprised he hasn’t instructed Krall to bring back the Cardinals’ old-timers team the way he did 10 years ago (Edmonds, Marquis, Schumaker … it was as if Jocketty didn’t have anyone else’s phone number). And as much as Reds fans have been trained to say otherwise … Scott Rolen for Encarnacion was nice for one season but overall a disaster (EE had 8 seasons of 85+ RBIs, Rolen drove in 83, 36, and 39, and was done).

  7. ClevelandRedsFan

    I’ve spent the last few days trying to make sense of the unfathomable moves this team is making. Originally, I thought the team was following the Rays approach and finally going all in on a true rebuild.

    But the Reds aren’t. They just signed Mike Minor for 10 million. They attached bad contracts to trades to weaken the value. They also dropped Miley for nothing before trees even dropped their leaves.

    Now Krall is saying Castillo and Mahle are staying put. Those are the Reds’ two best trade chips.

    What’s the direction now and the future? What’s the vision?

    Now, the true goal is painfully obvious and we’ve heard it before: win as many games as possible right now with an 80-90 million payroll. Yuck! There’s no prize for being the best 80-million dollar team. Yet, ownership thinks winning 77 games is better than 70.

    Is the goal really to be the 10th worst team in the league?

    I will gladly suffer through a few years of terrible baseball if I know the Reds will compete in 2024 or 2025. But that’s not what’s happening. It’s another half rebuild, half compete this year approach.

    The time is now. Tear it all down completely. Target 2024 or 2025 for an actual World Series run.

    • Dewey Roberts

      You need to stop trying to figure it out. Even Bob C. and Krall cannot explain what they are doing. Thinking about this will only drive you insane.

  8. Mark Moore

    We’re not emulating the Rays in any tangible way. They contend and make wise baseball moves. We shuffle deck chairs on our own Ohio River Titanic. They have stadium issues and still manage to battle it out. We’ve got a great park and the longest tradition in professional baseball, yet it goes for naught.

    I really hope Joey can play for a ring, but unless we catch a whole lotta lightening in a 55-gallon drum, it won’t happen in the Queen City.

    I’m happy there will be baseball, but I’m frustrated as a Reds fan. I’m excited about the young guns coming up, but I hate to see that talent squandered like we seem to find ways to do.

    Oh, and Freddie Freeman sporting Dodger Blue makes me ill. It might just be the 4th pillar of the apocalypse.

    • Richard Fitch

      We are not emulating the Rays at this moment.

      What’s clearly going on is ownership has told the front office to bring down payroll to TB levels and do it now. That’s why they’re not getting the return on their trades the Rays always seem to.

      Once they get the payroll down to this pathetic bottom line ownership has demanded, I think they will very much try emulate the Rays. Whether Krall can make better trades once that happens, I don’t think we know. All we know is that he isn’t doing that now, but that’s because he doesn’t have the luxury to wait for the right offer. He’s being told to get it done NOW.

      At least, that’s what I think.

      • Johnny Sofa

        That would be nice. But they don’t invest in evaluation and development the way the Rays do. Even with high draft picks over the years, the Reds have only 2 players in MLB’s top 90. That’s inexcusable.

    • Dennis Westrick

      Biggest problem, regardless of the roster changes and who is in the lineup, is that we have our own Captain Smith piloting the USS Ohio River Titanic! His name is David Bell and he’s no captain!

  9. SultanofSwaff

    Agreed, keep the blame where it belongs—on ownership.

    The Reds can’t be half-hearted about a rebuild and hold our two best trade chips (although there’s no harm in keeping them until the trade deadline when their value will be peaking). As for Votto, he himself has said that he understood there would be periods over the life of his contract where the team wouldn’t be winning. Aside from winning more baseball games, how do we know he’s not content personally and is fine with playing out his career in one uniform? You certainly don’t make decisions for an entire franchise just for one player.

    • Mark Moore

      He may be content, Sultan. He’s that kind of guy. It’s just a shame to see the window “slammed shut” for him right at the end.

      • Daytonnati

        His hero, Ted Williams, played for one team his entire career. He got to one World Series which the Red Sox lost. There is something about retiring with the team that signed you. Seeing Winker and Suarez’s sincere grief over leaving tells us that money is important, but it isn’t always the only thing.

  10. LDS

    I’m curious, given the results so far this offseason, why are people taking Krall at his word regarding Castillo & Mahle? Seems a bit credulous. [BTW: Reds Minor Leagues is throwing an error].

