When we last convened for The Great Front Office/Manager Debate, the Reds were several miles down the road on the struggle bus with everyone’s favorite field general suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous baseball fortune, a/k/a, The Big 162, as Scott Rolen once intoned.

While the criticism continues unabated, the volume has at least been muted by the players, who have shown they, along with the manager and their front office, haven’t hit the In An Emergency, Break Glass box on the season.

When all other unfair criticisms shot from an errant quiver fail to land, there’s always a fall back: where’s the accountability for the losing?

Yes, David Bell isn’t to blame for injuries or steroid buffoonery, you may say. But somebody has to pay because that’s how baseball works, amirite? Then, there’s the last arrow, let go defensively from the back foot: the clubhouse needs a “new voice.”

The “new voice” and “accountability” arguments are vague, intentionally so. They carry with them the tacit admission—although never admitted—that the blame for recurrent under performance lies elsewhere.

Gosh. Where might that be???

If the choice for me is railing about Elly De Cruz batting second while in a slump and ownership putting a $104M payroll on the field, guess where my ire will be directed.

When the Reds didn’t go for it in a big way at the trade deadline last July, I understood the reasoning. The young guns who had fueled the Summer of Wonder had begun to fade. Pitching is everything in the postseason and the Reds just didn’t have enough. The Mets had pitchers to sell. Max Scherzer for one. Justin Verlander for another. Of the 7 players the Mets traded, 6 were traded with cash because they wanted valuable prospects in return and paying players to play for another team means little to billionaire owner Steve Cohen.

If the Reds are reluctant to part with prospects, you needn’t guess why. You merely need to go back to Phil Castellini’s Burning Man appearance at the 2023 Rosie Luncheon.

The defensive presentation, aimed at justifying a shift in organizational philosophy, lamented the disparity among the big and small market teams. He wasn’t necessarily wrong. Only a fool would posit the notion the Reds could reasonably afford to have Gerrit Cole’s 9 year $324M contract, Giancarlo Stanton’s 13 year $325M deal, Aaron Judge’s 9 year $360M contract, while even considering a bid for soon-to-be free agent Juan Soto, who has already turned down a $440M offer from the Nationals. But bid they will before they let him take the subway crosstown to Queens.

That shift in philosophy by Phil is apparent in recent signings and signals the way the Reds will move going forward. It likely means that prospects will be hoarded, keeping the system as stocked as a salmon farm, ready to replace the young stars who eventually become too expensive as they move through their arbitration years and near free agency.

Which brings us to Elly De La Cruz and Scott Boras.

The 42,000 plus crowd that showed up at Great American Ballpark on a Wednesday to get their hands on an EDLC bobblehead surely got the attention of the Castellini family, who have too often gazed out of their suite to see row after row of patrons disguised as empty seats. They are no doubt salivating at the prospect of more Elly Days over the next 5 years; giveaway replica shirts, an Elly garden gnome, etc.

It’s become clear that for the Castellini Group, a contract extension of De La Cruz is their Ohtani Moment. Just as the $250M Votto contract extension in 2012 signaled a commitment to winning by Bob Castellini, a contract that keeps De La Cruz beyond age 27 would send a message to the fan base the Cincinnati Reds will not become a Midwest version of the soon-to-be defunct Oakland A’s.

However, many lives stand between Elly and home. First and foremost is Scott Boras. He is notorious for holding his clients until they can test the free agent market. Last season, Boras was unable to leverage free agency the way he has historically because clients like Blake Snell, Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman and J.D. Martinez all had flaws: inconsistent past performance, age, the volatility of the regional television landscape, etc. Jordan Montgomery even fired Boras after only signing a disappointing contract just before Opening Day.

The landscape will surely look dramatically different in 2030 when ELDC becomes a free agent at the age of 28.

Second is Ownership. Whether it is Bob or Phil Castellini sitting in the decision-maker’s chair, the younger Castellini’s message during that fateful Rosie luncheon doesn’t look hopeful:

“… Castellini celebrated the team’s farm system and noted the team had promising prospects who would one day be great Reds — and then joked then they’d be ex-Reds, saying, … “of course we’re going to lose them.”

The third person potentially standing in the way of keeping EDLC home is Elly himself. Young players who have signed with Boras are more than likely to acquiesce to the will of the agent. After all, that’s why they signed on with a power personality to begin with.

