The Cincinnati Reds have righted the ship a bit after a nine game mid-May losing streak left them eight games under .500 and looking more inept than capable. They've put together a 14-10 record since that time, and in the process have risen from the doldrums of the National League to sit just five and a half games out of the second wild card position as of the end of play on Sunday.
An optimist will tell you all of that. They'll tell you Todd Frazier is on pace for the fifth most extra base hits of any player in baseball history, that Joey Votto is the Joey Votto of old, and that Marlon Byrd whacking an immediate dinger in an early return from a fractured wrist is exactly the kind of boost this team needed to get back in the thick of things as the summer heat envelopes Major League Baseball.
A pessimist will tell you that their 14-10 stretch means they're merely 14-19 in their last 33 games.
The Reds' hourglass is perilously close to being out of sand with only 40 days remaining between Monday and the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31st. For a team that stands to lose both Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake at season's end should they fail to be traded, even the most optimistic of Reds enthusiasts must admit that playing "well" for this current team isn't its only issue: time, perhaps, is fleeting and more salient than the team's ability to field a winner everyday, since the hole dug by the nine-game skid looks deeper and deeper in retrospect.
Time may well play another very big part in the decision making process of the Reds, though, as The Enquirer's John Fay noted over the weekend.
Fay conceded that the Reds would need a bang-up 56-40 stretch run to finish with even 87 wins, a total that may not even get them into one of the two open wild card spots should they manage to cobble such a streak together. Imagining that scenario seems far fetched to some due to its incredibly slight odds, but most folks know there's only one person whose view of the matter is ultimately relevant, and that's team owner Bob Castellini.
Putting himself in Bob's shoes, Fay admitted there's a rather large chance that Castellini sees a way that this team can go on a run good enough to warrant holding on to Cueto, Leake, and the other juicy trade pieces around whom the MLB sharks have been swirling since the losing streak last month. A recent string of solid play and promise shown by the handful of rookies in the rotation does allow for some hope, of course. And while it's such a long shot that betting on it seems hard to wrap one's head around, if a man in his 70's who has invested as much time and effort in the last decade sees enough there to make a push, it doesn't matter what Walt Jocketty and his front office compadres think, since trading the team's biggest names - regardless of contract situation - won't even be an option on the table.
From a long term perspective, that would be a tough pill to swallow, one that may completely ruin the team's ability to compete in 2016 and 2017. Given the early returns from the trades of Mat Latos and Aflredo Simon, there's reason to believe Walt & Co. have a good enough eye to ensure a return from a Cueto or Leake trade could provide a near-majors piece, but settling for a draft pick as compensation for either wouldn't do much to the big league roster for two, three, or four years down the road (if ever).
Maybe it's more important, though, to focus on the perception that this current Reds team may well be capable of a run to 87ish wins as it stands at present. The 32-36 Reds as constituted are missing Homer Bailey, Devin Mesoraco, Zack Cozart, and others from the Opening Day roster that was projected by most everyone with eyes to be something akin to the actual 32-36 at this point of the season, and it's hard to think even Castellini believes a Reds team devoid of that much expected talent can compete when he was one of the very vocal few that thought they stood a chance even with Bailey, Mes, and Cozart on the field on the regular.
Part of me wants to empathize with Castellini and concede that envisioning a Reds run with the best pitcher they've had in decades is still under contract, Aroldis Chapman is the most dominating relieiver I may have ever witnessed, and Joey Votto and Todd Frazier are doing their best to be the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball. But, if that's the case, simply standing pat makes everything in the previous sentence moot. If 2015 is to be the year for the grand run at the end of the Johnny Cueto window - one that sees the Reds push for another playoff run - holding tight and hoping for blistering success for 110 games with the current depleted state of the roster seems the worst option out there.
Either play for 2016-2017, or play for 2015. But if you choose to play for 2015, do so with as many reinforcements on the squad as can be mustered. If Bob Castellini sees the 2015 Reds as a team capable of great success, go get help for a team that's beset by injuries. Find another bat to make a team you see as good become great, or find a pitcher to help lighten the load on the handful of rookies on whom so much is currently riding. Give the 2015 Cincinnati Reds the best chance to win if you're stuck thinking they have even a glimmer of a chance to win, since the ability to make the 2016 team a legitimate force by acquiried players for the Reds two biggest trade pieces is forfeited regardless.
Or, blow it up. But for the love of all things, don't just stand pat.