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The inevitable byproduct of a rebuild and youth movement

Might another old friend become a new foe?

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St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Since the start of the 2022 Major League Baseball season, Wade Miley is the owner of a tidy 3.15 ERA, the 24th best mark of the 153 MLB pitchers who have logged at least 150 innings in that time. That ranks just ahead of former Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes (3.16) and fellow former beloved Cincinnati Reds ace Luis Castillo (3.19), for the record.

Miley, now on the cusp of his 37th birthday, has done his former mates in Cincinnati few favors in that time - he struck out 8 Reds in 6.0 scoreless IP in a July 9th matchup earlier this season.

The curious way in which the Cincinnati Reds gave Miley away after the 2021 season will forever stick in my memory, that paired with the deal that axed Tucker Barnhart the two clear signs of a team desperate to prioritize every last dollar and cent in a game where few of their peers do. That’s a bit beside the point I promise I’m getting to, as today the focus is on how teams who bail on their veteran rosters in search of youth movements to rebuild their rosters will, inevitably, run back into said veterans in their future quests.

The Cincinnati Reds barely missed out on the super-expanded playoffs in 2023, a year in which many of the usual titans of the sport were in the midst of down seasons. Neither of the New York clubs made the playoffs, nor did postseason stalwarts like the Boston Red Sox or San Francisco Giants. Conspicuously absent from the 2023 playoffs were the St. Louis Cardinals, too, a club that’s become a staple of success and October baseball at the expense of the National League Central division more often than not.

No, the Reds did not capitalize on that window, instead focusing on the long game that should, in theory, keep them more competitive in 2024 and beyond. An early, crucial decision in their plan to rebuild revolved around pitcher Sonny Gray, whom they dealt to the Minnesota Twins for young righty Chase Petty prior to the start of the 2022 season, and Gray has helped carry the Twins into the ALDS on the back of a 2.90 ERA in that time (11th on the same list I mentioned regarding Miley earlier).

You may remember the stories from Gray’s initial arrival in Cincinnati from New York. His late father was a Reds fan, and the first park in which Gray witnessed a big league game was GABP. The Tennessee native inked a contract extension to stay with the Reds, initially, reuniting him with Derek Johnson - his college pitching coach from his days at Vandy. Hell, the Reds even brought in Curt Casali - his college catcher - to further set that stage, with former college teammate Caleb Cotham part of the pitching braintrust before the Philadelphia Phillies scooped him up with an offer he could not refuse to become their pitching coach.

Gray and the Reds seemed to be such a natural match then, and a guy like Gray on this 2023 Reds roster - one that did not include Petty, who while promising as heck still barely sniffed AA - could very well have pushed the Reds over the hump and into the actual postseason this year.

That did not happen, and the deal Gray agreed to with Cincinnati upon arrival from the Yankees is set to expire at season’s end, launching him into free agency for the first time in his rather impressive career. And, as fate would have it, the St. Louis Cardinals already have eyes on him to help revamp their disappointing run of form, as Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch relayed over the weekend.

It is far from a done deal, of course. It’s going to require a good pile of money, too, seeing as Gray is destined to enter free agency with a Top 5 (if not Top 2) finish in AL Cy Young Award voting this year. Still, it’s a double-sided haymaker to those who think the Reds simply being young and exciting is going to vault them to the top of the division and sport as a whole - the teams that were bad this year are going to scratch and claw to get better, and they’re going to do so with a lot of the friendly faces we once had around here.

Maybe the Twins pony up this winter and keep their traded-for ace. Maybe he heads to the Giants to revamp their fortunes in a return to the Bay Area. Maybe his dive into free agency won’t end up square in the face of the Reds for the next few years after all.

Maybe, though, a former key cog in the fortunes of the Reds will end up one of the biggest roadblocks to their future success within the division.