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The purgatory-bound Cincinnati Reds

Is there even a needle to thread with moves right now?

Minnesota Twins v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

After a wasted weekend at GABP and a sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers, the Cincinnati Reds have backed themselves into the 2021 season’s keep.

At 48-45, a trio of games over the .500 mark, it’s easy to look at things through the goggles created by the team’s putrid success rate over the last three decades and consider the current state of affairs a gold mine. I won’t blame you one bit for that, either, especially given the nature of the team’s roster at the moment. Nick Castellanos and his MVP-caliber season make his opt-out at season’s end a likelihood and Joey Votto isn’t getting any younger, after all. If this club could cobble together an above .500 record so far, warts and all, why not root like hell for them to pull off the incredible?

Success in baseball is relative, however. At a full 7.0 games back of Milwaukee in the NL Central, one of their primary paths to the postseason took a huge slug over the weekend. The potent NL West trio of the Giants, Dodgers, and Padres all seem poised to claw their way to the postseason, too, leaving the Reds 5.5 games out of the second NL Wild Card spot at the moment, too. And while that’s a daunting enough scenario in its own right, the timing of this all is perhaps what will end up the largest nail in this coffin.

It’s trade season, for many. With just a dozen days to go until the trade deadline, it’s the time when the good teams make moves in attempts at becoming great teams, something the Brewers have wasted little time in waiting for (in case you didn’t get a shin-kick from Willy Adames over the weekend). AJ Preller and the San Diego Padres have been perhaps the premier wheeler-dealers in the last half-decade in baseball already, with Yu Darvish and Blake Snell and Fernando Tatis, Jr. and god knows how many other stars all brought in via trades, and you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll be right back at it again before August.

So even if these frugal Reds, a club who has sat idle despite glaring holes in obvious places for months being the reasons for their demise, get off their tails and try to make some additions, they’ll be doing so against clubs who are adding to their arsenals, too.

Would adding Brad Hand right now be enough to dig the Reds out of this? Do Andrelton Simmons and Taylor Rogers even make any sort of sense at this juncture?

I don’t know, y’all. I just don’t freaking know anything anymore, if ever.

I’m reminded of the dark humor of the Band-Aid boxes at this point. Imprinted upon the side of each box is the warning For medical emergencies, seek professional help, as if one’ first inclination after a chainsaw mishap would be to slap a Band-Aid or nine on the problem. Right now, I’m not sure just how much a Band-Aid is going to do for this particular club after frittering away their opportunity this weekend, not with the shortstop hole perpetually a hole and the bullpen issues getting less solved - not more solved - by the injury.

There should be no moral victory rooting-for by Reds fans right now, or ever. Not after the scorched-earth rebuild of the ‘teens, not after the pitching staff hilarity of the entire aughts. I can enjoy Jesse Winker chasing a 150 OPS+ and Castellanos getting a smattering of MVP votes, Joey Votto chasing hit 2,000 and Luis Castillo finishing strong on an 84 win ballclub, and I will if that’s what unfolds. I just don’t know if given the way this current club is constructed that there is inherent belief that the 2022 season will project to be any better, something that’s a bit of a tough pill to swallow given the recent life cycle of this franchise.

Post rebuild, or reboot, or rewhatever, the spending spree prior to 2020 was supposed to be the topping-off point on the reemergence of a bigger, badder Cincinnati brand of baseball. Top draft picks had developed, the trades had brought in new pieces, and a newfound wealth in the free-agent market was lending credence to the idea that these Cincinnati Reds were, mercifully, back. A season and a half later, though, and I’m both not so sure they’re going to get there in 2021 and worried that 2022 is already on the backside of the window they’d hoped to open so recently ago.

Castellanos’ performance and contractual opt-out clause means he’s likely to hit the open market again this winter, and more power to him. Wade Miley has a pricey (for this club) team option for 2022, but will be 35 years old next season. The deals doled out to both Shogo Akiyama and Mike Moustakas have so far been more belly-up than fruitful, and both turn 33 years old this calendar year. On top of that, the emergence of Tyler Stephenson makes the team option on Tucker Barnhart for next season a tactical decision as much as a financial one.

Point being, I’m not sure that holding what’s left of the band together for 2021 is going to be enough for 2021. Had they not forfeited Raisel Iglesias and Archie Bradley prior to the season, this band may well have had enough legs to make it interesting. But if the band couldn’t get it done this season, I’m not so sure how depending solely on what might still be around in 2022 looks rosy enough to just ride this year out, either.

Rest assured, this franchise has a pipeline, and it’s that reassurance that has the idea of looking to 2022 out of at least the corner of one’s eye pertinent. Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene and Jose Barrero are right there. Vlad Gutierrez has staked his claim as a big league arm, while Stephenson and Jonathan India have shown glimpses not just of big leaguerdom, but of potential stardom already. This group has big, big pieces to it regardless of how 2021 shakes out, and that’s a huge thing to keep in mind.

After this weekend though, those thoughts begin to creep. They must creep. Anything short of shredding what’s left of the New York Mets this week will make them creep even further. Maybe that’s when finding out what two months of Wade Miley might mean to another team at this deadline becomes a reality - or Castellanos, even.

It sucks that in a year where going something akin to all-in seemed to make ample sense on paper, the Reds chose to merely dip their toes into contention until it floundered. And at this point, I’m not sure how much if it would suck worse to pull the plug or simply watch the candle burn its last wax. Barring a miracle - a timely miracle that starts today - they’ve backed themselves into an either-or corner, though.

Beat the pants off the Mets today either way, Reds. And go, whichever route you may take.