Color me concerned. After the Reds fired Dusty Baker, a manager who had led the team to consecutive 90-win seasons and two trips to the post-season,* I had talked myself into the notion that the Reds would be aggressive in reshaping the roster. I was convinced that a team wouldn’t take a gamble on an unproven manager with a 90-win team and not help him out with some new players. At a minimum, you want the team to win more than 90 games so your decision to fire the 90-win guy doesn’t look, you know, stupid. Obvious, right?
[*You could say three times if you wanted to count that one-game public execution in Pittsburgh as the post-season. I'm not that generous. It wasn't the post-season because I looked away for just a second and it was over. For me, no home games = not the post-season. That's right, 2010 barely counted.]
Man, I was hopeful. Just two weeks ago, I used the words breathtaking and thunderbolt in describing my expectations. Hmm, those were the days of unbridled, and apparently foolish, optimism. And wow, that positive feeling didn’t last long. In less than a week, I’d lurched to the other extreme, worried the Reds felt boxed in and desperate enough to make a foolish trade.
I suppose this was the week I’d expected Walt Jocketty to make a big move or two. But as I sit here on Thursday night, watching one-by-one as the impact free agents sign with other clubs, reading about potential trading partners filling their needs without the Reds help, my post-Price enthusiasm is definitely fading.
Whee has turned into ennui.
Even incremental improvement no longer seems like a given. The 2014 Reds could be little more than a Choo-less version of the 2013 Reds. To refresh your memories, Shin-Soo Choo got on base more than 42% of the time and hit 21 home runs. Only three players in the game were better at those things, one of whom was Joey Votto. Don’t kid yourself, a Heisey/Schumaker/Hamilton platoon leading off isn’t filling Choo’s shoes.
A dedicated fan (and I count myself as one) can talk him or herself into anything. But when your reason for hope is that Devin Mesoraco might bat sixth, no wait, maybe fifth, and Aroldis Chapman might pitch 15 innings instead of 13 against St. Louis and Pittsburgh, well, you’re talking delusion more than optimism.
Jocketty’s plans — as we think we know them — haven’t worked out. Free agents were more expensive than he’d anticipated. The market for Brandon Phillips was softer than expected. Other teams wanted Homer Bailey, not Mike Leake. Chapman seems more entrenched in the bullpen than ever.
Cue the ennui puppy.
That said, here’s what I’m holding on to tonight. The utter failure of the Reds to make any meaningful moves (sorry Brayan and Skip) will motivate the front office to pony up the money to sign Shin-Soo Choo. Choo will probably be worth $20 million for a few more seasons. Heck, he earned $25-35 million last year, depending on how much you value a WAR. And that includes a huge negative hit on his defense for being miscast in centerfield. Choo’s next contract will be solid value for a few years and not so great for a couple.
It’s hard to look around the league and conclude anything other than that’s the modern price of doing business today. It’s inverted Moneyball. Market inefficiency is the next market efficiency. To find value, you have to overpay.
A big contract for Choo isn’t the way I’d have spent Bob Castellini’s money a month ago, but it’s probably what I’d do now. Given where we are. And face it, Choo back to the Reds isn’t impossible, but it is unlikely.
Yet every time I get discouraged, I think back to the expression on Castellini’s face as he watched from the front row as the baseball team he owns took their beating that day in Pittsburgh. I’ve seen complacency, and that wasn’t it. Bob Castellini knows the difference between necessary and sufficient. Firing Dusty Baker was the first not the second.
Maybe tomorrow will be the day for that thunderbolt.