Do you want to win? Or do you just want to play games and hand out bobble heads? The Reds have chosen the latter lately. But I have a few things they can do between now and next season to change that... and keep handing out bobble heads.
It will require "out of the box" thinking, heavy lifting and spending money... and luck. You may not agree with a lot of this. The Reds may not agree with a lot of it. But that's why God invented Twitter. Or maybe it was Al Gore. But here goes.
1: Stop falling in love with players
Yes players are humans, just like you and me. Yes, it's easy to become attached to them, because of flare, or a particular skill, or that a player may be the "fan friendliest" of all-time. But when management does that, with any employee in any line of work, it muddies the water of progress. Ballplayers are investments for club owners. Much like commodities, they have to give a return on the owner's investment (contract). Once the return begins to slide, or once the investment begins over performing, it's the smart company (or CEO) who knows when to "get out." Judgment can not be clouded by emotion. This is Wharton School of Business 101. The Reds have been failing at this recently.
Though never confirmed by Reds management, there was evidence that one of the reasons why they were slow to trade Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake in the summer of 2015 was because the MLB All-Star Game was being played in Cincinnati. Anecdotally, as it goes, the Reds didn't want the baseball world coming to Cincinnati while the team was selling off players they couldn't afford to keep. I hope that wasn't true. Because, the disconnect from reality would be disturbing.
In the end, the Reds wound up getting "pennies on the dollar" for two valuable commodities that should have been "sold high" rather than in distress. Both Leake and Cueto were free agents after that season. Instead of trading either or both in the winter of 2014, the Reds held on to both. Everyone else knew the team wasn't going to be good in 2015. It wasn't. So rather than dealing both in the off-season, when the return would have surely been higher, the Reds opted to ride it out, as long as they could. For Leake, they got Adam Duvall and Keury Mella. Duvall was good, for awhile. He's been in an abyss, offensively, since last August. Mella may eventually wind up in Cincinnati full-time. For now, three summers after that deal, he's stuck in AA baseball. For Cueto, the return was worse. The Reds got three pitchers, the best being Brandon Finnegan, whom the Reds have all but given up on. Cody Reed is back in AAA baseball, after numerous chances to make the big club. John Lamb is mired in the Angels' minor league system.
So above all else, if the Reds really want to get better sooner than later, they must be more business-like in dealing with players and less paternal
2: Trade Scooter Gennett this July
Look, I love Gennett, his game, his enthusiasm and the fact that he can flat hit. But, this is the classic example of buying low and selling high. His value will never be higher. Eligible for free agency this winter, he'll be an $8 million ballplayer in 2019. After 2019, Gennett will be eligible for free agency. And, if he continues to hit as well as he has, he'll command a price tag that Reds won't be able to afford or need. The market for middle infielders isn't robust at the trade deadline. But Gennett is a special case, because of his bat and his ability to play both second base and the outfield.
So why trade him? Follow the money. Will he be worth a four-year, $45 million deal after the 2019 season? Because that would probably be the starting point in any salary negotiation. The answer is, no. Why? Again, follow the money.
What have the Reds been doing over the last couple of years? They've been collecting middle infielders. Nick Senzel, who's been playing third, short and second in the Reds' minor league organization will be ready for the Majors in 2019. The Reds just drafted Jonathan India, the terrific third baseman for the University of Florida. They've signed Eugenio Suarez to a seven-year, $77 million deal. Jose Peraza continues to play and hit better than average for a short stop. And the player acquired in the Jay Bruce deal (another deadline fiasco), Dilson Herrera, is finally healthy and hitting at AAA. Other than the contract that Suarez signed, all are infinitely cheaper than what Gennett will be. And the money some fans would like the Reds to spend on Gennett can be used elsewhere. Like pitching.
3: Trade Billy Hamilton
Let's be upfront: Hamilton is the most exciting player the Reds have, the few times he manages to get on base. He's one of the best defensive outfields in baseball right now. But he can't hit Major League pitching. Period. On any contending team, Billy Hamilton is a late inning defensive replacement or a pinch runner. Again, this isn't personal. This all about return on investment. At this moment, Hamilton is hitting .189. He gets on base just 28 percent of the time he comes to the plate.
Baseball truism right here: you can't steal first base.
The Reds have tried everything to make Hamilton a better hitter. For two spring trainings that I've been to, Billy Hatcher had Hamilton in a batting cage, at 7:30 in the morning, trying to teach him how to bunt. There have been, according to other accounts, countless hours he's spent with coaches, watching tape of him hitting. It hasn't worked. Run prevention is a huge part of baseball. And Hamilton excels better at that than any other outfielder in the league. His speed is a giant asset there. But because of his offensive deficiency, the Reds can't bat him at lead-off. And because of that, his value plummets.
