Some five years and three months ago, the Cincinnati Reds swung a pair of deals to wrap baseball’s Winter Meetings. They shipped Mat Latos to Miami for Anthony DeSclafani and Chad Wallach, while also pilfering Eugenio Suarez and Jonathon Crawford from Detroit for Alfredo Simon.
Same day, same principle with both deals - swap present for future.
The writing was on the wall for that iteration of the Reds, despite the half-hearted attempt to maintain relevancy heading into a 2015 season that would feature an All Star Game at GABP. The old guard had run its course, the payroll wasn’t about to stomach keeping them all around, and a teardown was looming large. The rest of the winter featured nothing more than a patchwork attempt at roster building, with a swap for 37 year old Marlon Byrd and February scoops for aged arms Burke Badenhop and Kevin Gregg the lone additions to a club that, with Latos and Simon, had dipped to 10 games below the .500 mark the previous year.
We knew Johnny Cueto, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips were next to be culled. The questions were merely when, for what, and how long we’d have to wait for the Reds to adequately replace them. Five full seasons have since passed since that brooding February of 2015, when the excitement of a new baseball season was tempered with the knowledge that we were almost certainly watching the last ride of a core that had finally, mercifully brought a glimpse of good baseball back to Cincinnati together.
Five years is a long damn time, long enough for some of you smart folks to even begin and finish college. That’s precisely how long it’s been since the Reds have rolled into February with a roster as deep and as talented as the one we’re about to witness this year. The difference this time around, though, is that this year we get to watch this group roll into Goodyear while the house is going up, not being torn down.
I’d like to wax poetic on the concept of patience, and how the last handful of years have been a learning experience. There have been hints of that, to be sure, and that paired an embrace of dark humor and the beauty that is the game of baseball in its purest form have kept this labor one still mostly of love. Still, five years of bad baseball is a heaping mound of bad baseball, and as Reds fans we’ve sat through all of it. What made it worse, I think, is that even when Truck Day came early every February, the fervor and anticipation of baseball’s pending return was cloaked in a complete void of expectations.
Watching losing baseball every day is one thing. Waking up every day knowing you’re going to watch losing baseball is another level of sisyphean hell.
There’s a genuine, tangible belief that the latter, at least, has been excommunicated for the time being. The 2020 Cincinnati Reds might disappoint us, but we won’t be waking up expecting that disappointment 162 times in 2020, and that’s progress in and of itself. This team looks damn potent, frankly, amid a division where nary another club has yet chosen to make such bold moves this winter. Despite the previous window having been slammed, bolted, and painted shut, there again seems to be a wiggle in it, one that might well be the first step in it bursting open once again.
That all starts with Spring Training, of course. Six weeks by the abandoned planes in Goodyear, Arizona, with name tags and half-games and the constant pop of baseballs smacking gloves. We’ve reached the point where only one week stands between us and knowing exactly what every Cincinnati Red is up to, and that everyone in the jersey is again wearing it with an expectation that they can win games against anyone, anywhere.
The engine of the baseball season has finally been turned on, revving itself up to get things warm. The brake was pressed, the gear shifted to drive, and the gas pedal first pushed for this season. The big pile of Cincinnati-brand basebally goodness has officially begun its trek west, carrying again the combination of the supplies needed and the weight of our expectations. And while that has and always will signify the return of watching the sport I love most, there’s an extra tingle in watching it unfold this year that hasn’t been around for a long, long time.
We see you, baseball.