Redleg Nation is the spouse in a bad marriage screaming, “I don’t know who you are anymore!” Up and down the lineup, this team looks nothing like the club we fell in love with last year. Fans are screaming for divorce. Or at least a separation from Dusty Baker. But, if you think you’ve never seen anything like this season, then you are too young to remember the Reds first full season in Riverfront Stadium.
In 1970, a Young Red Machine burst upon the scene with a budding superstar and fought their way to the World Series before being put in their place by the pitching-rich establishment Orioles. A year later in ’71, they found themselves floundering. An off-season injury to Bobby Tolan left the Reds mixing and matching Rose, McRae, Bernie Carbo and Jimmy Stewart in an attempt to cobble together a serviceable outfield. Two starters the Reds were counting on, Jim Merritt and Wayne Simpson, spent time down at AAA Indy. Even the offense floundered, as Bench and Perez struggled to hit with RISP. The BRM would go on to finish four games under .500.
Flash forward 40 years to 2010. Another Young Red Machine burst upon the NL Central, with budding superstar and soon-to-be MVP Votto, winning the division before another pitching-rich organization, the Phillies, ended their season. A year later, the 2011 Reds are floundering as they mix and match Gomes, Lewis and Heisey in an attempt to cobble together a serviceable outfield. Two starters the Reds were counting on in the spring, Wood and Volquez, are currently at AAA Louisville. And the offense? Despite the deceptive numbers, the Reds continue to struggle, most notably Bruce and Rolen. With runners in scoring position, this team looks haunted. The 2011 Reds could easily finish four games under .500, just as their 1971 counterparts did.
The comparison isn’t perfect, but it’s eerie just the same.
The Reds had Bob Howsam then. They have Walt Jocketty today. Walt’s reputation is beginning to take a hit in Redsland as this hot summer wears on. Howsam began righting the ship by acquiring Foster from the Giants, but it should be remembered that Howsam had his own Willy Taveras moments, acquiring Al Ferrara and Buddy Bradford in a desperate attempt to solve the team’s outfield issues. Good luck finding either of them in the Reds’ Hall of Fame.
Of course, the big trade for Howsam would come shortly thereafter. Jocketty’s is yet to come. I believe it’s going to be made, but whether it happens in time to salvage this season remains to be seen. I would caution anybody who dares to criticize Walt to date: he is nobody’s fool. He knows the clock is ticking with Votto. He also is not going to make a panic move and throw away all the work the organization has done to build a fertile farm system that will be relied upon to keep this team relevant for years to come.
Criticize him for taking too long to bring up Cozart if you must. Just remember that the Reds brought up Homer Bailey too soon in an effort to sell tickets and up until recently were still paying for that decision. I still can’t help but wonder where Jay Bruce would be in his development today if he had been left to crush Triple A pitching for a season longer. And major league pitchers have yet to see and adjust to Kid Cozart. How he responds is still anyone’s guess.
Pulling the trigger on a big trade is an iffy proposition in the best of times. Howsam had the luxury of knowing the team that left Crosley Field in the summer of 1970 was too plodding for the wall-to-wall billiard table on the riverfront. He had to make a big move to retool the club. In retrospect, he had no choice.
Jocketty is in a different position altogether. It’s impossible to know what he’s thinking, what GMs will do business with him, how much money factors into the equation. If I were able, I’d bug his phones to find out. He’s got to hit the bullseye in his assessment of players like Mesoraco, Grandal, Hamilton, Alonso, Boxberger, et. al, and get it exactly right. He’s got to know who is going to be the future and who is not, while still offering enough to widen the eyes of the GM on the other end of the phone. He’s got to know who these guys are before everyone else does.
He sees players on the cusp of stardom–Bailey, Leake & Chapman for starters (pun intended). With an enigmatic Bruce, the reigning MVP, Kid Cozart and the best second baseman in the bigs to anchor the infield, as well as an emerging Johnny Cueto, now is not the time to make a mistake. The next big trade Jocketty makes will likely define his career.
I don’t envy him.