This is such a silly and clichéd title, right? I'm sure I'm not the first, and certainly won't be the last, to put that Arrested Development joke in an article title here at Red Reporter. We like our jokes to be the same, and we recycle them quite often; just like a small to mid market team must cycle their core players for younger ones every few years. My philosophy is that every team, especially small markets where money to spread around is much thinner, have about three years of serious competition. I'd like to think that most general managers think like this as well. If you have a good core, it is just too difficult to pay them all at and watch them decline at the same time. The ideal franchise will plug, play, and trade much like what the Rays have done. A bad franchise will do what the Phillies did. The Reds are looking much like the latter these days.
Fire exists in nature to scorch, destroy, and clear away. It also exists to allow for new growth and prosperity. Smoky the Bears says, "Only you can prevent forest fires." However, he doesn't tell you that fires are a natural cycle to renewing an ecosystem and restoring nutrients to the soil. A controlled fire is a good fire. Really, I just wanted to poke at Smoky because he scares me, and I don't like him.
The one big hurdle a general manager usually has to face is their owner. How do you convince the person running the show, leading investors, and is the face of your franchise that it is time to blow it all up? I don't have that answer, and I believe Walt Jocketty has been struggling with this problem since the end of 2013. The Reds have obvious pieces to move, and we've been waiting in anticipation for these moves for a while. I think Walt has, too. Do you want to see the riddle Walt is facing? Let us look back to the 2014 trade deadline.
The venerable C. Trent Rosencrans was able to get some words from the mythical Walt Jocketty, and if you read between the lines you can see what he wanted to do. Jocketty considered the Reds a "nominal" buyer but not sellers at the deadline. He was looking to improve the parent club but obviously wasn't willing to mortgage the future for it. He was stuck at the fork of the road with his sensibility pulling him one way and his owner the other. There are two quotes that I think show what Jocketty was thinking. The first is about making a trade for the sake of trading.
"To make a deal just to make a deal doesn't make sense especially when you're talking about giving up young future players."
He also asked why the Reds weren't sellers.
"You know who I work for, right?"
What I gathered from this is they tried to pick up some marginal players (Marlon Byrd, Alex Rios, etc.) but the cost was prohibitive to the return. He wasn't going to make a big splash because even then the Reds don't make the playoffs. Walt only got Marlon Byrd for what he wanted in the offseason once the Phillies dropped their price and asked for what was really a middle tier prospect. Sorry, Ben Lively, no matter how much I liked you, you were barely a Top 10 prospect in a middle of the road farm system.
Walt Jocketty works for Banana Bob Castellini, Reds CEO and leader of an international vegetables and fruits crime syndicate. Mr. Castellini bought the Reds and promised a contender and vaguely promising a championship in Cincinnati. He put his money where his mouth is, and hired people that helped bring together the core group of players that made the 2010-2014 season competitive and exciting. He also had no reservations about firing the people he felt were holding the team back.
I hold no bitterness against Mr. Castellini. I hold animosity against Mr. Linder and Mrs. Schott for ruining a great franchise and causing me to watch awful/terrible/bad baseball for the better part of a decade. The window was there, and he had the winning team. It is just unfortunate for us all that that injuries and shit luck mucked it all up. You gave me winning baseball, and I loved it. Now, give me losing baseball so I can taste sweet, delicious victory in the future. Please.
I firmly believe Walt Jocketty knows what he needs to do. I believe Bryan Price and the players know what needs to happen. They won't say it, but they know it. Saying it makes it real, and fans never want to see a coach or players give in. Every team is a playoff contender until they aren't. We just need the losses to pile up so Walt can finally convince Bob to give up on the present for the future. I can wait for the future, Bob, seriously. I'm not advocating tanking, but I'm hoping for losses just the same.
Just like any franchise, the Reds are going to worry about the All Star Game, attendance, fan loyalty, etc. when it comes to blowing up the team. I couldn't care less about the All-Star Game. You will see an attendance drop off, surely, but you'll make that money back in the end. However, if you are worried about the fans, don't be. I think everyone sees the writing on the wall. There is nothing wrong with consolidating your resources and living to fight another day. That's how George Washington won the freaking Revolution.
I put the fans at Red Reporter up on a pedestal. You guys are the best even if you are a bunch of loud, opinionated, drunken heathens. We poke fun at other fans because of their lack of insight and/or understanding present day statistics. That's because we're an elitist clique of likeminded douche bags and we don't shy away from that stigma. However, even as unrealistic the normal fan's opinion may be, they even see what has to happen. I've seen many people on my Faceook/Twitter feeds who I wouldn't call knowledgeable fans, mainly because I have trouble deciphering their chosen form of English, who are ready to raise the white flag. They want what Cubs fans have now. They want new young players. They want excitement. The old core of the 2010-2014 teams were fun and will be remembered, but the same players doing the same thing is starting to get exhausting. We're a stagnant franchise.
