Luis Castillo is under team control by the Cincinnati Reds for two more years. So, too, are Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle, the names we’ve most often seen shopped around trade rumors since the end of the 2021 Major League Baseball season as the Reds appear to be very obviously scaling back their spending.
Those signals reached ‘spotlight on the marquee’ levels with the deals to dump both Tucker Barnhart and Wade Miley just hours after the end of the World Series, one a trade to save as much coin as possible, one a waiver dump. And while the initial assumption/hope was that they were simply trying to save as much coin as possible while trying to field something relevant in 2022, the reality probably goes much, much deeper than that.
If the Reds so choose - and likely will - Joey Votto is under team control for two more years. So, too, is Jesse Winker. Mike Moustakas, if they don’t find a way to dump him before, is also under team control for exactly two more years. Two more years of team control also hang over the heads of Luis Cessa and Amir Garrett, if you can wrap your head around the idea of this Reds club paying one or both the amount of money an arb-3 reliever commands.
Two things become very evident when looking at this somewhat clear-cut life-cycle line on the Reds ledger.
First and foremost, players get expensive when they begin to get older, and the Reds have (had) something of a core running to almost the exact same point in time in that regard. Only Eugenio Suarez is both on-roster and slated to make a decent bit of cash beyond two years (he’s under guaranteed money for three, with an option buyout after), a pretty good indication that the front office wanted this group to age together and see how it all played out.
Second, though, is that there’s beginning to bubble to the surface the makings of what could be a pretty foundational next core around which the club might choose to build. In Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson, the Reds have a RoY and a fellow vote-getter in that race, a leadoff hitter and everyday catcher - two cogs any team would desire. In Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, they have two former 1st round picks and consensus top arms ready to break into the bigs as soon as this upcoming season. Whether they try to shoehorn Jose Barrero into CF or finally let him just be their SS, I do not know, but he looks the part of a future big league keystone already, too.
The obvious answer for what the Reds have been up to this winter is this: they’re going cheap. There’s absolutely no way around that point, nor should there be. They’ve willingly punted roughly 3/4ths of every season since this ownership group has been in charge, and it’s beyond time for anyone following this club to want anything other than some goddamn answers about why. Still, there is an ability to acknowledge that while the Reds are going to be cheap and torpedo the 2022 season, there is a train of thought that suggests a byproduct of doing so could help put them in a position to be better in 2023 and beyond.
To be quite clear here, good teams try to do both. Good teams can do both, and can do both in both ways - developing good, young talent that will sustain a franchise’s success and paying good players in their prime to be good at baseball right this minute. While the Top 100 prospects from trading Luis Castillo might well help build a bigger, better core around Greene and India and Co. for 2024, Luis Castillo might well help the 2022 Reds be damn good, too. Hell, Luis Castillo - and what he’d cost to still be around - would help build a bigger, better core around Greene and India and Co. for 2024, too.
That last part would just cost money, of course.
What fans of the Reds are once again being asked to do is twofold. On the one hand, they’re being asked to be content with an ownership group not prioritizing wins for the upcoming season, something they’ve pretty much been asked to do for an entire human generation (bordering on a generation and a half, at this point). On the other, they’re being asked to trust that this organization is capable of turning ‘it’ll be better down the road this time’ into reality, something that the first aspect of this twofold ask of the fans has repeatedly shown is far from a sure thing.
There was a part of me that though the lockout and pending freeze on all Major League Baseball activity would give me time to reflect on some things. On Joey Votto’s resurgent 2021, on Nick Castellanos’ emergence as one of the premier offensive forces in the game, on India’s tremendous first trip through the league. There’s been a bit of that, of course, though always with a twist of why didn’t they give these guys a bullpen for a legitimate playoff push. More so, though, it’s seemingly just pushed the pause button on a movie where the sound of inevitability rings so loud and so true that it begins to pain you to have to wait for the end to play out.
Pause has been pressed on another Reds reboot, of whatever depth. The lockout will merely determine just how long we have to sit on our hands before having a chance to get over it and move on, again. So, while some folks get to spend the next few weeks, few months waiting to find out if their team will be the top spender on Carlos Correa or Kris Bryant, Reds fans get to wait, and wait, and wait to find out where they’ll be shipping Castillo and Gray to play alongside Correa and Bryant.
Happy Holidays, by the way.