CINCINNATI -- Our long, summer nightmare, the latest, is just about over.
Sunday, the curtain comes down on the 2018 Cincinnati Reds season. Take a bow, fellas. See you in the spring.
Some of you, anyway.
There is a list of burning questions that need to be answered. Let us begin with the least important of those.
Who manages the Reds in 2019?
That's about a half-dozen things down the list of what's important after this season.
Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin is out of the running. Good -- for Larkin. Why would he want to inherit this mess? He'd have no autonomy. Neither would the late Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, not under this regime. As former NFL head coach Bill Parcells famously said when demanding to have complete control over player personnel, along with coaching: "If they want you to cook the dinner, they should at least let you shop for some of the groceries."
The Reds have had trouble shopping for groceries. They're big on desserts - you know, guys who can throw 105 mph, or run from first to home in 14 seconds, or guys who have cute nicknames or guys with life stories that ownership and management fall in love with. All the important stuff.
But what about the beef and potatoes? How about just the beef? Like starting pitching. Where's the beef?
They need help. And they need to let whoever is going to be their field manager in 2019 have a large, large say. I don't sense any candidate who's going to get that.
There's a misnomer about the 2018 Reds: that they got better after Bryan Price was fired. Really? Have you done the math?
Price left the building after a 3-15 start. The Reds have gone 63-78 since. Well, OK. If that's your idea of improvement, no need to read the rest of this.
Barry Larkin was going to inherit the core of this current team and organization and make it better? Like 25-30 wins better? Riddle me this, Batman: where do you buy all of that smoke and mirrors?
Reds General Manager Dick Williams said this week that Larkin isn't a candidate, but that current coaches Freddie Benevides and Billy Hatcher are. He said they'll talk with former Blue Jays and Red Sox manager John Farrell, who signed on with the Reds organization last spring. Jim Riggleman will get to pitch his case to stay on without the dreaded "interim" tag.
Hatcher and Benevides are fine men, Reds "lifers," really. Riggleman has resurrected his career and reputation in Cincinnati, after taking a hike on his Washington Nationals team in mid-season a few years back. I don't know Farrell at all, but his Red Sox teams did well. But none of them will have a major impact on the team as currently composed.
Casey Stengel disguised as Sparky Anderson wouldn't either. You know what made both of those Hall of Fame managers great? Not in game moves, or paying attention to pitch counts or running the finest infield practices in pre-game. What made them great managers was one thing: great players.
You think Joe Maddon is a genius? Look at his roster. Look what the Chicago Cubs have done in recent history, acquiring players. Look at what the Milwaukee Brewers did this past off-season. Why are the St. Louis Cardinals contending in just about every season? It ain't because of the guys hanging onto the dugout rail and spitting sunflower seeds.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton's top campaign adviser, James Carville, during the 1992 Presidential race: It's the players, stupid.
And for the last five years, the Reds haven't done a very good job developing many.
Who in their organization really excites you? Nick Senzel? OK, can't wait to see him in a Reds uniform, too. Who else? Hunter Greene, he of the 100 mph fastball who is taking this off-season resting, hoping and praying he doesn't need elbow surgery? I hope so too. His future looks bright. But his future isn't in Cincinnati before 2020, at the earliest. You don't get stuck in "low A" ball your rookie season, injure your elbow and suddenly join the Major League starting rotation the following spring.
The truth is, the rest of the cast are suspects, not prospects, until proven otherwise.
Baseball, of all the major sports, remains the hardest to find talent, cultivate talent and get that talent to the major league level. Period.
The Reds, to their credit, have done a few things this season to try to straighten things out. They promoted another "lifer," Nick Krall, to do some of the daily, heavy lifting so Williams can work big picture. They rearranged their scouting department, reassigning (demoting?) their scouting chief, Chris Buckley.
Well, OK. Now how about taking a look at what's going on in your minor-league system. Who's teaching what to whom? And if all of these prospects are so good, so highly touted on draft day, why aren't more of them showing up and advancing the on-field product in Cincinnati? Might be a good next step.
The Reds are hardly talentless. They have one of their top five players, all time, at first base. Joey Votto just turned 35. And there aren't too many players in their late 30s who are still crushing it. Albert Pujols has. Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz and Curtis Granderson all have. Votto is a special talent. It would be a shame not to surround him with the best talent before his career is done.
Eugenio Suarez has had a terrific season. He is proving well worth the money the Reds dropped on him before this season began -- seven years, $66 million. Jose Peraza is capable at short. Tucker Barnhart is not only, in my opinion, the best defensive catcher in the National League, he has made a grand total of just three, three errors all season.
The outfield is unspectacular.
Scott Schebler will give you some power. He has 17 home runs, decent average and is OK with his on-base percentage. Jesse Winker, the best position prospect the Reds have produced in the last three years, missed the second half of the season and will be coming off surgery. Billy Hamilton has yet to prove he can hit major league pitching. In his fifth, full major league season, Hamilton is hitting just .245, with an on-base percentage south of .300. He's stolen a grand total of 32 bases. He will finish with, by far, the fewest stolen bases in his career. Yep, he's good with the glove. That counts for something. But is his game really "pushing the product forward?" Will it ever?
Then, of course, there is Scooter Gennett, who may wind up as the National League batting champ in 2018. He'll need a helluva weekend to pull that off. But Gennett will probably finish no lower than second. He's been the Reds' biggest scrap-heap find since Brandon Phillips. And with Gennett lies the Reds' major off-season dilemma: to trade or not to trade.
