The lockout imposed by Major League Baseball owners during the winter of 2021-2022 ended just eleven months ago. The transaction freeze, the showing of asses, the bargaining, the finger-pointing did not come to a close until March 10th, 2022, at which point there was a scramble to get the 2022 season up and running with any semblance of normalcy.
Eleven months ago, the Cincinnati Reds still sported an on-paper starting rotation that featured Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, and Sonny Gray, among others. Eleven months ago, both Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez were lineup cogs, 55 dingers socked between them in Reds uniforms the year prior. There’s a very real chance that the combined total of 22 dingers socked between Jake Fraley and Jonathan India last year will be the highest combined total of any two active Reds on Opening Day 2023.
The decimation of what was on the Reds ledger seems both ancient and present. That they keep decimating has become such a recurring theme that it’s often difficult to delineate which teardown was which, a theme that the current owners have let fester into an overriding sentiment. The promotions from within that were needed to replace what was jettisoned paired with the hauls received from the deals done have left a farm system that’s talented, yet so new we’re still very much attempting to define it. It has left us, once again, on the cusp of a season in which there are little to no big league expectations, merely a first chance to see if the team has struck gold for the future.
Anyway, with the dawn of a new preseason just days away, here’s a very quick look back at what the Cincinnati Reds were up to in the run-up to the 2022 season, how they zigged when the rest of the baseball world shagged in the frantic run-up to Opening Day once the lockout ended.
March 13th, 2022
Dealt Francis Peguero and Sonny Gray to the Minnesota Twins for Chase Petty
March 14th, 2022 (one day later, dang)
Dealt Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker to the Seattle Mariners for Jake Fraley, Brandon Williamson, Justin Dunn, and a PTBNL that would eventually be Connor Phillips
March 15th, 2022
Signed JT Riddle to a minor league deal, immediately easing the pain of the previous two days of damage
March 16th, 2022
Signed Buck Farmer to a free agent deal
Dealt Amir Garrett to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Mike Minor and cash, though unfortunately it was merely ‘cash’ and not ‘Johnny Cash’ and merely ‘Mike Minor’ and not ‘literally anyone else’
March 17th, 2022
Signed Colin Moran to a minor lea...wait a minute, they signed him to a guaranteed big-league deal for a million bucks? Man, it’s hard not to jettison some of these memories as quickly as humanly possible
March 20th, 2022
Signed Albert Almora, Jr. to a minor league deal
Signed Donovan Solano to a 1-year, $4 million deal
March 21st, 2022
Signed Kyle Zimmer to a minor league deal
Signed future Silver Slugger winner Brandon Drury to a minor league deal, the kind of thing that will hopefully make you forget most of the last couple of hundred words I’ve written here so far
March 23rd, 2022
Signed Hunter Strickland to a 1-year, $1.825 million contract, the kind of thing that unfortunately will make you forget most of the last three-dozen or so words I just wrote
March 26th, 2022
Signed Tommy Pham to a 1-year, $6 million deal with a $1.5 million buyout of a year-two option, and make the deal official on the roster by moving Tejay Antone to the 60-day IL, the exact kind of sisyphean reminder of this franchise’s doldrums year in, year out
April 3rd, 2022
Released Andrew Knapp, who had signed on the same day in December as notables Treys Amburgey and Wingenter, among others, since that was allowed due to their non-presence on 40-man rosters at the end of the 2021 season pre-lockout
April 5th, 2022
Released Shogo Akiyama, thereby bringing to a close one of the more unfortunate, least memorable yet most memorable (for the wrong reasons) deals in team history, his .594 career OPS and 57 OPS+ evoking memories of the Willy Taveras Era
I probably should have put a trigger warning at the start of this, and for that oversight I apologize.
I bring all of this up not to rehash the past in too much depth, however. With the Chiefs haveing seized the latest Super Bowl last night, it’s inevitable that the eyes of the sporting world turn towards pitchers and catchers reporting to Cactus and Grapefruit League sites, actions that will commence across the country in less that 24 hours. And, if you’re one of the precious few still gazing at the Cincinnati Reds, it’s at least worth the perspective of seeing one final time where things were the last time all of this happened.
All of that, all of those mostly miserable events from last year’s abbreviated spring, served as the precursor for a 100 loss team. Served as a precursor for trading away Castillo, and Mahle, and Pham, and Drury. What they also did, in theory, was serve as the final gasps from a franchise barreling towards absolute, complete, utterly miserable rock bottom, a place from where there is no further fall.
Flotsam. Jetsam. The duct tape and trash bag where the car window once stood.
The 2023 Cincinnati Reds are not supposed to be very good, much the way the 2022 Cincinnati Reds approached Opening Day with all signs pointing to a similar fate. Why they are not supposed to be any good, though, involves a much, much different answer. Whereas the club cobbled together eleven months ago was a rag-tag bunch that needed to burn the backs of their baseball cards to be historic, the club we’re about to watch this year has, for the most part, no baseball cards at all. They are not defined. They are not paid much at all because they are not defined, making them both expendable and movable - something this ownership and front office haven’t had in years. No tied hands, no players who must still get reps due to status, none of that.
They might be obviously bad again this year, but that won’t be because the players wearing the uniforms have been getting objectively worse for years before. They might be bad again this year, but that will be because they’re just starting to figure out what they can do as big league baseball players. They’ll either show promise and get better, or get shown the door easily for newer, shinier players on the cusp.
It may not be much, but it’s certainly something to know that the bottom of the barrel has been reached. We didn’t even have that this time eleven months ago.