There’s a scene at the end of the movie, and in it, our hero unfairly takes the blame for the deeds of others. He’s last seen hurtling through the darkness, a city in hot pursuit for its pound of flesh.
That essentially describes the public relations plight of our local general manager. Fallen hero. Back-to-back seasons of 97 and 90 wins no longer soothes the fan beast base down along the Banks, where the peanuts and cracker jack keep getting jacked up in price. A wildly successful trade to bring a tattooed ace that took a starting rotation from promising to promised land—forgotten. A canny move to bring a lead-off hitter who captivated Baseball with his ability to get on base—expected. Overlord of a farm system that has seen one successful draft after another—not enough. It used to go like this: what have you done for me lately? Now, it’s what have you done for me since breakfast?
You’ll get no answers from our hero. The eyes behind the Ray Bans betray nothing. He speaks, but says little. If he confides in anyone besides V.P. Bob Miller, we don’t know who it is. He doesn’t tip his hand. He has no “tell.” Quick: where will Walt Jocketty be tomorrow? Downtown working the phones? In Goodyear checking out the future? The machinations take place out of sight, the moves hidden until the reveal.
This drives us nuts.
No sooner had the Wildcard Game concluded in PNC Park did the bat signal go up into the Cincinnati night sky. As quick as you can say “ leave the gun, take the cannoli,” Dusty Baker had been dumped and the wheels were set in motion. The Reds were “going to the mattresses” now with the Cardinals. You could feel it. Big changes were on the way.
And then… nothing.
Snark is the scab that has newly formed over the wound of worry here in Cincinnati:
“Somebody wake up Uncle Walt.”
“Another Cardinal reject.”
“Joke-ety doesn’t want to win.”
Every accusation leveled at the GM has Jocketty all but caught in a run-down from which he cannot escape. Toss good money after bad and successfully keep Shin-Soo Choo—then get caught by the back end of the contract and tagged out by every smart baseball analyst around the country. Fail to find an equivalent OBP savant, you know, the one who doesn’t exist—out at home with the fans.
The Reds were never going big time into the free agency business. Maybe they offer Choo if everything breaks just right: if the Phillips contract magically goes away; if another team fails to offer “stupid money;” if Mr. Choo gives the Reds a hometown discount. It was always the longest of long shots.
Tell the Reds they have a coming revenue stream they can dip into and maybe they will tell you there are players they already have they’d like to keep. Three winters ago, Walt was accused of “doing nothing,” when in reality he was getting serious business done, buying out the arbitration years of Cueto and Votto, while signing Bruce for the foreseeable future. Locking up the core is what Jocketty called it at the time. It wasn’t the sexy play. Perhaps they saw themselves making a play to sign Joey long-term and were merely thinking ahead. Like children who get tired of old toys, we fans want new, shiny playthings under the tree. Skip Schumaker is viewed as coal in the Reds’ stocking. Perhaps we’re seeing a replay of the winter of 2011, money being held back not just for Bailey, but for Latos, too. Giving up on Bailey in order to pay for a big right-handed bat is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Surely Reds fans know that. Right?
Twitter doesn’t. Tell Twitter that the Reds have a pitching rotation that ranks in the top 10 in all of Baseball—and that Walt Jocketty is largely responsible for that—and Twitter sneers. Didn’t you know? Twitter digs the long ball. When news of the Reds’ interest in Grady Sizemore surfaced, Twitter laughed at the Reds’ front office. When it turned out they couldn’t reach a deal with Sizemore, Twitter was outraged Jocketty failed to sign the player Twitter hadn’t thought much of in the first place. Twitter orders its bread buttered on BOTH sides. Didn’t you know?
New Yankee Masahiro Tanaka has been a Jenga-like puzzle piece, the placement of which now tumbles Plan A for everyone doing baseball business outside the Bronx. However, to think the wait to discover where Tanaka was going to land only affected a select, well-heeled few is woefully off-the-mark. The Yankees had multiple plans on the table that included ponying up for Cano, staying under the luxury tax cap, and just saying the hell with it and spending like the drunken sailors the Steinbrenners have always been. How did all of that affect how serious they really were about taking on Brandon Phillips’ contract? How has Casey Close’s preoccupation with Tanaka affected his negotiations with Jocketty to get a long-term deal done with the Reds for Bailey?
Jocketty has also had to deal with an active owner who sees himself as interested fan. Castellini’s money has come at a price. He wants his say. It was the owner who saddled his GM with a manager who chaffed at moving Chapman into the rotation, who forced the GM into spending money on Jonathan Broxton, only to see him become an overpaid setup guy. The owner had his say in overpaying Brandon Phillips, just as he had his say in wanting him gone.
When the Reds failed to block the Pirates acquisition of Marlon Byrd at the waiver wire deadline, Jocketty was once again mocked as the buffoon. Never mind that the Reds already had a highly paid left fielder who had spent all season rehabbing and was finally ready to return. Never mind that bringing in Byrd might have created more strife in an already strife-filled clubhouse. Tell fans that most MLB GMs have a gentlemen’s agreement not to block each others’ minor moves—and you are dismissed with the wave of the hand. Jocketty likely knew that Byrd simply wasn’t a fit and could risk affecting clubhouse harmony. Jocketty likely knew that next year his team might make a run and need a late season pickup. He might like to know he has a chit to call in to keep another Central team from blocking the Reds somewhere down the road.
But, then, Walt Jocketty plays not just for today, but for the future. Local media liked to call 2013 the year the Reds went “all in” with the acquisition of Choo. Nothing could be further from the truth. By its definition, “all in” means playing for now, pushing all the chips into the center of the table, knowing that failure means essentially starting over. Shin-Soo Choo was a one-year, relatively inexpensive move to get the Reds over the hump. Nothing about that move crippled the Reds moving forward the way out-bidding the rest of MLB for him would have done this winter.
The front office plan has always been about being relevant EVERY season, not just once every five or six years. Like it or not, it’s made them cautious spenders, knowing one false move could set the franchise back seasons. The Yankees had to have Tanaka. They have no farm system. The Reds have a roster of more than a dozen home-grown players who are on the 40 man roster, most on the 25 man. Not long ago, the Reds had a top 10 farm system. Fans are disgruntled that is no longer the case. Fans want a full harvest every season, Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer. Fans wouldn’t make very good farmers. Meanwhile, the Reds quietly continue to sign players to minor league contracts.
Tilling the ground. Reseeding. It’s what good farmers do, yeah?
The angry mob picks up stragglers and voice as it heads for spring training. Now that Colin Kaepernick’s season is over, perhaps he can loan GM Jocketty his noise-canceling Beats.
He’s gonna need ‘em.