The Cincinnati Reds will not be competitive in 2016. I think we're all on the same page about that. Even if all those starters pan out, even if Winker pushes for LF by June, even if Eugenio Suarez becomes basically Hanley Ramirez...there's still a huge gap between these dudes here and those dudes in St. Louis, Chicago, and decreasingly so Pittsburgh. It's still baseball, and there's still Joey Votto, so it will still be fun. But the Reds will not be competitive in 2016.
What to do about this? The Reds' new GM will probably shuttle off some veterans for prospects, which I think we're generally on-board with. Aroldis Chapman is the obvious guy, a closer with only a year left on his contract. Very likely Todd Frazier, who is a 30-year-old with two more years. Even Jay Bruce, human metaphor for the plucking of the blossom of youth, may go. And that's generally okay. Leave no stone unturned if a patient right-handed hitter might be under it.
But you can't make a team out of prospects. The Reds are going to have to get some free agents, and really, there's no reason not to get some good ones. This is because every dollar not going to free agents and not going towards making the Reds a better team is a dollar staying in Bob Castellini's pocket.
Jack Moore wrote about this phenomenon for Baseball Prospectus:
The only constant is that these teams all somehow spent major resources to get talent, whether it was bought, traded for, drafted, or (usually) a mixture of all three. The only thing tanking can be indisputably proven to do, other than lose games by the truckload, is lower payroll.
The argument is that the "prospects, not free agents --> playoffs" pipeline has some leaks in it. For every Cubs or Astros, there's a Blue Jays or Royals. Making good trades and smart purchases is just as important as drafting spry young dudes with electric arms. But unlike the "draft and hope" strategy, the other two are expensive.
Houston and Chicago currently have a lot of promise, sure. But there's no guarantee that they're going to continue on the trend, and for every Carlos Correa that gets drafted there are plenty of Mike Foltynewicz's and Delino Deshieldses. The Cardinals' best first-round pick since J.D. Drew is Colby Rasmus. The only thing that being cheap guarantees is saving money, not future brilliance.
Cincinnati needs to develop better players, and yeah, that takes money. Cincinnati has to develop a corner outfielder again and have any of the zillions of power arms turn into something great. Scouts, coaches, and all of that takes money. And they should spend that money! But that's not what I'm talking about.
The Reds have some holes to plug, in case you haven't noticed. If they trade Frazier, they're not necessarily well-served by throwing Seth Mejias-Brean to the wolves. The Keyvious Sampson experience has been fun, but it doesn't really need to be repeated. It's probably true that Dexter Fowler is the difference between a 73-win season and a 75-win season, but he's got a fun skillset in leftfield. Tim Lincecum might be a broken, sad, shell of his former self. But he might be the spacecase righty the Reds need.
The difference isn't between giving Fowler 500 PAs vs. giving Yorman/Winker those at-bats. If someone forces the issue, they force the issue. Until then, we're waiting for the Blandinos and their ilk anyways. The difference is between giving Fowler $50M and giving Yorman $500k. And it's the difference between having something resembling a professional ball club and smelling like the 2003 Detroit Tigers, who were bad enough to mar Allan freaking Trammel's legacy.
So let's live a little. If the Reds aren't going to be competitive, let's at least be entertaining. That's not to say get bad players on stupid contracts, but more: let's get fun players with some promise to either make this team better or be traded for someone who will.
Baseball's a business, and there's no reason we should be suckers. But every dollar the Reds don't spend isn't a dollar that makes the Reds worse. Play the kids, but pay the vets. Let's have a not-embarrassing 2016.