For baseball fans the offseason can feel endless. Yet even in the midst of a cold, baseball-less winter there is one welcome respite. The Winter Meetings provide an annual opportunity for the hot stove to get turned up to eleven. It’s a week when anything seems possible, and fanbases convince themselves their team’s GM is just one phone call away from changing the future of the franchise.
The excitement of an event like the Winter Meetings is amplified for a group like Reds fans. There hasn’t been much to cheer about on the field over the past few seasons, and so we spend our time looking forward to a day when the team will be competitive again. A lot of fans assumed the Reds would be active this offseason as they look to revamp their roster for 2018 and beyond.
But as last week drew to a close, fans realized the team was going to do...well nothing. This was disappointing, but the feeling was exacerbated as a team like the White Sox overhauled their entire farm system in one week. Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were both traded for impressive prospect hauls. According to Michael Baumann of the Ringer, “Chicago’s top four prospects, and six of its top 10, were in other organizations as of Tuesday morning.”
These kinds of moves left a lot of Reds fans wondering, “Why aren’t we doing something?” If that team was able to drastically overhaul their future roster in a week’s time, why can’t we? Where are the trades? Where are the free agent signings?
Why isn’t the front office doing anything?
It’s completely understandable for a fanbase to want their favorite team to be competitive. However, should fans be upset by Cincinnati’s lack of transactions over the past week? There are actually some very good reasons why the Reds didn’t (and probably won’t) make a drastic move.
The Reds did move most of their valuable trade pieces...last year.
Baseball fans can have short memories. Just a season ago, Cincinnati was making as many transactions as anyone. Over the course of 2015 Cincinnati traded away Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Todd Frazier, and Aroldis Chapman. This season they made the long awaited Jay Bruce trade. For the most part, that list of players comprises the group that had the most trade value on Cincinnati’s roster.
People might quibble with certain aspects of these trades, but on the whole it seems like the team has done fairly well. Cueto brought back three young arms, two of which could be in the rotation for the foreseeable future. Frazier returned Jose Peraza who looked like the real deal in 2016. Leake gave us Keury Mella, and the Giants threw in Adam Duvall who was pretty good last season. Dilson Herrera came to Cincinnati for Jay Bruce, and it’s likely he could be a starting infielder over the next hand full of seasons.
At this point, there simply aren’t a lot of trade scenarios that make sense. Most of Cincinnati’s core is now either young and cost-controlled (which rebuilding teams need), or locked in to long term deals that other teams will be hesitant to take on (Votto and Bailey). Billy Hamilton and a few pitchers were rumored to be trade options this offseason, but it makes much more sense for the Reds to hang on to those players who could be valuable parts of a contending team in a few seasons.
However, some of you might not believe the above argument. The White Sox traded Adam Eaton and got multiple top prospects! Why couldn’t the Reds have done something similar?
The Reds don’t have Chris Sale or Adam Eaton.
It’s so easy for fans to overvalue the players on their favorite team compared to others around the league. The Reds simply did not have a player who could command the kind of return that Sale and Eaton brought back. Joey Votto is the one player who could in theory, but that would require Cincinnati to eat a good portion of his contract. That’s something they’re unlikely to do, and at this point I fully expect Votto to be on the Reds his entire career.
Chris Sale has been one of the ten best starting pitchers in baseball over the past five seasons. Adam Eaton was a six-win player last year by fWAR. That was good enough for 11th in MLB by that stat last season. Even if you think his numbers were artificially inflated by questionable defensive metrics, he was at least a three win player the two seasons before that. Eaton provides a proven track record that teams can trust.
As much as I love Billy Hamilton, and I do love him, he still has too many question marks at the plate to bring back anything close to an Eaton-level return. He made some great strides last season, and I’m excited to see how he continues to develop in 2017. However, he was still below league average at the plate, and a lot of his value stems from his speed and defense. If those are the only qualities that he brings to the table he’s still valuable, but those skills will diminish more rapidly than a solid hit tool. On the other hand, Eaton has been above average at the plate by wRC+ in four of his five major league seasons. There are more skills to trust over the long haul with a player like that than in Hamilton’s case.
As far as the young pitchers go, I’m not sure why Cincinnati would be interested in moving them right now. Cincinnati has a core of young arms that are cost-controlled and worth developing. A team can never have enough young pitching, and the Reds can take the next few seasons to figure out which of these pitchers will work. I’m not sure the team could have brought back anything in return that would have had much a much higher-ceiling than the players they would have traded away.
The Reds aren’t ready to compete yet.
Well if a trade isn’t going to happen, why aren’t they active on the free agent market? There’s no reason for Cincinnati to invest any significant money into a free agent this offseason. The team is still probably another year away from competing. Free agent additions are valuable when you think your team is good, and you’re looking to fill any remaining holes on the roster.
There just isn’t a reason for the Reds to invest long-term dollars in to a player who might be past his prime the next time they’re ready to compete. In a couple of years I hope they’ll roll the dice on some overpaid thirty year-olds. This isn’t the time.
Sometimes you just have to be patient.
There are various stages in the life cycle of an MLB team. While it’s not the most exciting time in the world, the Reds are in a spot where they need to be patient. Over the next few seasons a number of big questions will be answered:
- Which of the young starting pitchers will become fixtures in the rotation?
- Will Homer Bailey ever be Homer Bailey again?
- What contribution can Devin Mesoraco still make to a major league roster?
- Is Billy Hamilton’s development for real?
Once the Reds know the answers to these questions it will go a long way toward setting their future trajectory. However, they still need these questions answered before veering off into a drastically new direction.
I know patience is a difficult thing. You millenials with your participation trophies and iPhones are used to instant gratification. Well sometimes you have to wait for the best things in life. A solid MLB roster is formed in a slow-cooker, not a microwave.
(Remembers that the median age of a “baseball viewer is 53 years old)
If nothing else, the team has to be good at least one more time while we’re still around to see it, right? Right?!?!
Maybe giving Jose Bautista whatever he wants isn’t such a bad idea.