To casual fans around the baseball world, it’s probably Joey Votto who’s the most recognizable, notable face of the Cincinnati Reds. The former National League MVP and on-base savant is a long-tenured Red, one who has choked up and hit opposite-field doubles in enough parks league-wide to sear his name into memory despite the fact that the team has been largely irrelevant for almost a half-decade now.
I’m not sure the same can be said in Cincinnati, though. Despite Votto’s unique offensive prowess, it’s almost as if he’s been around just long enough to become somewhat of an afterthought, a lineup battleship that’s taken a bit for granted. That’s not really the point of this particular article, however - rather, that’s to point out that there’s another face in town who has burst on the scene, hit like his pants were on fire since day one, and is precisely the kind of smiling, engaging player long-suffering Cincinnati sports fans logically rally around.
That’s Scooter Gennett, of course, who also just happens to have been born in Cincinnati.
I’m no archaeologist. There has been no deep digging needed to suggest this. Scooter, now and All Star with the Reds after being an afterthought waiver-claim just a year and four months ago, is just about the definition of ‘fan favorite.’ For a franchise that spent that last half-decade of losing mercilessly while also trading away long-established stars to whom fans grew increasingly attached - Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Johnny Cueto, etc., etc. - Scooter truly does appear to be the right mix of both underdog and success story, with many direct parallels to the overall Reds in his time here.
As the afterthought waiver-claim has proceeded to progressively hit the snot out of the ball, so, too, have the afterthought rebuilding Reds begun to climb out of the cellar, with the last six or so weeks of excellent baseball the first real proof of life we’ve seen from them since the dismal, dismantling finish to the 2013 season. And, as President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams relayed to The Enquirer earlier this week, that run of success is a vital precursor to ramping up payroll, making big league additions, and finally being able to declare this ‘rebuild’ something tangibly ‘built.’
“We do believe that we’re creating a good core to invest around,” Williams said. “For the first time in a couple of years, I firmly believe we’ll have a raised payroll.”
Williams expanded upon that, as The Enquirer’s Bobby Nightengale relayed.
“I’m not talking like 1 or 2 percent,” Williams said. “But it’s too early to know for sure. A lot of it will depend on how we play the rest of the year, the support we get from the fans and strategic decisions we make about where our investments will go in the offseason – payroll or otherwise.”
To me, that emphasizes two pertinent points, one more obvious than the other.
For one, it clearly shows that how much revenue they can pick up over the final 34 home games of the season will go a long way towards how much money is thrown back into payroll this winter, and the hope is that the quality of play they’ve shown recently becomes the driver behind that. What Williams is also saying here, I think, is that they want to use their attendance figures for the rest of this year to be able to estimate how much they can expect to see next year, since these are always forward-looking projections.
The second point, though, is what I’ve been rambling around for 600 words already. If the current goal is to keep a good team playing well, for fans to embrace that newfangled winning, and begin to show up in droves, I find it increasingly hard to believe that can be the team’s public persona while they actually pursue trading Scooter at this particular juncture. That’s especially true given the peripheral circumstances, since the only real way the team could begin to sell that to fans both now and for the long term would be with the call-up of uberprospect Nick Senzel to replace Scooter, but that’s now impossible thanks to Senzel’s season-ending finger surgery.
In other words, I’m beginning to think that the comments Williams went forward with this week effectively showed the team’s priorities as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline approaches. And I’m pretty sure that doesn’t include trading Scooter now, who has team control through the 2019 season.
It’s certainly a confounding position to be in for Williams and the front office, managing the long-term sustainability of putting a winner on the field for the Reds with the first glimpse of positive baseball that’s been played in five years. The long-term priority might suggest that cashing in on Scooter while his trade value is peaking is paramount, that getting to see what Dilson Herrera and Alex Blandino can do with more regular playing time at 2B until Nick Senzel is healthy lets you thoroughly evaluate two other promising young players, and that adding a Top 100 prospect from some other system just bolsters the franchise’s depth for six-seven years down the road. But if the short term priority is increasing fan attendance and sustaining good baseball for the remainder of 2018 - which is what Williams said - it’s hard to see how trading Scooter this month could at all help accomplish those goals.
I dunno. We’ll see Matt Harvey get traded, because that’s a complete no-brainer. He’s a pending free agent, a reclaimed reclamation, and a commodity as a starting pitcher that will have a dozen teams itching to give the Reds something for his services - not a ton, but something more valuable than just letting him walk at season’s end. We might even see a trade of an outfielder, if the offer is right, since that’s a section of the roster that already has rotation and could feasibly sustain its production without, say, Adam Duvall or Billy Hamilton through season’s end. Taking Scooter out of this lineup right now, though, not only plucks the NL’s leading hitter (at .326), it takes away the one player who might be able to single-handedly put more butts in seats for the remainder of the year just by continuing to be on the roster.
I’m not suggesting the team has already reached the decision to make Scooter a Red for life, with a bank-breaking extension on the way. With team control of him through 2019 via one more trip through arbitration, the Reds don’t have to make that decision right now, so long as they’re willing to pony up some $10 million for his services next year. Even though his trade value diminishes with every game he plays for the Reds starting August 1st, he’ll still be a tradeable player this winter, should the team take that route, or even this time next year, if need be. And heck, perhaps this is evidence that the team has gauged his trade value already and determined that the offers simply aren’t good enough to get rid of him, and that they’re low to the point where moving him just to move him doesn’t kick the system’s prospect ranking any higher than it already is.
Given how well the roster appears to be meshing at the moment, the dent his trade value will take by keeping him just might - at least in the eyes of the front office - have reached a point where that is off-set by how much residual goodwill they’ll get from keeping him around for 2018. Do that, win enough to make this whole thing an enjoyable thing to root for, and have Great American Ball Park’s red seats a little less visible through the crowds on the FS-Ohio broadcasts? Yeah, that just might be an OK plan B.