Bruce Springsteen wrote “Badlands” about a guy down on his luck. Angry. Living the same repetitive burnt out life. Monday night, it felt like the line, “lights out tonight” was a reference to the Cincinnati Reds’ 2015 season.
Lights out tonight
Trouble in the heartland
Got a head-on collision
Smashin’ in my guts man
I’m caught in a crossfire
That I don’t understand
I don’t give a damn
For the same old played out scenes
There are Reds fans turning 25 this year who have never seen their team in the World Series. At the same time, the memories of our neighbors in St. Louis holding Commissioner’s trophy are all too easy to recall. Our neighbors in Pittsburgh have held the Lombardi, and Cleveland has made it to the World Series a few times.
Being a fan in the Queen City doesn’t much feel like royalty these days.
This last loss to Milwaukee felt different than past losses. It felt like the end of an era. The Votto-Bruce-Cueto-Bailey era that started out so promisingly five years ago was supposed to end in front of changing leaves, not on a hot Sunday in July. There have been calls to trade Votto, Bruce, Cueto, Chapman, and everything not nailed down in Great American Ballpark. I have even heard that Viva El Birdos is looking to acquire our own Steve Mancuso for their next two first round picks in the Blogger’s Amateur Draft.
It is easy to say let’s start all over again. The Reds don’t have to do that. The Reds can compete and win in 2016.
Honey I want the heart, I want the soul
I want control right now
Talk about a dream
Try to make it real
You wake up in the night
With a fear so real
Spend your life waiting
For a moment that just don’t come
Well don’t waste your time waiting
Losing for sports fans is a strange paradox: every spring brings a hope of something better but, for every team save one, the season will end in a loss. Sometimes in heart breaking fashion, sometimes in front of half-empty stadiums, but for 29 of 30 MLB teams it ends the same way: watching another team celebrate. In the midst of a 25 year World Series drought, sometimes you feel like you are waiting your whole life for a moment that just won’t come.
In an environment starved for offense, the Reds head into 2016 with a solid core of players: Votto, Mesoraco, Bruce, and Frazier make up a strong 2-5 in our lineup. Conservatively, these players will put up 14.5 WAR next year with a ceiling much higher than that. At the premium defensive positions, shortstop and centerfield, we have two of the best defenders in the league. Billy Hamilton is on pace for a 4 WAR season because he has saved 13.5 runs in the field. Zack Cozart was playing the best baseball of his life when his season was ended abruptly.
This doesn’t mean that the Reds should be spending their life waiting for a championship. As Steve wrote earlier this season, the changes need to be throughout the organization, not just on the field. But here is the critical point the “burn down the city” crowd is missing: the Reds can exercise control over how they reshape their franchise.
The Reds should move Cueto and Leake when they find the right deal. The “right deal” should involve triple- or double-A players with a lower “bust” potential than amateurs coming out of high school or college. This is going to be one of the best sellers’ markets in years, so the Reds should be able to receive a player who can make an impact at the major league level sooner rather than later.
After trading Cueto and Leake, the Reds will have 20-30 million to use in free agency. On top of this, expect the Reds to expand their payroll by another 5-10 million next year, and perhaps more if they decide to start spending the new television contract money early.
The Reds will also clear the following contracts off the books: Sean Marshall (6.5M), Marlon Byrd (8M), Manny Para (3.5M) next year, and between Gregg, Marquis, and Pena will clear another 4.4M.
The Reds can replace some, but maybe not all of the talent they are losing due to free agency.
Poor man want to be rich
Rich man want to be king
And a king ain’t satisfied
Till he rules everything
I want to go out tonight
I want to find out what I got
Every team in baseball ships off players who are near the end of their contracts if the team can’t make the post-season. The Reds can – and should – consider moving players they either cannot afford or can’t resign. The difference between a normal selloff and “burning it down” is that “burning it down” involves moving players under long(er)-term contracts. For the Reds, that would mean trading players like Frazier, Bruce, Votto, Mesoraco, Hamilton, or Bailey. Moving any of these players would amount to an all-out rebuilding effort and send the following message to fans: see you in five years.
The Astros, Cubs, and Nationals have made it fashionable to “burn it down” and start from the ground. Prospects like Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, and Stephen Strasburg have made baseballs’ amateur draft feel more the NBA draft: The team that picks first becomes king. Any blackjack player knows that plenty of players will win if they hit on 17. That still doesn’t mean it’s wise.
Plenty of #1s have busted or failed to become Hall of Fame players. The recent run of great drafts shouldn’t change our opinion that draft picks are unpredictable. Yet even when these players do turn into good (or great) MLB players, they develop at their own rate: Jay Bruce, Baseball America’s #1 overall player, took 3 years to make it to the show, Todd Frazier took five years, and even our own Joey Votto — MVP winner, one of the best players in baseball — took half a decade to make it to Cincinnati.
I would rather not put my faith in an 18-year-old “prodigy” when we already have Frazier, Votto, Mesoraco, Bailey, Bruce, and Chapman under contract for 2016.
The Astros and Cubs decided to “burn it down” because each organization was a mess. These franchises had neither developing talent nor the financial flexibility to improve. Due to this, these front offices felt they needed to stockpile both gold and talent by shipping off their few talented players for salary relief and letting their remaining lack of talent do the rest.
For the ones who had a notion
A notion deep inside
That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive
I want to find one face that ain’t looking through me
I want to find one place
I want to spit in the face of these badlands
“Badlands” is one of Springsteen’s highest energy songs. During this bridge, however, he slows down to as if to tell the listener about seriousness of the statement: That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive. The song then erupts for a final few minutes into elation and wildness. There are lulls before great crescendos.
The Reds both have the talent in our farm system and the financial flexibility to succeed next year. The team returns a rotation of: Bailey-Lorenzen-Disco-Iglesias-Cingrani. If that is too inexperienced, the Reds can spend some of their newly found
buckets of money cash on a starting pitcher (remember Alfredo Simon?). The Reds could trade Cueto for a pitcher who can replace Leake or sign a high on base-percentage left fielder. Or both.
I’ve read some people say that it doesn’t matter if the Reds lose 80 or 100 games next year. This could not be further from the truth. Losing 100 games next year would be a disaster of historic proportions because of the pending Reds television contract negotiations. New television contracts have allowed the Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, and Angels to fundamentally reshape their organizations. Tanking right before these negotiations would change the number of people tuning into the Reds and alter the overall value of the deal. It’s true that in terms of making the playoffs next year it doesn’t matter if we lose 80 or 100 games, but in terms of how many times we make the playoffs for the next 10 years, it absolutely does.
Nation, it ain’t no sin to be glad in what we got. The foundation is there. The future is in the pipeline. We have the financial flexibility to sign what the team needs. There will be roster readjustments in the next few weeks, but October 2016 is still in sight.