I feel like they would be ok with rooting for a team of young scrappers getting their brains beat in while learning the game at the MLB level. They'd probably be ok with signing older, retread MLB players to short contracts to fill out a roster until we get to our next window.
I don't want to get into the stats about why the Reds are bad. If you want to you can read recent articles from Beyond the Box Score and the whimsical Mr. Grant Brisbee. Long story short, the Reds are a bad team and have a very small chance of making the playoffs. Crazier things have happened and convincing the owner that you are out of it is very difficult thing to do at this early stage of the season. However, we are getting to the point where small sample sizes no longer apply. What I want to hit on is what Brisbee points out when it comes to trades. I'll box quote the main portion I want to focus on.
The 2016 Reds could look like the 2014 Astros, except where that would have been an insult last year, you can see how it's a compliment now. Here, I'll start:
Johnny Cueto = one top-30 prospect, two additional prospects
Aroldis Chapman = one top-50 prospect, two additional prospects
Todd Frazier = two top-100 prospects, one additional prospect
Zack Cozart = one top-100 prospect, one additional prospect
Mike Leake = one top-100 prospect, one additional prospect
The Reds opened the season with three prospects in the top 100, according to Baseball America. Here's a chance to have nine, with a half-dozen additional prospects thrown in.
Do I think these trades are realistic? Yeah, I do. Do I think they are realistic on July 31? Not a chance. You get a higher value in a trade for the more control (or games) you are willing to give. An extra month or two of Johnny Cueto and Mike leake could fetch a lot in prospect gold. The cause of this is largely because teams won't get compensation picks for losing them to free agency. The less time you get, the less you'll be likely to give up. The less the Reds can pull in a trade, the better a compensation pick will look. It's simple opportunity cost.
What is a player you might be able to get for Cueto if you trade him now? The Mets are will probably be desperate for pitching with their hot start, and you might be able to pull Noah Syndergaard and some lesser prospects. There is a chance the Dodgers come running, and they have a bunch of players they would be willing to trade. What about the Angels when they realize they are chasing the Astros and Mike Trout can't do it all by himself? Mike Leake will get less, obviously, but you know what you can do after trading Leake? Take some of that money you save in contracts and throw it at him in free agency. Hey, Mike Leake, how does five years and $75 million sound to come back to Cincytown? Maybe that's not enough. I'm not good at valuing contracts, but we don't know what is going to happen with Homer Bailey. We also don't know what Mike Leake really wants to do.
Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier, and Zach Cozart are players in the prime of their careers and still have a year or more before free agency. The Nationals will come running for a chance at Chapman. You won't get Lucas Giolito but how about A.J. Cole or Michael Taylor? Yes, please. Frazier is a top player and cost controlled for the next two seasons. The only problem is he is undeniably the face of this franchise right now. Zach Cozart should be dealt now before his numbers tumble back down to Earth and burn up like debris falling through our atmosphere. If you can get a Top 100 prospect for Cozart, you run with it. Let's not forget that trading a bunch of our good players and taking the prospects and losses could ensure the Reds get a tasty draft pick in the 2016 draft.
Would you like a couple more names that should be shopped? Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips. It is very likely no team wants Votto. He's too big of a risk and too high of a cost. However, you never know what team might get desperate enough and just take his contract off your hands free of charge. The Reds would be admitting they messed up but that's ok in this situation if they free up the money. Jay Bruce would be selling low, but you'd also be freeing up roughly $25,000,000+ the next two and a half seasons. Jay's contract is good enough, and there is enough potential, that a team will give up prospects for him. They won't be of the Top 100 variety but someone would most likely budge. Take a look at the Marlins and Astros. Getting Bruce at low market prices seems just like a move up Jeff Lunhow's alley, especially if they stay in contention, and the Marlins are a team beyond desperate for anything with the semblance of talent. You won't get anything of value for Phillips, either. He also has 10/5 trade protection. If Walt is up front and tells Phillips a fire sale is on the horizon, and he can get him to a contender, I bet Phillips would waive his rights and agree to a trade.
All of this is speculative. All of this is a lot of wishing. Much of this is impossible or something the Reds won't do. There are arguments of quality v. quantity when trading for prospects. We have belittled Walt for his handling of the roster, injuries, and a host of other things. However, when it comes to trading and getting good value, there aren't many others I trust more than Walt Jocketty. This is his strength.
I've probably just written 2,000+ words all for naught and maybe no one will read this. However, this is my impassioned plea for the Reds to do SOMETHING, and that something should be cut bait, run, and live to fight another day. I'll be sad to see some of my favorite players go but that is the reality of running a Major League franchise. Bob, don't be a fan, be an owner. I want to see those prospect cupboards full and bursting at the seams. Give the team the best possible chance to fight for a division crown in 2017-2020. Otherwise, the team I love is going to slip back into a decade of futility, and I don't know if I can handle that.