But if the Reds could make an offer that would make the electric shortstop very wealthy right now, before he hits arbitration, before he develops further and becomes a dominating hitter and commands the $450M+ contract ownership will never agree to, perhaps he could be swayed. A signing that would keep him in Cincinnati for another 8 years instead of 5 would still give De La Cruz one more bite at the Big Apple at age 31, while giving the Reds a longer runway and letting the Yankees take on the risk of an aging superstar, just as they have done with Aaron Judge. What we know is that De La Cruz is a money-making machine for the franchise as long as he wears Cincinnati red.

Is there risk? Sure. For both sides.

“Securing one’s future is no small achievement and even if you have an 80 percent chance of outperforming a deal that’s offered to you, if the 20 percent outcome occurs, as a player, you don’t get to reboot the machine and spin up the scenario again. You get one bite at the apple and turning down generational wealth for your family is a massive risk, even when you’re a sure thing.” — Craig Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

Keeping Elly De La Cruz during his productive youth is surely a longshot. It’s one the Reds have to go for. This is where accountability lives. When the Dodgers came to town recently, I sat behind third base surrounded by fans overwhelming wearing Ohtani gear. They roamed the concourse during a rain delay, everywhere the eye scanned, spending dollar bills.

Fans will push through the turnstiles if they believe ownership is trying, if they think they might see something special. The message they have gotten to date is that development will happen internally with only small and short ventures into free agency, churn through the player development success stories when they get expensive, then start over and hope the next crop of prospects carry the day, while spending in the aisles of Dollar General.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “hope is not a strategy.”

46 Responses

  1. Daytonnati

    I believe the Braves signed Ronald Acuna Jr. in 2019 to an 8-year deal worth a guaranteed $100 million. On one hand, highway robbery by the Braves, on the other hand, $100 million GUARANTEED, regardless of performance or injury. I think the Reds could make that 8yr / $200 mil and still come out ahead with Elly.

  2. Rednat

    EDLC has the potential to be the reds 2nd “6 tool” player. Vada Pinson was the first.

    hit for average, hit for power, speed, catch, throw and the 6th tool is stay on the field with good durability so far.

    i say sign him long term!

    • Herbert Dearing

      Excellent choice al though it’s easy to do with someone else’s money but I’d have no problem signing him

  3. Melvin

    EDLC has all the talent in the world and his potential is seemingly endless. Maybe just as important is that he’s proven to able to stay on the field. He’s durable. He’s 22. If you can’t sign someone like that to an extended contract you need to get OUT of the ownership business. Of course even if Big Bob does sign him he needs to get out of the ownership business but that’s another story. 🙂

  4. Melvin

    “Yes, David Bell isn’t to blame for injuries or steroid buffoonery, you may say. But somebody has to pay because that’s how baseball works, amirite? Then, there’s the last arrow, let go defensively from the back foot: the clubhouse needs a “new voice.”

    Speaking of David Bell the guys on The Riverfront podcast were saying today that David Bell actually has a winning record in the months of June & July so they pretty much expect it will be that way again this year. The problem with that is that there are four other months in a ML season. Hope the winning doesn’t stop in August and September THIS time.

    • Ted Alfred

      “The problem with that is that there are four other months in a ML season. Hope the winning doesn’t stop in August and September THIS time.”

      Sorry…but that is specifically the problem…. DBell’s Achilles heel.

  5. west larry

    Years ago, the reds signed Votto for ten years for 250 million. Why not offer EDLC 250 million for eight years? Come on Bob C, show the fans that you care. I think EDLC will bring in more fans then Joey.

  6. Harry Stoner

    EDLC on arrival in LA for the recent series after his big first game (not to be reproduced, btw): “This is my city!”

    I would have benched him the next night….

    “Ohtani Moment”?

    This is more click bait from the author to pad out his first couple ‘cranky man’ paragraphs, sloughing off any critique of the Bell regime.

    Both JV and The Gambler were MVPs prior to signing the big one.

    We’re going to see 200 electric Ks by the time the season is over.

    I’d like to see all that potential put the ball in play on a consistent basis before the writer’s purple prose, er, purple-faced prose is even slightly credible.

    Gone Like A Train.

    That will be EDLC as soon as his hitch is up in Cincinnati.

    Between now and then let’s enjoy those days when he does make contact, gets on base, and gradually develops a higher level of baseball acumen.

    That’s on him, as it sure isn’t coming from his manager.

    But as the angry ‘writer’ says: “Who cares!”

