It’s a Wild Card world across the Major League Baseball landscape this season. The Philadelphia Phillies currently hold a commanding 2-0 lead in the National League Championship Series over the Arizona Diamondbacks, both clubs having made the playoffs via the Wild Card route. Over in the American League Championship Series, the Texas Rangers - who made the playoffs with a Wild Card bid as well - are up 2-1 on the Houston Astros, the lone club remaining who actually won their division.
Surely you’ll recall that the Cincinnati Reds finished just 2 games behind the Diamondbacks for the final Wild Card spot in the NL in 2023, falling all the way from 1st place in the NL Central on August 2nd to eliminated by the season’s penultimate game. You’ll also recall that the Reds, despite a hoard of prospect depth and no victorious postseason series under their belt since 1995, made the lone move of acquiring middle reliever Sam Moll from Oakland prior to the trade deadline. That came as the Phillies added starter Michael Lorenzen (who threw a no-hitter for them), Arizona added stud closer Paul Sewald and outfielder Tommy Pham, and the Rangers added future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery to their starting rotation.
Gordon Wittenmeyer of The Enquirer asked Reds GM Nick Krall yesterday about his lack of moves at the deadline given the hindsight of what other clubs who made the playoffs as Wild Cards had accomplished. Krall had this to say:
“I don’t have any regrets not doing anything. I still wouldn’t have given up players on our roster for shorter-term assets.”
The Cincinnati Reds last made the playoffs in a full season in 2013, back when a one-game Wild Card showdown as considered the playoffs. They blew the team up in 2014-2015, endured a dismal handful of years within a
rebuild reboot, ham-handedly made a half-run of things during the pandemic-shortened season only to blow that apart immediately in its wake, and lost 100 games last year for the first time in 40 years. Yet still, even with the benefit of hindsight, the team’s GM has no regrets about not being more aggressive while manning a first-place club on August 1st of a season in which they did not even make the postseason.
To his credit, Krall’s focus has rarely - if ever - been backwards-facing. He’s had eyes on the future since taking over for Dick Williams, and the nebulous nature of the future and what could be still dictates his every move. It dicates his every quote, too, as The Enquirer’s Charlie Goldsmith further relayed in a more fleshed-out discussion earlier today.
“We have so many young players,” Krall said. “It’s about continuing to have them improve. That’s the biggest thing. You can go out and get this or this. We have so many young players that having those players improve year over year is going to determine where we are success wise.”
The Reds have more still-unproven young infielders than they have starting spots. The Reds have more still-unproven arms than they have spots in their starting rotation. Is there a legitimate chance that one, two, four, five of them turn into 5+ WAR players who can lead the team to regular and postseason glory? Hell yes there is! Do the odds suggest one, two, four, five of them will break out further in 2024 than they broke out in 2023 at the same time to get that glory-roll started? No, it does not!
Krall is tip-toeing a very fine line here, admittedly. His depth is only as good as it is perceived, and publicly letting on that his priority is to ride his young core again in 2024 without a ton of overlap from free agency or cashing-in for a big splash trade helps hold the cost to acquire any of his prized young pieces as high as it can be. He’s not letting on that he’s actively willing to shop some of that depth for a big-ticket piece, an ace of the pitching staff or 40 homer slugger for the corner outfield. He may well be doing just that, though it’s hard not to put the two significant quotes together and parse out a bigger, more direct strategy.
He wasn’t willing to move his chips in while at the helm of a first place team in August. What makes you think he’ll be willing to do so before the next season even begins if the long-game is truly the only game that matters to him right now?
These quotes, of course, are not the actual meat and potatoes of offseason acquisitions and transactions. With payroll in a post-Votto world set to rank among the five lowest of any franchise in the game and a youthful roster that already spearheaded a ‘winning’ season in 2023, however, you’d think there would be some more impetus to catalyze the ‘winning’ that’s supposed to come with a thorough rebuild. It sure would seem to further fuel season-ticket sales that already gained significant steam after such an exciting season, even if said season saw the pitching staff post the sixth-worst ERA of any team and allow 38 more runs than the offense scored.
Maybe this will end up a complete afterthought once the club trades for Luis Robert and signs Sonny Gray later this winter. Maybe, though, they’ll be the quotes we come back to when the team reports to Goodyear in February with a trio of young pitchers fresh off the 60-day injured list still atop the rotation’s depth chart.