    • Mark Moore

      I’m certainly not taking any announcement from the FO as gospel at this point.

  11. Jack

    4.5 million sounds like a lot when you have no intention of contending and are supposed to be getting younger, but when you are wasting 18 million on Moose it sounds criminal to realize you are about to spend 22.5 million on 3B for a likely sub .700 ops

  12. Jim t

    I really have know issue with a rebuild. My issue is that with a little help in the bull pen last year we could have been a playoff team. Ownerships unwillingness to get a couple of relief pitchers cost us playoff baseball. I understand the struggle of the small markets but to fail to invest in last years team is horrible.

  13. Jonathan Linn

    I would not fault Votto if he wanted out. My mind set has changed since the early 90’s when Larkin almost went to the Mets. As a high school student, I was very upset and didn’t understand. Transparency is a good way to build trust. I wish Bob would take out a page in the newspaper and really spell out their financial health.

  14. Redhaze

    I am holding out on a small bit of hope on Krall. Let’s say Bob told him that before you get anything new you have to trim the fat. Suarez hitting .188 had worn thin. Garrett and his 6.00 ERA had worn thin. 20 million cut in payroll for Gray and Miley. Now let’s say he takes that savings and signs Cueto, Soler and a closer we have improved.
    Naquin, Senzel and Soler in the outfield. Solano, Barrero, India, Votto and Stephenson. Moustakas the DH. Castillo, Mahle, Cueto, Minor, Greene and Lodolo.

    • JayTheRed

      Honestly if the Reds did go out and Sign Cueto, Soler and a decent relief pitcher or two I would be back on board with this team. I am not opposed to the Minor trade with KC but don’t really get why we got rid of Miley and Gray though if we were just going to sign a different older pitcher to fill in for them.

      The team has a few more weeks to give me hope. If not its off to the Blue Jays for good.

      • greenmtred

        I don’t have any inside information, either, but the category of “older pitcher” is not a monolithic one. Different older (and younger) pitchers have different health issues, for example.

  15. Redsman

    Great stuff Richard…shedding some light on ‘what the heck is Castellini doing’?! After this latest move, it could appear he may actually have repented and decided to correct course. But I don’t think any but those who have ‘drunk the Koolaid’ actually believe that.

    And as pointed out by MM, this is a far, far reach for what the Rays have been doing successfully for over a decade/s. Which makes this whole shindig sooo frustrating. Aligning the resources does not mean we must suffer yet another interminable ‘rebuild’. But all we can really do is scuff the ground and say, “awww shucks!” Or something like that.

    Is there someone in this organization who does have the influence, the power to impose their will on Big Bob? If so, now seems a most propitious time to stand up! Because for the time being, it seems the fan base is clearly in fight or flight mode. No, it is unlikely Bob would sell his controlling interest, but there are others of his partners who have as much or more money, influence, etc, that could mount a successful coup. Let us hope someone will ‘bite the bit’ and save us all from what is quickly becoming an abomination of a season!

  16. LWBlogger2

    I see your writing is as beautiful as ever Richard… Nice piece. Well done. Pieces like this are the reason that although I am NOT currently a Reds fan (I’m done), I will still read content on RLN.

  17. JB

    One thing wrong with your article is not one fan sided with Mike Brown during the Palmer Fiasco. People were mad at Palmer because he was soft and wanted out. He didn’t want to dig in like the rest of his teammates and work harder to over come Mike’s cheapness. He walked away from his teammates and fans who trudged through the hard times for years. No one wants to work with a quitter. In the military we weed those out who don’t have your back. They are the ones who get you killed. They are not your brothers. I have nothing good to say about Palmer and he still is trying to tear down the Bengals to this day. He can’t stand that Burrow has taken the Bengals to the promised land with a terrible oline and he couldn’t. No one will ever side with Mike Brown.

    • Mark Moore

      WOW!!

      Too bad the Reds won’t be on the hook for any of that. But I like the moxie to do it. Makes a clear statement.

    • TheCoastMan

      That’s great. I’m out here on the coast and the wife and I had tickets for the Reds game on April 16th, which is their only trip to Dodger stadium this year. Since I had e-tickets we called and after some haggling they let us switch them to a San Fran/Dodger match up. Cost a little more, but I refuse to spend that much money watching a bunch of utility players that I don’t even know get clobbered.

