Elly De La Cruz is 20. Noelvi Marte, the centerpiece of the deal that just sent Luis Castillo to the Seattle Mariners, is 20. Edwin Arroyo, the other Top 100 prospect the Reds nabbed in trading Castillo, is 18.
Cam Collier, the Reds first 1st round pick from earlier this month, is 17. Sal Stewart, the Reds second 1st round pick from earlier this month, is 18.
Chase Petty, the prize of the deal that sent Sonny Gray to the Minnesota Twins and kick-started this entire re-re-rebuild, was 18 at the time of the deal, and turned 19 in April.
Tyler Stephenson and Jonathan India, meanwhile, turn 26 this calendar year. The Reds turned over the roster in uber-aggressive fashion over the course of the winter, waving goodbye to the likes of Nick Castellanos, Tucker Barnhart, Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker, Gray, Shogo Akiyama, Wade Miley, and more. At the time, it seemed that the Reds were doing what they could to set themselves up for a new era in town, handing the team over to Tyler and Jonathan as the end of the Joey Votto Era wound down.
That said, at almost every turn of the page, Nick Krall and the Cincinnati Reds front office has opted to rebuild behind them, not with them. They got Brandon Williamson in the initial Seattle deal, sure, but Connor Phillips has quickly risen to perhaps be the jewel of that deal, and he just turned 21 in May while getting an initial sniff of AA this summer. The draft, where they could’ve targeted fast-moving college bats, saw them go younger than any other team in baseball with their earliest choices. That left the trade deadline for them to perhaps aim to bring in any sort of reinforcements for the current big league roster, and last night they used their single biggest salvo to bring in yet another young, years-away return.
For many teams in baseball, this strategy would be playing out in parallel paths. The farm would be restocked for a window two to four years away, while the big league roster - now pared down so much from a payroll perspective - would be in a perfect position to rebuild through free agency this winter after the 2022 season is flushed down the toilet. One plan for the future, with a plan for the present in place as well. But with the Reds, the latter seems like a pipe dream given that the entire reason the 2021 and 2022 seasons fell apart was because their front office failed to invest around the core they’d built and instead opted for imperfect rosters in ‘contending’ years.
Do you have any confidence that they’ll now make the splashes needed this winter to build a 2023 team around India, Stephenson, Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, & Co.? Does the fact that Votto’s contract is in its final year in 2023 - and that of Mike Moustakas is, too - make you think that the Reds will go in for a final hurrah next year?
If they were one piece away, I might believe it in part. They aren’t, however. The in-house starting outfield for next year looks to be Nick Senzel, Albert Almora, Jr., and Jake Fraley, which isn’t taking a team anywhere. Who hits left-handed for the 2023 Reds is an even more eye-opening thought experiment. Even if Jose Barrero comes up and takes 3B by the scruff of the neck for the rest of 2022, that leave an entire outfield (and DH) to fill, something I don’t see the Reds splashing cash to address with aplomb, and that’s before we even get to a rotation that’ll be devoid of Castillo (and likely Tyler Mahle) and a bullpen that’s been left to rot for three years running.
Investing in the team to address those issues to an extent that the 2023 season would look to be potentially a contender on-paper would require the kind of spend we’ve never seen before around here, even in that 2019 winter where they sorta-kinda got around to spending money for the first and only time.
So, what we have is a team that rarely spends that is a spend-hearty winter away from still probably not being in contention, all while that same team is amassing a prospect arsenal that has a collective target date of 2024-2025 at the earliest.
Amassing a prospect arsenal that has a collective target date is a well and cool concept, for the record. When you read it, let it sink in for a second, and process it all, it kinda sounds like an actual plan, something I’m not sure we’ve seen around the Reds in quite some time. In a vacuum, it’s exciting as hell, especially when you’ve got the likes of De La Cruz leading that line.
The only place where it all gets murky is when you remember that this Reds flight has already been delayed for 27 years. The gate attendant just announced another delay with the return for Castillo, which is just something anyone with any anxious feelings about watching the Cincinnati Reds actually try to win big league baseball games is going to have to deal with once again.
I don’t know what that means for India or Stephenson, the latter of whom will be a Super Two and the former of whom will get a boost from the new pre-arb bonus pool due to his Rookie of the Year performance in 2021. But, it sure looks like the Reds have looked past them to a new group, a new corps that they’re forming together for a campaign further down the road than I think we all expected when this re-re-rebuild began last winter.
If anything, this has the stamp of Nick Krall all over it. In the post Dick Williams Era, he’s finally had the chance to wield his own gavel on the decisions, and is setting a future date with each teenage acquisition he brings in. That’s some built-in job security, too, since he’s building something that at its earliest is years away from maturation and potential success/failure, and you can’t fire a guy whose work cannot yet be judged. In doing so, though, we are once again being asked to wait around as Cincinnati Reds fans, a team subliminally asking for the second time in recent months where are we gonna go?
Dayton, and Chattanooga, for now. That’s where the current Cincinnati Reds club will be for awhile.