Lest we forget, the Reds had the highest payroll in the NL Central last year, and will most likely have the same rank in 2015.
If the Reds continue to have the highest payroll, it would be because they have players that are worth it. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Phillips, and Homer Bailey will be (1) rather expensive and (2) very good, if healthy. Considering that one of them were healthy last year, they might hopefully all be healthy this year. The Reds are a decent team that have no reason not to be in the thick of things in the NL Central in 2015.
On the other hands, the Reds could burn it down. This is what Atlanta seems to be doing, trading away their best player to St. Louis. And I'll admit that it's tempting, in that the Reds have a lot of guys in the last year of their contract and are suddenly looking gormless compared to the be-Haywarded Cards.
If the Reds try to make a similar splash, they're a bit handcuffed by not having much on the market. There's only so many big-bopping LFers around, and they'll try to make a play with one of the Pensacola Five, Tony Cingrani, or Waldrop/Winker/Ervin et al. There's enough there to make an attractive play – few things are more beloved than pitching prospects – but it's nerve-wracking making that sort of play. People might look back at something like the Greg Vaughn deal for a reference, but did you know that Reggie Sanders left in that deal, and had a better 1999? It's okay, because Kevin Towers was the one who made that trade for the Padres. Maybe the Reds will pull some other crazy trade like that. Also, the Padres have won one fewer postseason game than the Reds have since 1999.
The Padres also have Eric Show and Ken Caminiti in their Top 20 in bWAR. The Padres are depressing, and our current best-case scenario involves acting like the Padres.
It's then reasonable to conclude that maybe burning it all down is a reasonable decision. The Reds can see if they can get top prospects out of the Cueto/Latos/Leake trirumvate and patch together a rotation in the meantime. They can see if anyone wants to buy high on Mesoraco, or even higher on Chapman. Getting this team locked and loaded and ready for a Winker/Hamilton/Waldrop outfield, Frazier/Blandino/...umm, did we mention the outfield?
There's been some concern that if the Reds put all three arms on the market, they could depress the starting pitching market to their own detriment. The correct response to that is, if the Reds are putting three arms on the market, could they reasonably expect three arms of equal value to come back? Teams that have three great starters don't trade all three, because having three great starters means that they're in contention.
More to the point (and a point that RF76 has made before), the Reds are not going to have a historic on-base machine at first base for much longer. Even getting a very competent second baseman is looking like a stretch. And call 2014 what you will (my mother told me not to use such language myself), but Jay Bruce is still expected to go .250/.320/.480 until he reaches 30 years old at the end of his contract. If you can't make a winner out of that and those starters – not to mention a great defensive third baseman and an actual horror movie villain at catcher – then what are you supposed to make a winner out of? Literally what more could you ask for?
Well, you could ask for a competent LFer, a non-abysmal bench, and some relief help.
Reliever might be their own separate, weird, volatile, issue, but burning down the Brandon Phillips Window Reds seems a bit silly. This team still has a heck of a shot. I know you can't actually do this, but give the Reds 9 wins for a healthy Bruce/Votto/Phillips, another because Skip Schumaker never happened, and all of the sudden the Reds are at 86 wins without a bullpen or a LFer. There's a way to paper over the team's holes and make a rumble for the playoffs. In one of the more-weird anecdotes out there about the Big Red Machine, they were seen as a bunch of underachieving louts heading into 1975, never able to win the big one even with all those stars.
So forget the perhaps-mediocre Padres. This team could be on the cusp of surprising greatness!
And if they're not? Offer all those pitchers arbitration and spend all of those lovely draft picks on college talent. The Reds could end up with 4-6 first-round picks ready to lock-and-load heading into the prime Winker years and with Joey still on the team. If the Pensacola Five pan out to any extent, there shouldn't even be that many bumps in the road.
The fire sale conversation will be more interesting next season. The team as constructed is basically made to go all-in, especially since the Reds don't have to burn a compensation pick if they try and get a big signing. Let's get excited about that big signing! We have literally all next offseason to feel miserable.
I mean, right? The firesale won't even pay big dividends, but the free agent/trades may. Let's try and win this thing, not feel bad about not winning it.