Is it possible to be a baseball fan without being something of a sucker for nostalgia? Is it possible for, more specifically, those of us who’ve cast our lot with the Cincinnati Reds not to live with at least one foot in the past at all times when watching the sport?
The Reds have not won a postseason series since 1995, or before half the current roster was even born. We’re well aware, steeped in the verse of the electric heights reached by the club in the go-go 70s, in part due to its extreme peak and, more aptly, because it was one of the last times the club really did anything of note on the regular.
Nostalgia appears to be sweeping the front offices around the league at the moment, too. The abbreviated offseason has now seen Zack Greinke return to the Kansas City Royals, site of his absurd 10 WAR season and Cy Young Award from back in 2009. Across Missouri in St. Louis, it appears the Cardinals are willing to not only run the finale tour for both Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright all year long, but also for Albert Pujols, their former All-Everything MVP who’ll join his buddies on that tour.
Over in Cincinnati, it appears this will be yet another year where we get to look to both the past and the future for the reasons to don our caps, as the present just simply does not look good enough. With the roster culled and payroll slashed, the Reds look to be a shell of their 2021 selves, that itself a club that wasn’t good enough, either.
So often in baseball, though, that combination seems to tie itself together. Pitching, in particular, has become very much a passing of the torch kind of enterprise, more so as the evolution of the game has seen an emphasis on high-effort velocity and less on the ability to simply pile up innings. It’s that last point that makes for some specific desires for nostalgia around these parts.
Luis Castillo, who led the Reds in IP last year with 187.2, is going to miss the start of the season with a sore shoulder. Behind him on last year’s IP leaderboard with the Reds were Tyler Mahle, who posted a career-best 180, followed by Wade Miley (163) and Sonny Gray (135.1). By now you’re keenly aware that Miley and Gray have since been jettisoned to further align the team’s payroll to its resources, resources that later saw them add Mike Minor - who threw 158.2 IP for Kansas City last year.
This morning, we got the lovely news that Minor’s own shoulder issues have him further behind Castillo on the recovery chart, and reading the ‘when are they expected back’ tea leaves suggests he could well miss the entire month of April. That’s a blow, to be sure, but not nearly as rough as the one dealt to Justin Dunn, the former Seattle Mariners pitcher who was acquired in the Jesse Winker (and Eugenio Suarez) salary dump - he’s set to miss ‘months,’ putting a big, fat question mark on how much he’ll be able to provide to the starting rotation at all this season.
Fact is, it takes a ton of IP for a Major League Baseball team to simply get through a 162 game season. It took 1,434.1 for last year’s Reds to do so, in particular. And while there are undeniably some talented in-house arms around the Reds organization in the wake of shedding so many proven IP off last year’s club, it’s not exactly like they’ve been piling up IP for years in preparation for this year. Vladimir Gutierrez, for example, is already being tabbed to have to carry a workhorse role.
Hunter Greene can throw a baseball faster than almost anyone who’s ever put on a glove, and has thrown a grand total of 106.1 professional innings since the end of the 2018 season. Nick Lodolo was deservedly drafted 7th overall in 2019, and he’s logged a grand total of 69 IP as a professional since. So, so much of how the future of this organization will be shaped over the next 6-7 years rides on the arms of those two, and with the potential of this particular 2022 roster murky (at best), it seems borderline criminal to ask either of them to step right into 180 IP in a year where the team hasn’t invested well enough elsewhere to give them appropriate backing.
Cincinnati needs someone to chomp some innings, and at last glance, the free agent market wasn’t exactly bursting at the seams with stellar options. We’re at the ‘one of the Andersons is out there and Mike Fiers got a better offer to go pitch in Mexico’ portion of the free agency period.
Johnny Cueto doesn’t have the heater he once had, though even at his nearly Cy Young peak that was never his M.O. He’s also had a damn hard time racking up big IP totals in recent years, an example both of how hard it is to do just that and also how hard it is for teams to find pitchers they can count on to do so. He’s 36 years old, ZiPS projects him as roughly a ~1 WAR pitcher for 2022, and...
...he’s still perfect. He’s still exactly what the Cincinnati Reds need right now.
Get nostalgic, Reds. All the cool kids are doing it.