I moseyed on over to Baseball Reference this afternoon, as is my wont on a lunch break. With my steaming bowl of margarine-and-noodles in front of me, I perused the standings. It is August 20th and the Red are a full 25 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central. They are 20 games behind the Pirates and 16 behind the Cubs. That's the playoffs. The Reds are 16 games out of a playoff spot.
Of course, we long ago made our peace with the idea that the Reds weren't going to contend this season, so this isn't surprising. But there is a deeper truth here that demands a good confronting: Not only are the Reds out of it this season, they are pretty much already out of it next season, too. The Reds' decision-makers seem to be at least passingly aware of this possibility, as they were rumored to be close to trading both Aroldis Chapman and Jay Bruce at the deadline last month. They chose to hold and defer the big decisions until this winter. But that decision has already been made for them. The Reds must fully commit to a rebuild.
In a vacuum, this particular core of Reds has the guts to win. With an extra hitter and sufficient development from the young pitchers, they have the talent to be a division winner. So yeah, I really can't fault Walt 'n 'em for not fully selling off in July. But baseball is not played in a vacuum, it is played in divisions. And right now, the National League Central Division is a motherfucking crucible. And it isn't even at maximum temperature yet.
The Cardinals are always going to be the Cardinals. No one knows how or why, but they will always be contenders. That doesn't necessarily disqualify the Reds, though. There are two Wild Cards now, so even if they don't win the division, they have plenty of opportunity to participate in October. Hell, they won the division in both 2010 and 2012. One strong division rival isn't insurmountable.
However, the Pirates and Cubs are real damn strong right now. And what's worse, they are not going away. The Pirates are at the point in the franchise life cycle of the Reds circa 2012. This is Peak Pirate. They are stacked from pole to pole with above-average contributors. Unfortunately for them, the Cardinals.
The Cubs are pretty much Reds circa 2010. The team is young, talented, controllable, and flush with cash. They are really damn good right now, and they will only get better. Unfortunately for them, the Cardinals.
Unfortunately for the Reds, all of this. Even if the Reds succeed in "rebooting" (whatever that is), it seems really unlikely they can reboot to the tune of picking up 15 games in the standings on these teams next season. None of us really want to admit it, but the Reds' window has been slammed shut. They are only going to make their thumbs really sore trying to pry it back open.
They talked about trading Chapman and Bruce this July, but they didn't (and they really didn't have to). But this winter, they won't have a choice. It doesn't make any sense to keep either around anymore. But the rebuild cannot stop there. They must fully commit, which means trading off the likes of Todd Frazier and JJ Hoover. Also Brandon Phillips and Homer Bailey (if they can make it work). They need to focus on building the next core of players that will contend for the Central in 2017 or 2018. That will include Joey Votto, Franchise Cornerstone, the young pitchers, and probably Billy Hamilton and Devin Mesoraco. But everyone else should be shopped and shopped hard.
They've done pretty well at this, so far. The rebuild has been slow and incremental so far, as Jonathan Broxton, Alfredo Simon, Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake were all traded away over the last calendar year. But at this point, there is nothing to reboot. And what's worse, the computer has been tossed into the lake (if Walt is going to make a bad metaphor, I'm going to make one 10 times worse). The Reds have to confront the fact that 2016 has already been lost and they need to act like it.