Infrastructure. Due diligence. Circle back. Hit the ground running.
Front offices in the baseball world are just that: they're offices. That means that despite GMs and scouts being in charge of fielding teams that play what we all consider merely a game, there's a major business involved, and major businesses have annoyingly vague, nebulous terms that often seem to arise in difficult or adverse circumstances. For the Cincinnati Reds, the latest example of obtuse jargon we've become privy to is "reboot," which his how Walt Jocketty described the franchise's combination of action and inaction in the days running up to Friday's non-waiver trade deadline.
In the wake of trading Johnny Cueto to the Kansas City Royals and Mike Leake to the San Francisco Giants while simultaneously balking at offers for Jay Bruce and Aroldis Chapman from willing suitors, Jocketty spoke to the media right after Friday's 4 PM ET deadline, and according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, rebooting is the team's go-to plan:
"The best word or term I saw was from (Detroit GM) Dave Dombrowski: reboot," Jocketty said. "That's kind of what we're doing. We're rebooting or retooling. It's not a rebuild."
But just what the heck is a reboot, anyway? It's somewhat like retooling, apparently, while seemingly less intense than a rebuild (though it's worth noting that we're not sure if Jocketty meant it's not a "hard rebuild" or a "soft rebuild," of course). Walt could be speaking of cold booting, Bob could be angling for a more warm boot, and both Dombrowski and Jocketty could just be speaking out of both sides of their respective mouths to politely keep the questions from coming down on them in a cascade.
Simply looking at the trade ledger of the last year probably gives us the best possible insight into what Jocketty meant by dodging the rebuild question with the reboot response. He's traded away Leake, Cueto, Alfredo Simon, and Mat Latos since the end of the 2014 season, which means he's shed the salaries of four players who weren't signed past the 2015 season. And, despite the druthers of many who have been clamoring for a burn-it-down type fire sale, that's a pile of movement from a roster core that posted 187 regular season wins between 2012 and 2013. Trading those four talented pieces signaled that none of them figured into the team's plans beyond the 2015 season, but since none of them had been signed to extensions even when the goings were good back in 2012-2013, it's hard to truly know whether the front office's mindset has altered since then due to the consistent losing or if shedding them by 2016 may well have been the plan all along.
What's telling in this search to define reboot, I think, is that the core pieces that were signed to long-term contracts to be Reds are all still the core pieces signed to long-term contracts as Reds. Bruce, Chapman, Joey Votto, and Brandon Phillips staying put signals that Walt & Bob still believe that the bulk of the team has a future still, and that breaking them up isn't a change of strategy that needed to be done at this time. (In theory, you could add Mesoraco and Bailey to those four, but their injuries effectively left the untradable anyway.) Instead, the planning for that core's periphery needed a different set of personnel, and the hope is that the next group gels quickly enough to make the decision to not trade away further assets prove worthwhile.
Think of it as keeping the same four year old laptop you know like the back of your hand, but opting to use Firefox as your browser going forward since Chrome froze and crashed just one too many damn times.
"It depends on what else we do," Jocketty said. "We feel right now it gives us a chance to be a better club. We have to get some additional pieces. But we want to make sure we're very competitive."
Jocketty's follow-up quote seemed to trail his reboot line right on cue, especially in the context of what we've seen from the Reds' brass this far into the process. First they trade Cueto and Leake, and insist that doing so is not a sign of a rebuild. How is it not a sign of a rebuild, you ask? It's not a sign of a rebuild when the GM immediately starts talking about the other moves the team will need to make to somehow help balance out losing such established pitching talent. Think of it as the Marlon Byrd addition just weeks after trading away Latos and Simon for unproven young talent, for instance.
Trying to pinpoint exactly what that means for the Reds as they wrap up the disappointing 2015 season and head square into a reboot of a winter prior to 2016 is where things get tricky.
Assume a few things here for conversation's sake: 1) the team is willing to use their newly obtained core of rookie and pre-arb starting pitchers to back Homer Bailey in the rotation, 2) Devin Mesoraco returns healthy enough to pair with Tucker Barnhart as the team's catching tandem, 3) no further trades are made from the team's core prior to 2016, and 4) Zack Cozart is offered arbitration and Burke Badenhop's 2016 option is picked up. Those assumptions paired with large salary increases to Votto and Bailey, a bench consisting of players already in the system, and predictable arbitration raises to those eligible already accounts for over $106 million against the payroll, and that doesn't include an answer in LF should Byrd predictably depart in free agency.
The Reds have operated with a payroll of roughly $115 million for each of the last two seasons, and if that can be presumed to be a comparable number for the 2016 season, there's a sliver of cash left on hand. However, that'll have to be allocated somehow to fill the void in LF (unless a combination of Yorman Rodriguez, Kyle Waldrop, and Jesse Winker is to be given the reins), address the failings and vacancies left in the bullpen (as Sean Marshall and Manny Parra will no longer be around), and bolster a bench that projects to consist of just Barnhart, Ivan De Jesus, Kris Negron, and the rookie OFs mentioned above.
This reboot, then, either involves many more yet-to-be-seen moves indicative of an actually rebuild, a massive payroll increase immediately following the trade of an ace the team couldn't afford to sign, or it's simply a reboot of a four year old laptop that runs at about half the speed of the best laptops in the game today. Hot damn, I hope it's the former.