It's Jay Bruce's fault that I ever found Red Reporter.
The Cincinnati Reds were fresh off a 2007 season that was yet another disaster. To exfoliate their 72-90 regular season record, the Reds shipped off the most talented non-Larkin player I'd seen wear the uniform in decades for a pitcher who'd been demoted from the big leauges all the way back to A-ball that very season. Junior was old, lumbering Dunn was lumbering Dunn, and the team entered the season intent on letting 36 year old Paul Bako have the bulk of the catching duties despite David Ross having blasted 38 dingers over the previous two seasons.
The Reds were awful. Really, the only thing providing much of any confidence was that the Pittsburgh Pirates - their division rival - had somehow managed to maintain a level of awfulness just slightly more awful than the Reds had been able to muster.
Just before the start of the season, though, both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus agreed on the one thing that could've possibly breathed optimism into otherwise downtrodden Reds fans. Both tabbed a soon-to-be 21 year old sweet-swinging lefty outfielder from Texas as the #1 prospect in the entire minor leagues, and with that honor prominently displayed on Jay Bruce's resume, he had my interest. For the first time in seemingly forever, I had a Reds future to look forward to that seemed promising enough to overlook their miserable present.
So, when word broke that the Reds had decided to call up Bruce from Louisville and give him his career debut on a Tuesday in late May of 2008, I hopped in the car and cruised up from Lexington to witness firsthand what the game's top prospect brought to the table.
Seven years later, Bruce's debut is still burned into my memory, as it probably is for most of you. He went 3 for 3, walked twice, doubled, stole a base, and played a competent CF between a pair of corner outfielders that at that point had no business being even corner outfielders. What was more, though, is that rookie 1B Joey Votto had a 3 for 5 evening, and a young fireballing righty named Johnny Cueto scattered a pile of hits and flashed incredible raw talent on the mound to pick up the win.
Remember when there were six teams in the NL Central? That win that evening left the Reds 24-28 on the season and firmly entrenched in sixth place in their division. However, I walked out of GABP as happy about being a Reds fan as I had been since Al Leiter had crushed dreams nearly a decade ago. They weren't a finished product - hell, they'd fired GM Wayne Krivsky just a month before - but there was finally enough young, promising talent on the field to know that they'd be good as soon as they could scrounge up the right complementary parts.
It's probably just that I'm getting old, but it's somewhat hard to fathom that two of those then-promising rookies are now squarely on the trade block these days after putting a pair of NL Central titles in the Reds trophy case.
The 2015 Reds are in a much different position than those 2008 Reds, too. There is no #1 prospect in the minors waiting in the wings, nor are there other rookies on the current roster that look like a future MVP and future Cy Young runner-up. However, what the 2015 edition has going for it is that their trade chips are infinitely more valuable than the 2008 version of Adam Dunn or a 38 year old Ken Griffey, Jr, neither of whom brought in the kind of talent that could change the direction of a franchise.
Bruce and Cueto, though, can help get just that. So could a trade of Aroldis Chapman, and if we're going to have the kind of optimism in the direction of the franchise to match owner Bob Castellini's competitiveness, it's going to take seeing two, if not three of them heading out the door. When they go, it's going to suck to lose players who contributed to the most recent righting of the franchise ship, but it's exactly the kind of thing that will help keep the next few years from being as lean as the ones running up to 2008.
It'll take trading away players that have actually won something wearing the Cincinnati uniform, and that's the kind of thing Reds fans just simply haven't been able to see often enough over the years to get used to. And if it works out the way it did when Paul O'Neill and Eric Davis were shipped out, it'll be the kind of thing that burns for years both in your gut and in the NL Central standings.
But if it works out like it did when Lee May left town, we could look back on these two weeks as the best thing that happened to the Reds in decades.