The curtain rose late last week to unveil the 2022 MLB season, fresh off a nearly 100 day pause due to the lockout. That meant a flood of transactions that would’ve normally flowed steadily all winter was set to break loose, and the recent days have done nothing to diminish that expectation.
Of course, the Cincinnati Reds managed to jump into that fray, continuing along the path they began down in the winter of 2020-2021, with salary-shedding their primary (and perhaps only) true goal. That time has seen them effectively give away each of Raisel Iglesias, Tucker Barnhart, and Wade Miley to save coin, and while the individual merits of keeping each of those players around can be debated, the general consensus (with the advantage of hindsight) is that the Reds didn’t get nearly enough in return for just letting those players go.
This time, it saw Sonny Gray dealt to the Minnesota Twins in a deal that saved the Reds a minimum of $11 million bucks and brought in talented former 1st round pick Chase Petty as the return. Petty, though, is still just 18 years of age and has a grand total of 5.0 IP under his belt in the professional ranks, all of which came in the Florida Complex League under the banner of the Twins last year.
Could it turn out to be a good deal? Sure, it could. Petty’s got immense arm talent and there’s absolutely a reason he was a 1st round selection out of high school last summer, and 100+ mph fastballs simply don’t grow on trees. Still, there’s a sense here that the Reds are once again having a hard time figuring out what the hell they’re trying to do with their roster, and once again have made a move that draws into question just what kind of timeline they’re on.
On the one hand, you’ve got a big league roster that won more games than it lost last year, has a resurgent future Hall of Famer on it, the reigning Rookie of the Year, a nasty 1-2 starting pitching punch of Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle, and perhaps the most lethal lefty-bat in the game in Jesse Winker all around and itching to still win games. The payroll, which is now much lighter, still ranked in the bottom half of all MLB teams last year, so it’s not as if they surged into Yankee-territory before having the bank tell them to scale back.
The Reds have pieces around whom to build, but won’t build. And even with the trade of Gray, they got back a piece who’s so far from the big leagues that even a meteoric rise from him in his development would make him hard-pressed to be a player who features on a club that still has Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson, Jose Barrero, Hunter Greene, and Nick Lodolo at its core. The Reds wouldn’t augment that quintet with Gray, and didn’t get a piece who projects to be able to complement them, either.
It’s the kind of deal that would likely be smiled upon with much more fervor if there was any inclination that the $10-11 million Gray was due to make this year would be poured back into this team. There is very little smiling, though, because the odds of that happening after the giveaways of Barnhart and Miley this winter are near nil. Freeing up money to use now while also planning for the future is precisely the kind of move that good teams make, after all, especially if it involves a 32 year old starting pitcher coming off of a season that featured several nagging injuries.
But if the money won’t be reinvested, that means that it falls on the shoulders of the youngest, cheapest players to get the job done at the big league level, and this trade didn’t do anything to help that current crop, either. That’s the rub here, and one that makes it much, much easier to recognize this deal for what it really was: getting money off the books while making it very, very evident that getting money off the books was, and will remain a higher priority than fielding anything close to a team built so that that wins should be expected more often than not.
This has been the world in which the Cincinnati Reds operate, and despite a slight blip where we thought we might actually be able to expect more from this franchise, we’re right back into the thick of operating within that world again. The only question now is whether this ownership and front office are through with making these kinds of moves, and whether they’ll actually get anything in their further salary dumps that will help those players around whom they should be building now.