The Cincinnati Reds still have not won a playoff series since 1995, a year I’ll point out is before the birthdays of many of the names I’ll mention here in a bit. They have lost their last six postseason games, four of which came at least eight full seasons ago. They rebooted, they still didn’t win any division titles or playoff games, and now seem dead-set on slashing payroll at any and all costs once again.
They’re trying to get younger. They’re trying to get cheaper.
Thing is, if you put on your alternate history glasses, there’s a roster they could put together right this very minute that also would have missed out on winning much of anything over the last two seasons, and would also be incredibly cheap. Heck, this roster would’ve even saved the Castellinis $30+ million bucks over the last two years, too - they might’ve even held on to their Arizona resort with that kind of cash!
C - Tyler Stephenson, 1B - Joey Votto, 2B - Jeter Downs, SS - Jose Barrero, 3B - Jonathan India, LF - Jesse Winker, CF - Nick Senzel, RF - Taylor Trammell
SP - Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Vlad Gutierrez, Josiah Gray, Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo
RP - OK it’s not perfect but you’re beginning to get where I’m going
Point is, the Reds stomped the accelerator prior to the 2019 season in an attempt to finally win more than zero baseball games, something they’d nearly perfected for five seasons before that. They made a blockbuster deal with the Dodgers to land a metric ton of players with barely any team control left, but who could’ve potentially been cromulent if you looked at them in the right light. They also did everything in their power to rid themselves of the last year of Homer Bailey’s disaster of a contract, and in doing so jettisoned two incredible trade chips in prospects Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs.
Then, at the trade deadline in 2019, they stomped further on the ‘stop sucking so bad’ accelerator and moved Taylor Trammell in the blockbuster deal that landed them that asshole currently employed by the Dodgers, doing so despite being buried 7 games under .500 the day after the deadline.
This is less an exercise in what could have been, and more to point out that the Reds can’t seem to decide what the hell it is they want to do in life. They seemingly were sick of the rebuild they so consciously orchestrated, and began to make moves to dig themselves out of it for a run during the 2020 and 2021 window. But just as soon as it looked like they’d built something, they began pulling plugs on it before it ever truly got a chance to fly, the Raisel Iglesias dumping last winter a harbinger for the frugality that would derail any chance of 2021 truly materializing.
They’re already knee-deep in dismantling that epoch in Reds history, as you well know. And while the frustration of never truly getting to see if this particular group could’ve thrived if they’d been dealt a full hand will linger, I’ll admit that it’s not as if the Reds are trying to re-stock a barren wasteland behind them. In Jonathan India, they’ve got the literal Rookie of the Year, with fellow rookies Tyler Stephenson, Jose Barrero, Vlad Gutierrez, Tony Santillan, and Reiver Sanmartin also having broken in and showed something during 2021. Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo are right there on the cusp, too, while 1st round pick Matt McLain is a polished college product expected to move quickly towards the bigs, too.
Those are some pieces, man. Some good, good pieces. If the Reds do their actual work with shopping Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo, they’ll bring back some more really, really good pieces, too, pieces that hopefully stand poised to compete in some form or fashion in 2022-2024 as a completely new iteration of the Reds. It’s just frustrating as all hell to think about how it would look with Trammell (who just turned 24), Downs (still just 23), and Gray (also 23) all very big parts of that class of Reds, too.
That trio, I should add, are imperfect. None has yet shown themselves to be the kind of superstar whose departure changes the course of history for a franchise. They’re still just so incredibly young in their careers, though, and trying to build teams from the ground-up takes a lot of trial and error, and it would be an incredible luxury for the Reds to have that trio added to the potential of the rest of their 23 and 24 year olds already in-house.
I guess I just wish the Reds had given a legitimate commitment to trying to win without them before embarking on precisely the kind of rebuild where having them around made all the sense in the world.