The Reds tried to trade him to the Giants this past winter. Maybe the returns weren't all that great. Maybe the business side of the team realized that Hamilton might help sell tickets, with patrons then buying a lot of beer and hot dogs. Don't get me wrong: the Reds get the business side of baseball better than most MLB teams. But few teams contend and win with one of their outfielders hitting .189. Couple that with Duval's anemic hitting and the pitcher's spot and that's three automatic outs each time through the Reds line up.
Again, don't fall in love with players.
4: Sign at least two free agent starting pitchers
OK, this is a classic example of OPM, other people's money. But the Reds should know by now the current group of starting pitchers they're running out there simply aren't good enough. And worse, there is no top of the rotation guy.
This is all about positioning this team to contend in 2019. So what current Reds pitcher would you feel confident in sending out to face the other team's "ace"?
Each and every current Reds starter has a flaw. But more important, none has shown the ability to consistently pitch past the fifth inning. Residual effect of that: a burned out bullpen waiting to happen.
Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle has shown the most upside, of the current Reds starters. Sal Romano is interesting. And Anthony DeSclafani, if he can stay healthy and actually pitch and entire season (a huge if), could be a real asset. But on a contending team, none of those would be consider a top of the rotation guy.
So the Reds need to go shopping. They're in luck. I've prepared a list for them.
Let's start with the Astros' Dallas Keuchel. He's only 30. And yes, he's 3-8 this season. But he's also got a 3-1 strikeout to walk ratio and his ERA is a workable 4.45. He's making $13.2 million this season. But he's just a year removed from 14 wins and won 20 in 2015. Expensive? Yeah, of course. What pitcher of note wouldn't be? But if you want to play the game, you have to pay the price. Keuchel will get a contract, IMHO, in the $80-100 million range.
Keeping it young for the moment, there's the Red Sox' Drew Pomeranz. He's on the DL right now with tendinitis in his throwing bicep. It isn't serious. And despite a 1-3 record in 2018, Pomeranzwent 17-6 in 2017. And he"s making just $8.5 million this season. He's also left handed.
Maybe a bargain is out there. Consider the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu. He's just 31 and currently 3-0 with LA. He's also got a 4-1 strikeout to walk ratio. Hyun is on the sidelines now with a torn groin muscle. By next spring, he should be fine. And he's only making $7.8 million this season. He too is a left-hander.
Toronto's J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada are interesting, but older. But put a couple of proven Major League pitchers are the top of the Reds rotation, along with Mahle, Castillo and DeSclafani and you have a contending rotation. The bus has come, and gone, on Robert Stephenson and Homer Bailey. If you want to win, spend money or continue to hope.
5: Sign a free agent outfielder
Again, this is OPM but the Reds will need an upgrade. Could Jose Peraza move to centerfield? Well, he's played there. He's also played corner outfield too. And that would open up a spot in the infield for Nick Senzel. Signing Gennett to an arbitration contract for one season would address the outfield situation too. But if Hamilton is traded, there is still the under achieving Adam Duvall to deal with.
The most attractive free agent to be outfielder is Bryce Harper. But let's get real: he's not coming to Cincinnati except for when his new team is scheduled to play the Reds.
Michael Brantley is 31 and has an expiring contract with the Indians. Aside from 2016, when he was hurt, Brantley has been a .300 hitter in three of his last four seasons. Would the Indians want to keep him? Sure. Does Brantley want that one, last big contract left in his career? You bet. Why not Cincinnati? Brantley isn't a big power guy. But his 2018 RBI numbers are on pace to match his 84 from 2015. And the guy doesn't strike out. Brantley is making $11 million this season. I would sign him and put him in left field. With a lifetime OBP of .350, he'd be a huge upgrade.
His team is in first place. And A.J. Pollock is in the middle of another very good season. The former Notre Dame star and former first round pick is operating on a one year, $7.75 million deal. He will certainly get a multi-year deal that has eluded him so far. But a four-year, $50-55 deal going forward isn't out of the question, or affordable. Does he have Hamilton's range and speed? No, but who does? But his lifetime .287 average and .343 OBP delivers a huge upgrade over what Hamilton is giving the Reds. And, Pollack has decent speed, stealing 39 bags in 2015 and 20 a year ago.
The batting challenged Duvall and Hamilton are major impediments for a contending team here in Cincinnati. One, or the other, must be replaced. And with no real options in their minor league system, the Reds will have to spend money this off season for outfield help, if they really want to contend.
