“There’s no cut and dry definition of farm to table. If you find yourself wondering “What is the farm to table movement really?”, it boils down to this: the farm to table movement broadly refers to food made from locally-sourced ingredients, often natural or organic.”
Farm-to-table is an apt metaphor for where the Reds think they’re going. It conjures up buzzwords like “sustainability.” It’s so 2022, so “right now” it’s downright “crème fraîche.”
It also—as I’ve said previously—plays on the format the Tampa Bay Rays have made successful, a menu particularly tantalizing to the Castellini’s because it involves little infusion of dollar bills. If you could keep from getting distracted by the insults hurled the fans way on Opening Day, you heard this:
“I do think we’ve had to shift the discipline. We’ve tried a lot of things that didn’t work and they came this close to working and didn’t. Nobody’s going to tell me it didn’t work. So, I think we’ve learned from those things, so trust me, Nick is a guy on a mission. He’s a bull in a china shop that has his way to do it and that way is to grow your own and he’s doing just that.”
I feel like a guy on a month-long vacation, there’s so much to unpack here. It seems fairly obvious that the “things that didn’t work” Phil Castellini referenced are named Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama, etc. It feels like the lesson Phil learned—and wants to pass on to us plebeians—is free agency is fool’s gold and “locally sourced” is the Reds Way forward.
Here’s the thing, though: all of those were relatively small contracts and/or short term. Whether they were free agent deals or inherited contracts via trade, that’s a part of baseball risk. If you own a team, you just suck it up and deal with the losses and move on.
On the other hand, to be fair, we can, in retrospect, understand why the Reds were hesitant to keep Nick Castellanos. Nick signed with the Phillies, a five-year deal worth $100M. Here’s what Brian Kenny, in his book, Ahead of the Curve, Inside the Baseball Revolution, had to say about those types of signings:
“I went through not just baseball’s $100 million deals, but all the big free agent deals through baseball history, and tried to spot why so many seemingly went so wrong … I found the following red flags that seemed to keep popping up in the deals that ended badly … Here are those five red flags:
1. Wrong Side of 30
2. Wrong side of the Defensive Spectrum
3. Misreading of the Metrics
4. Contract longer than 5 years
5. Branding over Baseball
Wrong side of 30
Castellanos was born in March of 1992, so yes, he’s technically on the wrong side of 30. Check.
Wrong side of the Defensive Spectrum
Uh, yeah, most definitely. Check.
Misreading of the Metrics
Nope. Nick has had the numbers to back it up.
Contract longer than 5 years
Nope. But 5 years at 30 years of age is close to the danger zone, Will Robinson.
Branding over Baseball
As Kenny opined, “this one should be subtitled ‘Ownership Involvement.’ If a signing is made to make the franchise relevant, to put fannies in the seats, convince other free agents to sign here, or to sell merchandise, avert your eyes from the train wreck ahead.” Of course, this exactly depicts the Nick Castellanos phenomenon last season. There was briefly the banner outside the ballpark showing the right fielder standing defiantly over Cardinals pitcher Jake Woodford at home plate. His son Liam’s tee shirts sold in the team shop and at Cincy Shirts. And those tees that depicted a black and white photo of Nick with the simple word “Legend.” It would have been easy for ownership to buy into the branding, but, of course, they never had any intention of spending that kind of money, even if none of Kenny’s red flags had been present, but still …
Listen, I’m not saying the Reds shouldn’t have signed Castellanos. In fact, a big part of me wanted them to do just that. But there are real and valid reasons why they chose not to go down that avenue. Brian Kenny’s conclusion is that more than half of the $100M contracts owners opened their wallets for were deals they wouldn’t have made in hindsight.
But this is not about letting Nick Castellanos get away. This is about the other part of the equation. It’s about those smaller contracts that didn’t work out and how they have now poisoned ownership’s thinking; Moustakas, Akiyama, etc. As Kenny says “a short-term deal that doesn’t work out is part of the budget. Soon it’s over and you turn the page.”
This is the part that the Castellini family cannot abide. It appears from the COO’s comments, they refuse to deal with the inevitable losses that are part of baseball signings. The Farm-to-Table approach will inoculate them from such losses. It’s their path to sustainability. Or so they think.
But just as a restaurant in the Midwest can’t shop local for soft-shell crab and fresh oysters, so must baseball organizations look beyond their local estuaries for the kind of talent that takes a roster from merely competitive to five-star.
Instead, it appears the Reds have given up on supplementing the considerable local talent farmed from years of rebuilding mediocrity. The farm has given them Tyler Stephenson, Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene, Tyler Mahle, Jonathan India, and Nick Senzel, and potentially more in Tony Santillan, Elly De La Cruz, and Matt McLain. None of that will be enough if they don’t supplement with outside talent to fill the inevitable holes that the farm cannot address.
Until the Reds learn this lesson, they will continue to be putting square pegs into round holes, playing talent out of position (e.g., Senzel), rather than finding players via free agency that neatly fill their needs and create a well-rounded meal for fans.
Cincinnati baseball fans deserve better than this. Think Jeff Ruby’s, Phil, not Ruby Tuesday.