    • Richard Fitch

      Ah, the self-hating Reds fan. You guys are nothing if not predictable.

      You want clickbait? Here’s some for you:

      Your Doctor Begs. Do This with Tonight’s Lineup.
      This Is What Happens When You Bunt. It’s Genius.
      GMs Doing This One Thing Guarantee a World Series.

      Enjoy.

      • Ted Alfred

        I take it you think the annual choke job Sept/Aug collapses have nothing to do with DBell?

      • Richard Fitch

        @Ted Alfred

        Remember the flu outbreak that decimated the club at the end of the 2019 season, resulting in an 8-20 tailspin? Guess not.

        Last year, the youngsters faded, perhaps because they were not used to playing 162.

        I get that people cannot admit they might be wrong, but facts are still facts. And the most important fact is that David Bell has never had enough talent to fairly evaluate him. Until then, you’re just complaining with little common sense and reason to back up your point.

        But I’ve enjoyed your Ted Talk.

      • Jon

        @ Ted

        The annual August/September choke/fade has much more to do with Krall and ownership never giving Bell a full deck of cards to work with.

        2020: Weird Covid year. Bats went silent in the playoffs against Atlanta pitching.
        2021: Bullpen was awful most of the season (ownership gave away Iglesias prior to the season to save money).
        2022: “where are you gonna go?”
        2023: no SP. Bell’s team nearly made the playoffs despite only one relief pitcher added at the deadline.

    • 2020ball

      How is an article on a blog you read every day considered click-bait? You’re gonna click on pretty much all of them, no?

    • Hanawi

      David Bell is a loser as a manager and has always been a loser as a manager. Those are the facts.

      • Richard Fitch

        Great point. Make The Reds Great Again. Right?

      • Hanawi

        What does that even mean? Bell was terrible as a minor league manager. He’s been clueless for years as a major league manager. He’s been a loser. Those are just facts. Reds FO went all in for him a few years ago and they scraped into the playoffs and immediately embarrassed themselves. And they have been absolutely pathetic down the stretch for multiple seasons.

        Again, the lengths that any writer associated with the Reds goes to to circle the wagons around Bell is completely dumbfounding.

  7. doofus

    Nice read Richard.

    So my take away, and I agree is that the Castellini’s are cheap owners?

    “We will build one of the most respected organizations in baseball. As partners in other successful baseball organizations we know how it’s done. We will build a winning management team by putting the right people in the right positions with the right resources to win. We will foster a winning attitude and culture.”

    • doofus

      We are into the 19th season of the Castellini regime. These are the wrong folks to lead this team.

      • Ted Alfred

        Time flies when you’re a Reds fan…annually subjected to one of the worst ownership groups in all of MLB. Hard to believe next year will mark two decades of this nonsense.

    • doofus

      “…we know how it’s done.” Seriously?

  8. Jim Delaney

    The.moat important part of the article isn’t EDLC contract but the Castellini ownership group being unwilling to gofor it to make playoffs. Since they have owned the team they have never made an in season deal to make a run that season. The Rolen trade was.impactful for future years not that season… They didn’t acquire pitching last year saying they were banking on return of Greene and Lodolo… This year they will do nothing to help them offensively praying that Marte and McClain will help them… Meanwhile the Mets will trade Alonso today the pirates or Cubs… TB will trade Diaz and Arozorena to other teams.. meanwhile the Castellini’s will congratulate David Bell and the front office on going .500 or being competitive. In 2030 the hope is new Ownership brings in a fresh look and doesn’t care about the bottom line but winning a championship is an ego stroke…

    • Richard Fitch

      I didn’t mention this today, but as much as we might wish, I don’t think the Castellini’s are interested in selling. They love the red jackets and the reflected glory of owning Cincinnati’s storied franchise that comes from the social circle they travel in–Jeff Ruby, the Brennamans, et al.

  9. 2020ball

    The top section made me laugh, well written soft burn on some predominant attitudes around here.

    Obviously extend EDLC, the star power is real especially if he improves on his performance at the plate. I’m not convinced he will sign one though, it would need to be a dollar amount Im sure many of us around here will be uncomfortable with. There are gonna have to be extra dollars in there solely based on his market as a player, with literally nothing to do with anything he does on the field. Could of course still be a shrewd business move all the same.