6: Keep Jim Riggleman as manager in 2019
Let's be truthful: the talent that Riggleman has is the same talent that Bryan Price had to work with. And it isn't very good. But Riggleman has managed winning ball clubs and is "old school." He has the team taking infield practice before games, a one-time staple of Major League Baseball that long ago went by the wayside. He seems fair, but no nonsense. He has paid the price for walking out on his Washington Nationals team, mid season, in a pay dispute. He handles his pitching as well as anyone could, given the number of challenges the Reds roster presents.
Look, Barry Larkin is not riding in over the western hills of Cincinnati to save this team. First of all, why would he want to? Larkin made tens of millions of dollars as a player. He doesn't need the money. If he really wants to add "manager" to his resume, why waste valuable equity managing a team like the Reds who have a lot of digging out to do? Imagine, as I'm sure he has, the grumbling from the masses if the Reds didn't turn things around in the first two years of his managerial tenure.
And then, as my friend Hal McCoy the baseball Hall of Famer pointed out to me this week, Larkin may have broken a cardinal rule of baseball this spring by openly talking about the possibility of managing the Reds, while Bryan Price still had the job.
Until Larkin, and if, keep Riggleman. Nobody goes to a ballpark to watch someone manage a game.
7: Seek outside help
It's OK to ask for help. It makes you stronger. And the Reds should seek outside help. Most successful CEOs will tell you (as I have read. Yes, I have a deep interest in management of business) that when you have inherent problems in your business, a fresh set of eyes on the situation will help enormously.
The Reds promoted a loyal soldier to General Manager this spring. I'm sure Nick Krall is a fine guy and a solid "baseball guy." They promoted a loyal soldier before him, Dick Williams, now the Director of Baseball Operations. But each has had a hand in the unraveling of the team's fortunes. Are they solely to blame? Absolutely not. But there is something askew in the way this team drafts, cultivates and delivers talent to the Major League level. Sometimes, when you're so close to a problem, you can't see a way out. It's time to ask for help.
My suggestion would be to find a very successful and currently unemployed baseball executive (and there are plenty of them out there) who could come into Great American Ball Park and assess what the Reds are doing, top to bottom. It would be a sort of independent inventory. I would have he (or she) report only to owner Bob Castellini. At then end of it, it's his business and like any CEO he can choose to accept or decline the recommendations.
Doing something like this doesn't mean your current employees are incompetent or that the Reds as an organization are failing. They're not, totally. The business side of their operation is top notch. The "ballpark experience" is one of the best in baseball. I know. I'm a huge baseball fan who has been to 23 of the current Major League parks. And while selling beer, hot dogs and giving away bobble heads is all part of running a baseball operation, the core business is baseball. It's OK to ask for help.
8: And one final thing
To be sure, there are other things the Reds can do to become contenders again in 2019. Amir Garrett should be a starting pitcher (if he doesn't have a third pitch, find someone to teach it to him. This guy has starter written all over him). They need to move on from Homer Bailey, Robert Stephenson, Phillip Ervin and the other too numerous draft picks who simply haven't worked out.
Baseball, of the four major sports, remains the hardest sport to handicap talent. Most baseball talent is younger than talent that enters the NFL or NBA drafts. The skill sets are more intricate. And luck plays a massive hand in baseball more than any other sport. It's putting a round bat on a round ball. It's a pitcher torquing his arm in a way God never intended a human to do. Health reigns supreme in all sports but none quite like baseball.
For a generation, the Bengals became an afterthought in our town, a punch line nationally and the architects of ambivalence. The Reds are dangerously treading on that path. It's not too late to reverse. I certainly don't have all the answers. But I also don't think the ones I've laid out are all that bad.
So what do you think? @kenbroo on Twitter would be a start.
This song is a drummer's dream. And the drummer on this song, Alan White, turns 69 today.
Before White went onto become the drummer for the prog rock group YES, he by chance met up with John Lennon. White, just 19, was playing in a club in London with his group and Lennon happened to be in the audience. The next day, Lennon got ahold of White's phone number and called him and offered him a job. Lennon was leaving for Toronto in four days to play a gig and his drummer had just quite on him. I talked to White about this just a few months ago. When I asked him what it was like to have John Lennon call him and offer him a job, White told me, "I hung up on him. I thought it was one of my friends pulling a prank." Lennon redialed a few minutes later and convinced White is was no joke.
So White met Lennon and the rest of his group at a private air terminal at Heathrow Airport in London. "I walked into the terminal and there was John sitting with Yoko. And out of the men's room walks Eric Clapton, who was also on the trip. I was in heaven." Lennon didn't play many live gigs after leaving the Beatles. But he did record. And White was invited to play drums on "Instant Karma" as well as "Imagine." Later, he played drums on George Harrison"s "All Things Must Pass" classic album. He'll be at Riverbend with YES on July 2. Alan White, a real rock and roll legend, by chance... as are all things in life.