Brooks Robinson once said get busy livin’ or die tryin’ and that’s goddamn right. It’s a few weeks into the season and the Reds are at least getting busy. Doing what, who the hell knows. But at least they’ve been somewhat entertaining.
The big news is yesterday the team agreed to a contract extension with blossoming ace Hunter Greene. The deets have him earning $53 million over the next six years with a team option for a seventh year worth more than $20 million. The Big Greene Machine (we need a good nickname for this fella, right? Maybe a bunch of Red Green references could be pretty entertaining without getting too stale) also gets a few escalators in there that make it possible for him to earn a fair bit more cash based on his performance.
I like this deal for all involved, most importantly me. The Reds are betting on one of the most promising young players they’ve had in a few generations. They have zero contract obligations beyond this season save for this one, so Hunter Greene will be a foundational piece of the roster for the next few years, for better or worse. It’s fair to argue that he’s the most valuable player they have in the fold right now (one might make an argument in favor of Elly de la Cruz for that somewhat stilted honor, but whatevs), so I suppose they should get some credit for recognizing that and acting on it.
You could argue that only getting two free agent years locked in is a bit of an underachievement. But every contract negotiation is two-sided and I give credit to Greene for not selling out his entire career. He’ll still get a shot at free agency before he turns 30 and that’s a big deal. If his arm falls off tomorrow he and his family are financially secure with a generational amount of wealth coming to him. And if all goes well and he turns into the next Bob Gibson he has set himself up to make 5x that amount for his career. Pretty savvy, I think.
Most importantly to me, the most important party to this whole important negotiation, it proves that ownership is actually willing to do something, anything. Reds baseball has been a miserable and alienating experience for so long now it has been years since I felt like writing anything about them. And here I am, writing something about Reds baseball again. So that’s kinda cool for me, which again, is really what this is all about. The Castellinis still deserve unrelenting ridicule and assault with rotten produce any and every time they show their shitfuck faces in public, but at the very least we have a flicker of hope that the baseball won’t be so miserable and alienating much longer. They still have a ton of work to do to build a respectable roster, but here’s to good starts.
Who’s next then? They still aren’t very good, but there are some fun players doing some fun baseball stuff who are deserving of consideration to be The Reds Next Foundational Piece of the Franchise. So let’s run down the list.
Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft are the other two blossoming aces in the rotation. You might say it’s unwise to lock up a bunch of guaranteed money in young pitching, given their inherent volatility. It might be smarter to have a mix of bats and arms to build your foundation. But as the old saying goes, you can never have too much pitching. And more than that, I think you could argue that these three are actually the three most valuable players with the franchise right now. It’s kinda like drafting for talent rather than drafting for need - build the foundation with the best and most talented players you got. And I think I could make the argument that Nicky Lo Down and Trash Cat are indeed the best and most talented players in the organization along with Greene.
If the thought of paying $40-50 million per season to three young and still kind of unproven pitchers makes your tummy hurt, then maybe let’s look at some bats. Tyler Stephenson, Jonathan India, and Elly de la Cruz are probably your top targets right now. Stephenson is a good defensive catcher who can hit, which is one of the rarest kind of players in the game. He’s gonna be 27 in a few weeks and he boasts an impressive .293/.368/.438 slash line for his career so far.
Unfortunately, the injuries. The Reds are playing him as a half-time catcher so far this year, playing him at 1B and at DH as often as he is behind the plate to try to keep him healthy. But it’s one thing to hit like him as a catcher and another thing entirely to hit like him as a 1B/DH. I don’t like the odds of him aging well enough to make a contract extension pan out. Which is a shame, because I really like the dude.
I kinda feel the same about Jonny India. He’s getting on base at a gorgeous .405 clip out of the leadoff spot so far this season which is everything I’ve always wanted. He (along with TJ Friedl and Spencer Steer) has carried the offense so far and it has been buckets o’ fun watching him do good ol’ baseball shit every day. But is he gonna be doing it like this in three or four years? Man, I hope so.
As for Elly, I’m as excited as anybody about seeing what he can do when he gets to Cincinnati. He’s got Alex Rodriguez upside - Hall of Famer upside. If ownership wants to get folks like me paying attention again, this is the bet they should make. Wander Franco is a legit comp (he got 11 years and $185 mil from the Rays) and that kind of statement would really say something and say it loud as hell. He’s a risk fer sher (those strikeouts aren’t going away on their own) but that’s baseball.
If the Castellinis want to own and run a baseball team, they need to do baseball things and invest in some baseball players. Hunter Greene is a good start, but it is just that - a start.