  10. Ksdavis

    The issue with the Reds plan is this. It requires the minor league system to produce quality players year after year. You look at the Rays who the Reds are trying to mimic. The have produced winning minor league systems year after year. Reds not so much. The Lookouts are 26 games under 500. High A and Low A are just under 500. Bats are mainly a collection of players that are AAAA players. So you have to supplement with free agency or trade. Reds have no right handed power outfielder in the upper minors. Hinds as shown no ability to make contact. So how are the Reds going to fill that void?

    • Richard Fitch

      It really wouldn’t require quality players continuously if they would spend and maybe take a chance or two on more than Moustakas-types. Clearly, they need to develop the pitching internally because small markets cannot buy top flight arms. Too expensive and too risky given the way arms give out in these velocity-driven times.

      • LarkinPhillips

        Just out of curiosity, this past off-season or upcoming off-season, who would you sign? What do you think the payroll number should be?

        We can all say the castellinis suck (I agree.) But the reality is the Reds will never be a big market team so we have to make smart consistent decisions, which this franchise hasn’t done for decades

      • Richard Fitch

        @LarkinPhillips

        I would think payroll would have to be top 15 every year. That would put them square in the middle. In 2024, that would be where the Padres are at $163M according to Spotrac.

      • LarkinPhillips

        @richard, I agree with you. To me there is no reason that in seasons where we are competing they should be able to go up to middle of the pack. If you can’t do that, you shouldn’t own a team. It’s a disservice to the fans and the game to basically say we can’t ever really compete. I understand down years and understand cutting back a bit.

        This past off season, I really didn’t like a lot of the fre agents for long term.deals. ones that we would like, we had no chance of signing. This next off-season if we took the payroll to middle of the pack we could become a team expected to make a deep run in the playoffs.

  11. MBS

    “If the choice for me is railing about Elly De Cruz batting second while in a slump and ownership putting a $104M payroll on the field, guess where my ire will be directed.“

    Exactly correct, it’s the ownership.

    I think EDLC would sign an extension if he gets a fair offer. It’s probably going to beat the Greene deal, but not by a ton. Maybe 120% of the Greene deal gets it done.

    • LarkinPhillips

      What is a fair offer and why do you think he would sign it? He already has major sponsorship deals with Jordan and other brands. He isn’t hurting and he is friends with guys like Soto (who he worked out with this off season) that would advise him to get to free agency like other Boras clients.

      • MBS

        @Larkin, “Maybe 120% of the Greene deal gets it done.“

        From the Athletic on Greene’s deal, “The contract is guaranteed through the 2028 season and includes a $21 million club option, with a $2 million buyout for 2029, per the Reds. The deal could be worth in excess of $95 million overall with the option and incentives, according to sources briefed on the deal.”

        Some guaranteed money/stability for a young player. Plus incentives that pay very well if he hits them. Also we’re talking about 2 years of his FA time, so he’d be 30 when he hits FA. That gives him a chance to really cash in for a second time.

    • Richard Fitch

      I don’t think 120% of Greene’s contract comes close to getting it done. Don’t forget the Boras Effect.

      The Reds would have to wow him. I’m not a baseball money guy by any stretch of the imagination, but I would have to think it would have to be north of $200M easily. But, I’m guessing.

      • MBS

        Over what term? The Reds would have no incentive to sign him to a deal of that value unless it were over a 10 year period. His next several years would be cheap for the owners. The only time where EDLC might hit $20M a year would be Arb 2, and Arb 3.

        Lets say arb 1 is 10M, arb 2 is 20M, and arb 3 is 30M, those are very high lets say numbers, but lets go high. Then add in his .750M of control for this year, and the next 2, and you’re looking at less than 63M in cost for the Reds. It’s seems like a no brainer for both sides.

      • Richard Fitch

        The argument you’re making is Castellini based. Why should we pay more than we have to?

        You pay more because of the possibility he’s worth more than that not just on the field but in marketability over 8 years instead of just 5. More chances to make the postseason. More fan engagement. 10 years means less money for him on his next contract and that’s important if he’s going to give up 2030 and the mega contract Boras will sell him on.

        If this is just about being cheap for ownership, then it’s a no-brainer he’s gone in 5.

      • MBS

        I think we got our wires crossed. We are both talking about different contract lengths.

        I’m talking about a 2 year extension like Greene’s. So 8 total years of control for the Reds that includes this season. That makes EDLC a FA at age 30. “Also we’re talking about 2 years of his FA time, so he’d be 30 when he hits FA.“

        My response to your 200M comment was are you talking about a 10 year deal. Then I laid out why no one would offer that deal for a 2 year extension.

