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Aces, Prospects, and Harry Truman

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MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A fun drinking game among Jeopardy! enthusiasts and university Young Republican clubs is to discuss the candidates for Worst President of All Time. Our twitter-delimited discourse might call this game WOATPOTUS. We have had 45 different men hold the office in our country’s two-plus centuries, and there are really only a handful of them that have been so terrible as to have a shot at that ignominious crown. The DailyKos Millennials among us might go on for 40 damn minutes arguing that the WOATPOTUS is George W Bush. Two calamitous wars and a cataclysmic economic meltdown are some hefty-ass pelts he has on his wall. The sophomoric Baby Boomer will bring up Richard Nixon and mutter some such nonsense that the only president to resign office is the automatic loser. Then you’ll get a few pulsating hemorrhoids breaking into a tediously pedantic conversation about the slate of pre-Civil War dipshits who in turns drove the ship of state straight into the rocks.

I never said this was a fun game. These weirdos usually have a pretty dorky sense of fun.

Then one jerk will ask “what about Trump?” and the entire party will grind to a halt and the chilling stillness would be enough to make James Buchanan’s dead and buried skeleton uncomfortable. So let’s just move on.

Personally, I think Harry Truman is underappreciated in these conversations. I’ve read more than one outlet that ranks him among the ten best, even. He gets a ton of credit for holding the ball at the top of the key as the final seconds of World War II ticked away and for being president at the harrowing dawn of the nuclear age. Truth is though, he was a beady-eyed simp who was completely out of his depth. I think we are all really lucky that he didn’t blow us all to shit. It’s kind of a miracle.

But all that said, he once said something that was actually quite wise and useful. He kinda used it as an excuse to justify being idle and listless, but still. He said, “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”

Wait, maybe that was Coolidge.

Anyway, I think its a smart thing. One of the big troubles the Reds see coming down the road is the state of the pitching staff. Its clear that this rebuild is in the coiling-up-like-a-spring phase, ready to pounce come next season. The offense is capable of scoring runs by the pound and still has room to grow. Scott Schebler is hitting a healthy .278/.351/.470 this season and he’s probably the fifth-best hitter in the lineup. This crew is postseason quality right now.

Of course, we all know it is the pitching, particularly the starting rotation, that needs to be better. Here is a chart with all of the starters the Reds have used this season and their pertinent numbers:

Reds Starters

pitcher starts IP ERA
pitcher starts IP ERA
Sal Romano 21 116 5.12
Luis Castillo 22 115.2 4.98
Tyler Mahle 22 109 4.95
Homer Bailey 14 76.2 5.87
Matt Harvey 14 73 4.44
Anthony DeSclafani 10 52.2 5.47
Brandon Finnegan 5 20.2 7.4
Cody Reed 1 5 5.4

Now, obviously, none of that is inspirational. A few seconds looking at that table and you are probably ready to spend $100 million on upgrades. And that seems to be the consensus among baseball internet weirdos. Hell, even the Reds themselves seem to be saying as much.

But I dunno, man. I’m looking around and I just don’t know. The best arms that look to be available on the free agent market this coming winter are Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez. How much are they going to make? How much are you comfortable spending on them? The trade market isn’t as clear (you never really know who is available) but still. The Pirates just traded two of their best young players for Chris Archer. And I like Chris Archer, don’t get me wrong. He’s a really good pitcher. But would you trade Jesse Winker and Luis Castillo for him? I dunno, man. The trade market is going to be incredibly expensive.

Then I think about that Truman Coolidge quote again. As ridiculous as it might sound, sitting tight could be the best course of action this winter. If the big problem the Reds have coming down the road at them is the lack of a frontline starter, what if they didn’t blink, hit the gas, and just kept driving?

Look at it this way: they basically have three options. If you were driving, which road do you take?

A: Spend $100 million on Dallas Keuchel

B: Sell two or more of Nick Senzel, Taylor Trammell, Jon India, and Hunter Greene for the likes of Danny Duffy, Marcus Stroman, or maybe Noah Syndergaard

C: Let it ride and hope big on the right arms of Tyler Mahle and Luis Castillo

To make it perfectly clear, I don’t think any of these three choices is a slam-dunk no-brainer. Each of them is bedazzled with many sequins of risk (happy Bad Metaphors Day!). Free agency is a notoriously low ceiling financial proposition. The trade market looks awfully thin right now for quality young starting pitchers. And y’all probably think I’m crazy for writing this here about Tyler Mahle after what happened last night (and basically the last month for him). But you can do a back-of-the-envelope cost/benefit analysis here and I don’t think I actually look that crazy. The costs of both A and B are huge. But more than that, they are limiting. If you choose A or B, it will severely limit all future decisions.

But of course, I think the fanbase will be thirsty as hell to see something like A or B happen. That makes choosing C by far the most expensive in terms of public goodwill. Everybody is screaming at them to finish the job on this rebuild and a quiet and passive offseason is gonna make for some really rough weather. But I dunno, man. Looking at it like this, which of these choices do you think is most likely to result in the Reds having a rotation capable of winning a pennant?

Look, Mahle and Castillo have obviously had their struggles this season. But remember that both of them are in August of their first full seasons in the majors. They are still learning how to pitch in the major leagues. And while they are doing this, they have been able to put in some incredibly fine work. Check it: in eight starts from the end of May to the beginning of July, Mahle pitched to the tune of a 2.62 ERA. He gave up just three home runs in about 45 total innings. Go back and look at Castillo’s start on Sunday. We all know how devastating he can be. What they need to do is be more consistent. They are already good.

I know I’ve been fairly vocal in the past in my admonishment of the Reds’ front office for their passivity. I think they took too long in trading Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto, and so on. I think they are currently making a mistake holding on to Scooter Gennett and Matt Harvey. As recently as last week I was banging on about how they needed to go get Chris Archer when the Rays put him on the table. But you know, I’m thinking this morning about what is possible for this franchise to the end of the calendar year and I don’t think there is an obviously better choice than going in with what they have. I know how stupid that sounds given how this exact group of guys has pitched this year, but I guess I have a gut feeling about Mahle and Castillo, specifically. I can see a possible future in which the Reds are incredibly active this winter and they make some incredibly bold moves and all it gets them is a fine third starter and a mean buyer’s remorse hangover.