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Looking back on the last good Cincinnati Reds run

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The bridge from 2012 to now is getting long in the tooth.

83rd MLB All-Star Game Photo by Kyle Rivas/MLB via Getty Images

It’s both a blessing and an indictment that we so vividly recall the great teams in Cincinnati Reds history.

The first reference point given to children of Reds fans when they first learn to count up to eight is the Great Eight, the core of the Big Red Machine that laid wasted to opponents en route to back to back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. A generation later, the Wire to Wire Reds bonked away the goliath Oakland Athletics for an epic World Series sweep in 1990, and that all hands on deck approach means we recall that entire group, from Barry Larkin down to Tim Birtsas.

It’s cool as all heck to be able to have those frameable moments to wistfully remember. Flags fly forever, and whatnot. But it’s the sunken nature of the years in between those pinnacles that perhaps defines the modern Cincinnati Reds just as much.

While the gulf between the BRM and the Wire to Wire Reds never got so bad you questioned your mere existence, there were a trio of simply awful seasons baked in from 1982-1984. Since 1990, however, there’s been a valley so wide that it’s hard to even see the peaks on the other side.

In 30 years, they’ve won a single playoff series, and even that came 25 years ago. They promptly were swept the moment after winning said series, even. They’ve finished 4th or worse in their division a whopping 16 times in that span, too. And while there have still been a precious time or two that’s been worth celebrating buried within that span, it’s both increasingly hard to pinpoint them and, unfortunately, the threshold for success worth remembering has dipped substantially from its 1970s peak.

That brings us to the 2012 Cincinnati Reds, or the point of this entire article if the headline is to be believed. The last really good, yet really not good enough Reds club we’ve had the opportunity to watch. The most recent what if we can turn back to while ignoring the losses mounting during most years, the reference point that assures us that this franchise still has the chops to put a dynamo together here and there.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that days, weeks, months last seemingly forever. They are long periods of time, and they add up. And while the 97 wins those 2012 Reds compiled will resonate for years to come, it’s high time to concede that those 2012 Reds were put together a long damn time ago.

In fact, we’re barreling towards the nine-year anniversary of one of the biggest blockbuster deals the Reds have ever made. On December 11th, 2011, the Reds put pen to paper on the trade that sent Brad Boxberger, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, and Yonder Alonso to the San Diego Padres for Mat Latos, a deal that drew visceral reactions on both ends of the spectrum at the time and undeniably cemented, and forfeited, two divergent directions the franchise would take.

Alonso, by the way, retired over the weekend. This post was somewhat meant to make you feel old, and that’s part of it.

Grandal never played a game with the Reds, of course, and was still just a burgeoning prospect at the time. He developed into quite the fine player and is in the midst of a bumper contract with the Chicago White Sox at the moment. That he’s under contract at all is also pretty well the point of this post, as it’s something rare in regards to those 2012 Reds, too.

In all, 38 players made appearances for the Reds that season. And if my counting skills are correct, a grand total of three of them currently have big league contracts.

Joey Votto, Aroldis Chapman (Yankees), and Johnny Cueto (Giants) are the last three standing from the last Reds club that truly moved our collective needles. Dusty Baker, to his credit, is back in the managing game with Houston (for now), while Miguel Cairo just signed on to serve as bench coach for Grandal in Chicago. Scott Rolen, meanwhile, is hoping to end up voted into the Hall of Fame later this winter.

To be fair, there are a few others who are hoping to continue kicking around the game. Home Bailey has yet to hang up his spikes despite bouncing around a handful of franchises the last two years, and is a free agent at the moment. Mike Leake sat out the pandemic-induced 2020 season, but will likely have some suitors if he chooses to return in 2021. Brandon Phillips was socking dingers for the new-look Lexington Legends in exhibition play during the 2020 season, while Henry Rodriguez - who’s somehow still just 30 years old - has continued to slap single after single in the Venezuelan Winter League year after year since his last US contract back in 2013.

Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier are both free agents, both hoping the NL’s move to a Universal DH sticks around next season to give them another path to regular big league time. They’ll turn 34 and 35, respectively, in early 2021.

The one name that is easy to forget from that 2012 club is perhaps the lone one whose star still has a chance to keep rising in 2021. That’s just how time works, folks. Then just 22 years of age, he slapped 6 singles in 21 September plate appearances for the Reds in 2012, the final one an RBI single off Manny Corpas and the Cubs that drove in Denis Phipps and moved Ryan Hanigan into scoring position. He was later flipped in a three-team deal that included Shin-Soo Choo and Trevor Bauer, among others, before eventually being flipped in another three-team deal that included Robbie Ray and Shane Green (among others).

He ‘replaced’ Derek Jeter with the Yankees, shredded an elbow, twice received some down-ballot MVP votes, and now might be the single best fit for the 2021 Reds on the free agent market. That’s Didi Gregorius, obviously, who like Henry Rodriguez is still just 30 years old.

I am not necessarily pining for the Reds to sign Didi, though I think you could very easily make a succinct argument that it would be a natural fit. I’m merely pointing out that in the very wide ebbs and flows we’ve seen from the Reds over the last few decades, it’s interesting to note just how few even have the opportunity to participate in more than one good run.