CINCINNATI — It's brutal out here.
Boycotts, refunded tickets and general outrage: Each of these sentiments have been expressed in full over the last 24 hours about the Cincinnati Reds after a fire-sale saw some of the team's key players traded away.
Here's what has led to this point:
If anything, the MLB lockout delayed the inevitable for the Reds. The offloading of established talent started back in November, when the Reds dealt away veteran and fan-favorite Tucker Barnhart to the Detroit Tigers for a prospect. Then they let the team's best starting pitcher Wade Miley go on waivers.
To be fair to the Reds, Barnhart at age 30 was facing a club option of $7.5 million (a jump from just $4 million owed the previous season), and as a result was in prime trade range. Miley at 34 was even further down the road in his career, with an even bigger chunk of change owed as part of a club option for 2022 at $10 million. (For the uninitiated, club option = the Reds got to choose if they wanted to extend the contract by an extra year for a previously agreed on amount of money).
But Miley led the team with a 3.47 ERA as a starting pitcher and at least could have begged trade value - he was getting better in the twilight years of his career. Barnhart was a Gold Glove winner as recently as 2020, and having a steady veteran catcher is arguably one of the most important things to a team's pitching staff.
If payroll was the main concern, that was assisted by star Nick Castellanos opting out of his $16 million contract around the same time that the Reds dealt Barnhart and chose to let Miley go. Castellanos didn't explicitly rule out of returning to the Reds, but while he's testing his value as we speak on the Free Agency market, Reds General Manager Nick Krall said they have not been engaged in any talks.
The exodus was put on pause when the MLB lockout officially took a grip on December 2. When the lockout lifted last week, the gears started turning, and it culminated this week in the departure of three more of the team's most valuable players. Sonny Gray, Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez were all traded away for prospects this week.
Gray, 31, was in the last year of his guaranteed contract of $10 million and led the team with a WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) of 1.219 in 2021. Winker, only 27, was given away after making a measly $3 million last season despite a .305 average, second only to the recently-departed Castellanos, and with a starting lineup-low 75 strikeouts. Suarez, 30, was owed $11 million in 2022, and has no doubt taken a few steps back on the offensive side of the field in the last two years, posting a .198 batting average in 2021, but was still a dangerous at-bat with runners on, driving home 79 runs on the back of 31 home runs last season as well.
Yes, the Reds got some players back in each of the trades made, mostly prospects that with time and development may end up being decent, but all of them with fewer proven contributions and lower salaries. The Reds got a "B" on ESPN's trade grade for sending Winker and Suarez to the Mariners, but got a D+ for the Sonny Gray trade.
There's this stat that gets used a lot in baseball nowadays called "Wins Above Replacement" (WAR) - it's essentially the number of games the team won with a certain player on the team vs. the average replacement at their position. Collectively, with all of the players the Reds either traded, lost or opted out on so far this offseason, they have lost 12.3 wins (Those stats come from fangraphs.com). If the math plays out on that, that means this year the Reds will win only 71 games and be nowhere near playoff contention.
As an aside, if salary and age were such a concern, then it is curious that Krall signed Mike Moustakas, 33, to a 4-year, $64 million contract in 2020, just two years before all this payroll-shedding has gone down. Moustakas has the same primary position as Suarez (3B) and hit for about the same average in 2021 (.208). With the universal designated hitter coming this season (having someone hit in the lineup who doesn't have to field), the two could have co-existed. Moustakas is now the 2nd-highest paid player on the payroll, only short of Joey Votto's $25 million owed for 2022.
And by the way, you may have seen the tweets about this, but yes, Ken Griffey, Jr. is the 6th-highest paid person on the Reds payroll thanks to a deferred salary during his time with the team in the 2000s of $3,593,750.
In retrospect, here is what Krall said about the team on the day the first domino fell in the form of the Barnhart trade back on November 3, 2021: “Going into 2022, we must align our payroll to our resources and continue focusing on scouting and developing young talent from within our system.”
More recently, Krall said the Suarez/Winker trade "wasn't just a payroll move" but also a move "for the future."
While the team has shown the ability to build a strong future through homegrown talent (Winker, Jonathan India, Tyler Mahle and Michael Lorenzen among others), it takes time and especially stings in what was seen as a promising year that could build on 2021's near-miss of the playoffs.
So how does Cincinnati feel about all this? Not good.
Some of the social media reactions have included calls for a boycott, with one fan showing they refunded their coveted Opening Day tickets.
Opening day tickets and the 5/28 Giants games cancelled and refunded.— Fatbeard (@TFatbeard) March 14, 2022
No more. #SellTheTeamBob pic.twitter.com/hPp4pBALFs
#SellTheTeamBob was trending most of Monday night, not just in Cincinnati, but across the country, with fans calling on Bob Castellini to sell the team.
I’ve been a huge #Reds fan my whole life. I get tear downs, but they were ready and able to compete this year and they chose not to. Absolutely horrible. First time in my life I have no interest in going to a Reds game. #selltheteambob— Scott S. Allison (@ScottSAllison) March 14, 2022
Joey Votto deserved better than this. Pretty sure this is my first use of the hashtag but I definitely feel it #SellTheTeamBob— Amy (@amyeditress) March 14, 2022
I was gonna go to GABP despite losing Castellanos.— Tyler Macenko (@tylermacenko) March 14, 2022
Was going to go despite dishing Sonny.
Was going to go despite them showing time and time again that they don’t care about the franchise or city.
But man, that’s the nail in the coffin. #SellTheTeamBob
A discussion thread on Reddit details the surrounding minor league teams that fans should support instead of the Reds this season.
And of course, fans had jokes, too:
To increase payroll, Castellini should turn GABP into a Spirit Halloween every October since the #Reds won’t be using the building that month for the foreseeable future. #SellTheTeamBob pic.twitter.com/4P4jUH3atA— Alex (@ACGates85) March 14, 2022
You could say Reds fans aren’t pleased this week… @wcpo pic.twitter.com/kkf1Ww30pB— Evan Millward (@EvanMillward) March 15, 2022
There's still plenty of time left in this young Reds season for other moves to be made, which could include acquisitions. But for now, fans see a team that has thrown away any immediate chance at playoff-level competition. For those that remain (Votto, India, Mahle, etc.), here's your chance to prove that theory wrong.
The Reds start the season on the road on April 7, with an official home Opening Day on April 12.