It’s clear that the brass of the Cincinnati Reds has asked for patience from any and all who watch their team play baseball. Truthfully, that request can be dated all the way back to November 8th, 2013, a day on which the front office contractually indicated that the big-spending that had gone hand in hand with the big-winning of the previous years had reached its exhaustion point.
That’s the day they made Skip Schumaker the single largest acquisition of that offseason, inking him to a meager 2 year, $5 million deal. It came on the heels of watching Shin-Soo Choo enter free agency with a price tag the team couldn’t afford, just a month after the team cut ties with manager Dusty Baker after the collapse at the end of an otherwise promising 2013 season. It was a move that admitted what we know now should’ve been more obvious at the time: that the Reds had tapped out their monetary resources, had truly added all that they could add, and that if that particular core of players wasn’t good enough to get things done, a teardown was barreling closer by the minute.
Since that point, the team has asked for our patience in several other distinct ways, too. They asked for patience from fans as the team began that inevitable teardown, to acknowledge that it was neither plausible nor possible to trade every aging player all at once and still get the best value for each individual part. When Johnny Cueto was traded to the Kansas City Royals in July of 2015, GM Walt Jocketty intimated as much to The Enquirer’s C. Trent Rosecrans.
"We’re in a situation where this is the best thing for our franchise now," Jocketty said.
Both Jocketty and team COO Phil Castellini also have asked for patience as the team wades through a growing ledger in the loss column, too. Castellini even opined last spring that there would be multiple years of bad baseball on display before the team could realistically expect to get back to its winning ways, as the Cincinnati Business Courier noted.
"We expect to be truly competitive again by ‘18," Castellini said.
All of those instances were both predictable and par for the course, really. The "please excuse our mess" signs you see on your favorite stores and restaurants as they revamp their inventories and menus. As the 2016 MLB Playoffs wind down and we inch ever closer to the transactional Christmas that happens days after the end of the World Series - when players opt in or out of options, teams face endless 40-man roster decisions, and players reach free agency - the Reds are going to ask us one more time to be patient, and its this particular request that should cause the most anxiety and fear from all of us.
They’re going to ask us to watch as other teams make moves while they see if the bevy of decisions they’ve already made so far look like they’ll pan out. They’ve got to see if they were right in their player evaluation, and right on the players they targeted. More specifically, they’re going to ask us not to pine for moves that aren’t there to make, to trade players they just acquired to further churn the pool, to sign big-ticket free agents who overlap with multiple prospects they just brought in. Jocketty himself spelled that out at last year’s GM Meetings.
"It's the sales approach our people are taking, come see the future, this is the young guys that we're going to be building the nucleus of our championship-caliber clubs in the next year or two. You're still going to see good baseball, it's going to be quality baseball, you're just going to have to try to convince that these younger players are going to be fun to watch," Jocketty said.
The Reds have reached the point where there aren’t really any more built-in ways to overhaul things. Assuming a trade of Joey Votto is off the table, there is no Todd Frazier, no Jay Bruce, no Cueto or Aroldis Chapman in the coffers, multiple time All Stars in their prime who other franchises may give the moon to acquire. They aren’t going to trade a 23 year old they just got so they can get "younger." Aside from sinking big money into the free agent market - something the front office has publicly said they’re not going to do - what you currently see on the team’s roster and on the team’s farm right now is largely what you’ll get for the coming season, if not longer.
That’s not without promise, though. We’ve yet to see what Jose Peraza can do if actually given an everyday position. We’ve not yet seen anything in a Cincinnati uniform from Dilson Herrera, Jesse Winker, or Amir Garrett, though each come with plenty of promise. We’ve watched the early returns from Nick Senzel suggest that he’ll be a big part of the team’s future in a very expedited fashion, and we watched as the end of the 2016 season left the Reds selecting 2nd overall in next summer’s draft once again, too.
If you’re looking for a metaphor, here’s one. The Reds limped back to port after the 2014 season, their schooner full of cannon blasts and leaking terribly. The rudder was busted, the sails torn, the hull doing its best swiss cheese impersonation. Since then, though, all hands have taken to fixing the ol’ ship the best way they know how, replacing boards, filling holes, and mending sails, to the point where the once tattered boat appears to have all the ability in the world to set sail once again. All that’s left now is to get it back in the water and, more importantly, to see if the craftsmanship is actually worth a damn.
It’s a lot to ask. Of course, there’s really only one way to test it out.