There's a common misconception that sports teams' success must always be cyclical.
They're always either adding pieces for a championship run or sending them away in favor of a calculated rebuild, treading perilously on that tightrope suspended over the wasteland of mediocrity where the early aughts Reds play golf with this generation's Milwaukee Brewers and every person who has ever donned a jersey for the Colorado Rockies. Mike Brown is the mayor there, and he has court-side seats to nightly games between the ghosts of the Seattle Sonics and a greatest-hits version of the Atlanta Hawks.
Not a single person in that wasteland has a trophy room in their house, and everyone's favorite team is the Cubs.
There are, of course, franchises who have mastered the maddening art of construction by destruction, such as the two-time World Series Champion Florida Marlins and, to a lesser extent, the post-Bird era Boston Celtics. In both of the cases of those franchises, management greed and inept calculations alienated fans and turned even the most die-hard of them into lifelong cynics. Both, coincidentally, are now facing similar situations again.
It's hard to be the San Antonio Spurs, the New England Patriots, or even the filthy St. Louis Cardinals. Each has managed to consistently put a product on the field that has championship aspirations, and each as also managed to make calculated - and accurate - decisions on when and where to spend their money. While the major key to each of their sustained runs has been the talent-spotting that found them Tim Duncans, Tom Bradys, and [insert amazing pitcher name here]'s, a near equal secondary component has been the confidence to not spend money in incorrect places. Letting the likes of Albert Pujols, Richard Seymour, and Randy Moss walk away didn't build those franchises, but it may have saved them.
Walt Jocketty has his hands on the controls of that same game this offseason, and his decision making will be the determinant of whether there are 30,000 fans in Great American Ball Park for every home game in 2015 or not.
It's the defining offseason of his stint as General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He's been tasked before with improving a roster that fell mostly into his lap; now, he's finally faced with undoing decisions that he made himself, and the onus is on him to not turn this team into a quicksand scenario.
The early whispers have been cringe-inducing. Ken Rosenthal's recent statement that the Reds are interested in bringing back Shin-Soo Choo at the cost of trading away Brandon Phillips and Homer Bailey should give you pause, as trading away an aging potentially overpaid component to allow for the signing of a more expensive aging component is not the way to stabilize things; similarly, shopping Bailey (possibly the most movable, attractive, and realistic trade bait on the roster) with the primary goal of salary freedom instead of prospect return is a great way to undersell with a short term view in mind. Those are the kind of deals that could wipe away plenty of the goodwill Walt earned by fleecing the Padres for Mat Latos and by inking Joey Votto for life.
Jocketty has hamstrung himself with his previous commitments, and looking at the current state of the roster should leave him far from desperate at this point...in theory, at least. Walt's the third oldest GM in baseball right now, behind only the Mets' Sandy Alderson and the Mariners' Jack Zduriencik (by a month), and the three year contract he signed at the end of the 2011 season will be up after 2014. There's a very real possibility that he'll assemble at team focused on 2014 with the knowledge that he won't have to deal with whatever repercussions that leaves in the lap of the 2016 Reds and beyond, and any moves he makes during the upcoming Hot Stove season should, and will be looked upon through that lens. Will he be all in for this year while disregarding any future runs, or will make the best moves he can without bogging down the future flexibility of the franchise? Is he wheeling and dealing with his own contract extension in mind?
There are no easy answers. In this business, there rarely are. Whichever decisions are made, however, should shed light on Walt's intentions. Can he pull a rabbit out of a hat for 2014 without crippling the team for the last half of the decade?