      When the guy apologized to me and said he felt sorry for us Reds fans I realized, yea, I guess we have hit rock bottom.

  18. Jeffery

    I am going to support our young guys. Listen or watch every game I can. Watch them grow. Who knows? … but….Reds trade Votto there will be no reason to spend time or money at GABP. To Reds fans young and old he is Bench or Larkin minus WS.

  19. Votto4life

    MLB shares some of the blame as well. It used to be that teams were accountable to their fans, the paying customers. You want to tank? You do so at your own peril. Ticket sales were their bread and butter.

    With TV contracts and revenue sharing, Bob Castellini couldn’t give two shakes if his team plays in an empty stadium.

    For the system to work properly, MLB depends on the honor system. Owners of teams like the Pirates and Red have no honor.

    Teams like the Reds and Pirates will continue to be the Washington Generals while teams like the Dodgers will remain the Harlem Globetrotters.

    The Washington Generals never have a home game or fans who care.

  20. TheCoastMan

    Interesting article and I really don’t have a problem with a change in philosophy, or a “retool,” or even a full blown rebuild for that matter.

    My biggest grip is that we are just giving players away for peanuts. Dumping players for nothing started last year with Iglesias and has just continued this year. I’m pretty sure that isn’t part of the Tampa Bay model.

  21. LDS

    If ever two teams were heading in opposite directions, it’s the Reds and the Cubs. The Cubs are still signing folks and while some would elicit groans here, mine among them, at least they are spending money to plug holes. The Reds are blowing new holes in the lineup and then telling us they’re getting better in a weird way. I pretty much knew that when they extended Bell.

  22. Birch Yard

    The Reds have never been a good rebuilding team. The farm system has always been weak. Player development has always been slow. Players coming up are old in many cases. Just poor management. If Votto is a winning player, he will ask for a trade to a potential winning team. No need to just collect a check with the Reds. Need to take his talents to a team who are serious about playing winning baseball.

    • Johnny Sofa

      Yep. Poor farm system is the biggest wart on this franchise. It’s the result of drafting poorly considering their position and trading proven players for mediocre prospects (see Jay Bruce for Dilson Herrera and about 8 more moves like it).

  23. Votto4life

    The Reds are signing Colin Moran with his 0.1 career WAR. Cool beard though.

    • JayTheRed

      Curious is this guy going to play 3b with all of our other potential 3b players including the new guy Solano? Every move this team makes in the past year or so has been so confusing. (with the exception of trading for those relief pitchers at the trade deadline those were decent moves) I hope he is on a minor league deal or maybe around a million bucks.

      I will say this about the pickup he has pretty good numbers against right hand pitchers the past several years with the Pirates.

      • TheCoastMan

        Have you considered that maybe Krall is preparing to move Votto?

        I personally think they should eat as much salary as they have to so Joey has a shot at a ring with maybe a team like Toronto.

        He has been the consummate “company man” and doesn’t deserve to end his career playing on a team of second rate utility players.

        Ah, but then then again, I guess I can’t see that happening with Catagreedy as the owner.

      • TheCoastMan

        Oops, I meant Castagreedy. Don’t want to misspell his name.

    • Hotto4Votto

      Welcome to Cincinnati Mr. Replacement level.

  24. Votto4life

    Isn’t Johnny Cueto supposed to be a Red by now? What happened? Wouldn’t he accept company script?

  25. Ryan

    What bothers me most about all this, the team was a few additions away from really making a push as a serious contender for this year. Last year’s team was a special group and I haven’t had that much fun watching them play in a really long time as I did last year. They’ve traded away most of the special element and gutted the heart of the team.

    If they would have made the additions they’ve mad so far this offseason without subtracting, I’d love the moves they’ve made as compliments and adding depth to the roster. But, here we are and I now realize that thinking the Dodgers and Yankees of the baseball world were the “evil empire” was all wrong, I had it backwards.
    Owning a sports franchise is not a business for those who hope to cry poor. It is a wealthy person’s game, so get out of it if you can’t afford to play.

  26. LDS

    Signing Pirate rejects? Maybe they can trade Elly De La Cruz for one of Baltimore’s groundskeepers. Heading to the cellar?

  27. Melvin

    Wow. So many not happy with Big Bob and the people (Krall and Bell especially) who do his dirt work with no integrity to stand up to him. It’s getting to the point I almost think Big Bob enjoys the pain he’s causing Reds fans as a punishment for wanting him to sell. He seems very vindictive.