        So you can go 3 different ways, an extension deal like Greene’s or Acuna’s. Security for both parties, and a chance at a 2nd major contract at the age of 30.

        A monster deal like Tatis’s 14Y 340M where Tatis grabbed all the money he could early, and eliminating the possibility of a 2nd major deal when he becomes a FA at the age of 36.

        Or the 3rd option you go like VLAD, and Arb every year. (Arb 1 7.9M), (Arb 2 14.5M), (Arb 3 19.9M) with 1 year left of Arb. So far he’s made 47.5M in his MLB time., Add another 20M to 25M for his final year and he’ll be 67.5M – 72.5M. That’s good money, and he’s going to be able to get a big deal since he’ll be a FA at the age of 26.

        The 200M for 10 years would be silly for EDLC to make since he’ll be 32 and not as marketable as a 30 year old since no organization would pay that for any player over a 2 year extension. Not the Yanks, Dodgers, or Mets.

        Am I underestimating what it would cost, maybe but I don’t believe by much.

  12. MK

    At age 70+ I’m not sure how much I care about them outside the next 5 years.

  13. LDS

    Everyone needs to remember that while Castellini may enjoy the prestige of owning the Reds, it’s the wealth growth he enjoys more. If he wasn’t making more money than he’s spending, he would be selling. And yes, Phil will be worse.

  14. Mark Moore

    Like the thoughts here, Richard. And I’m still in the camp that says our Mr. Bell is #50 of 30 MLB managers (and dropping).

    It appears to me that Elly wants to be in LA. He’s said that multiple times. If you can entice him with 8 years and $200M or so, do it. I seriously doubt we’d regret it. But the “Boras factor” looms large as you note. And it will as long as Elly remains a client.

  15. Cincy6464

    Nice article Richard… always enjoy your thoughtfulness.
    Seems like we always come back to ownership… or should we say “leadership”.

    Over the previous 2 rebuilds I believe ownership learned some hard lessons;
    Via Jocketty, the evaluation of MLB “near-ready” talent (Peraza, Lamb, Finnegan, Reed, A Simon) requires extensive scouting & judgment & ability to pull the trigger at the right time.
    Via Williams, FAs either underperform (and leave MLB – Moustakas) or perform well (then command high FA salaries & leave – Castellanos).
    Somewhere in the owner’s box a light went off – the realization that home-grown talent & player development are the best chance at winning. But this takes years!
    Then June/July 2023 happened, where the good fortune of some shrewd trades coincided with the arrival of some talented farm-hands.

    I prefer this much more than the previous two approaches. We get to enjoy the blossoming of a young, competitive team! There is a real window here & I agree on making the effort to extend the window!

    As the team inches closer to being a true contender, I expect this GM (who is trusted by the owner) will make the right move(s) while not giving away the farm.

  16. Oldtimer

    The Reds had one of the best GMs ever (Walt Jocketty) and one of the best managers ever (Dusty Baker) and got rid of both.

    Reds ownership is not very bright. Many Reds fans are even dimmer.

  17. Jayce

    It looks like EDC is under team control for five more seasons, which is a lot, probably half of his most productive years and possibly the better half. I’m not dealing with Scott Boras or spending $200M+ for more than that. He is talented and popular and seems to improve the Reds’ image, but he’s only one player.

  18. Capnhook33

    Two things can be true at the same time. Personally i think that the excuse of we can’t spend more is ludicrous. If you are that strapped for cash running a professional sports franchise then you shouldn’t be an owner of one. They bought their share for a couple hundred million and would reap 5-6x that much in return now. Why continue with the hassle?

    Secondly, there is no reason to extend EDLC now. He’s a good player, but nothing more than that right now. Too many people have looked at the hype and the tools and crowned him as this amazing player, but his career results right now are middling to decent. Even this year, as a 110 ops+ player that’s fine and good, but not worth paying a premium for. It seems more and more common now for guys to have their best year be their rookie year. Look no further than our own rookie of the year in India. India is a fine ballplayer, and in fact has nearly the same ops+ but 1.4 more WAR in his first 150 games. No one was scrambling to sign him for 200 million. It would be prudent to wait a bit more to see how he goes, because if he turns into a career .750 ops player it wouldn’t necessarily be an albatross, but it would look ridiculous compared to letting the normal process play out.