CINCINNATI — All 28 teams watching the World Series are doing it -- they're looking at the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians and analyzing how they got there and thinking, "How can we be more like them?"
Truly, the Reds aren't too far off the mark. Four years ago, both the Cubs and Indians were where the Reds are today. The Indians lost 94 games in 2012; the Cubs lost 101. Both were doing what the Reds have been doing, stockpiling talent in a rebuild.
The Cubs have their share of young talent. Kris Bryant, 24, is the favorite to win MVP after winning Rookie of the Year last year. Javier Baez, 23, has been the sensation of the playoffs. Addison Russell, 22, is a star as well.
The Cubs also helped themselves through trades. Team leader Anthony Rizzo came through trade. The Russell and Jake Arrieta deals were lopsided.
But the Cubs wouldn’t be where they are without spending heavily in the free agent market. They pushed their payroll to $171.6 million this year by adding free agents Jason Hayward (eight years, $184 million), Ben Zobrist (four years, $56 million), John Lackey (two years, $32 million) and Dexter Fowler (one year, $13 million). That was on top of the six-year, $155 million deal they gave to Jon Lester last year.
It’s unlikely that the Reds will ever be able to spend like that. I’m guessing the new TV deal took the Reds from $30 million to $50 to $60 million. I think they’ll add free agents when they’re convinced they can compete, but they won’t shop on the Lester-Heyward shelf.
So, for the Reds, the Indians are the blueprint. The Indians built their lineup through the draft: Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall are first-round picks. Jason Kipnis is a second-round pick.
The rotation was built through trades: Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco all came to the Cleveland in trades.
The Indians have also made some smart and thrifty moves on the free-agent market. They signed Mike Napoli to a one-year, $7 million deal. He’s produced 34 home runs and 101 RBI. Raja Davis signed a one-year, $5.25 million deal.
That’s what you have to do when your payroll is $96 million like the Indians’ is.
Both the Cubs and the Indians made deadline deals with the New York Yankees to get their star relievers -- the Cubs got Aroldis Chapman and the Indians got Andrew Miller.
They are using them in very different ways, of course. Chapman is a closer; Miller is a hybrid. He’s gone more than one inning in all six of his postseason appearances. He’s gone two or more in four of them.
I think that is perhaps the biggest lesson the Reds can learn: They should keep Raisel Iglesias and/or Michael Lorenzen in that hybrid role.
Another thing both Cleveland and Chicago did is when they got on the brink of competing, they brought in a big-name manager. For the Reds, Bryan Price is back for 2017.
The Reds are going to have to improve considerably from this year to next for him to have a shot at managing in 2018 when the Reds expect to be competitive.
Right now, the Reds are where the Cubs and Indians were in 2012: They’ve hit rock bottom. Can they get where the Cubs and Indians are? Sure.
But it’s going to be difficult. The Reds are going to have follow the Cleveland plan (building through the draft, trades) while competing in the division with the Cubs, who can supplement their talent with marquee free agents.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.