Some fans will scream, "No!" So then what do you do with the following: Nick Senzel, Jonathan India, Dilson Herrera and the other middle infielders the Reds have been stockpiling the last several years? Senzel is going to the Arizona Fall Instructional League and will play in the outfield. Maybe Senzel's future is there. But this isn't fantasy baseball. Just because a player excels at one position doesn't mean he'll do the same at another. If he struggles with his defense, almost assuredly he will struggle with his offense.
The Reds have to have a plan for this infield mess.
Have you seen any lately? Maybe now would be a good time to start one. They could hold onto Gennett for another season, through arbitration. But then will come his payday. Gennett is due to become a free agent after next season. The team has collected middle infielders like a numismatist collects 1804 U.S. silver dollars. Why do that if you want to keep Gennett?
Two summers ago, the Reds let Zack Cozart walk away to free agency without any immediate compensation. Are they walking down that road now with Gennett? Seems that way. And that $40-50 million that you're going to spend to keep him, would that not be better spent someplace else?
This isn't about Gennett, who's a good guy and a bona fide major league hitter. This is about a team that is dead last in its division ... again. If you want to get better, you have to trade from strength to get stronger at weaker areas. What other strength do the Reds have that would interest any other team?
Peraza and Brandon Dixon for Clayton Kershaw? Bet the Los Angeles Dodgers would send that call straight to voice mail.
Or as Branch Rickey once famously said to slugger Ralph Kiner, who was holding out for more money from the Pittsburgh Pirates about 70 years ago: "Son, we finished in last place with you. We can finish in last place without you."
And then, of course, there is starting pitching, which is where this discussion should begin and end.
The Reds' starting rotation is a collection of the same guy, or guys, we knew a long time ago had no shot to ever be dominating major league pitchers.
What's the difference between Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle and Anthony DeSclafani?
I'll take "Nothing" for $100, Alex.
All are good for about 100 pitches, which gets them through about five innings. On rare occasions, you might get six innings out of them. In one or two starts maybe longer than that.
You know what's missing here? An ace. You remember what that is, right? Think Johnny Cueto in 2012.
Matt Harvey said this week he'd sign with any team except the New York Mets after this season. He said he'd be open to re-signing with the Reds. With an agent named Scott Boras, there will be no "home town discount." But Harvey isn't what the Reds really need.
The Reds need an "ace," someone to match up with the top pitching on an opposing team, you know, like the Cubs' Jon Lester or the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw or even the Pirates' Trevor Williams. The "quality start" stat is grossly overrated. Still, look at the quality start stat with any contender. Who on this present rotation would compare? Castillo? Well, maybe. But the Reds don't need "maybes" if they're going to return to seriously contending again.
So here's the novel idea of the day: spend money.
The Reds aren't cheap. Their payroll will top $100 million this season. They've made some bad investments they continue to pay for, like Homer Bailey and Brandon Phillips before him. But if they want to play the game, if they want the ultimate fan attraction, which would be winning and not "side shows," it's time to pony up.
You want names? I'll give you names.
Let's start with Dodgers left hander Hyun-Jin Ryu. He's making just over $7 million this season, and is 6-3. That's because he missed significant time this year after tearing a groin muscle. But he's left-handed and, at 32 by next spring, is relatively young. He's a Boras client, which means he won't come cheaply.
You want another name? Patrick Corbin of the Diamondbacks another left-hander who is making $7.5 million this season. He just turned 29 this summer. He's made 19 "quality starts" this season (Castillo, by the way, leads the Reds with only 11) and is 11-7. Good strikeout, low-walk guy.
There are others. Dallas Keuchel of the Astro will be available. But Ryu and Corbin would be immediate upgrades, top-of-the-rotation pitchers. This is where the Reds need to get busy.
Losing has become habit-forming.
By the end of this week, the Reds will have delivered to us their fifth losing season in a row; 90-loss seasons have now become the norm. Our town reveres Reds history. No team in any sport celebrates it as well as the Cincinnati Reds. But its immediate history has to change, along with the way the team has conducted the business of baseball the last five seasons.
Now then, on to other sports headlines this week ...
- Winning road games in the NFL is a hard thing to pull off. Winning a road game against a quality opponent is even more so. But until the Cincinnati Bengals can do that, like Sunday in Atlanta, they'll be about where the most optimistic predictions were about them before this season.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers, who looked like they wouldn't win five games this season before Monday night's win at Tampa, should trade Le'Veon Bell now. It's over. Here's how they could do that.
- Wonder if Jon Gruden is missing that Monday Night Football booth. I know ESPN is missing him. Booger McFarland is interesting. But could ESPN have found two more nondescript guys to handle their marquis product?
- The University of Cincinnati Bearcats will be bowl eligible before they take their bye week. At Connecticut and home with Tulane look like two wins, which would make the Bearcats 6-0 at that point.
Good time to with a happy 75th birthday today to the founding member of the Canadian rock group The Guess Who. Randy Bachman turns 75 today.
The Guess Who was a group of musicians from Winnipeg. Their drummer, the last of the originals still touring with the new Guess Who band, is Garry Peterson, who joined me on my 700 WLW radio show a few weeks ago.
The band got its big break on a weekly TV show in Canada. They were the house band, with their former lead singer serving as the host. This song was their breakout song, which catapulted the band into international stardom. Peterson told me that they cut this song at a New York City studio with "old equipment and old men working it." The band hated that version that was recorded at that studio. So one night, after a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden, they packed up their gear and headed to another New York City studio where they had recorded some of their original material. They re-recorded this song, and a few others. On subsequent albums, that's the version you hear. Their record label didn't care for the move. But it had to, in the end, said Peterson, acknowledge the better version.
Bachman went on to form the group Bachman-Turner Overdrive. And he still tours today. Marriages have given him seven children, 26 grandchildren and a great-grandchild. And 75 years ago today, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, one of the great guitarists in rock music came upon this earth.