When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to dunk a basketball. I spent hours at the park – day after week after moth after year – jumping as high as I could, dreaming about the day I’d finally be able to push off from the ground, slam the ball into the hoop, and land gracefully underneath to the raucous cheers of friends, neighbors, and anyone else who happened to be around.

The only problem was I was shorter than all my friends, and built like a refrigerator with legs, which made me unstoppable in pickup football but ultimately unsuccessful at basketball (I could set one great pick, though). Eventually, I had to accept reality. My hoop dreams would never come true.

Reality, it seems, is the great equalizer.

Most of us have already accepted the Reality that our favorite baseball team isn’t going to win this year, and there’s a good chance we’ll be in a similar, albeit slightly more successful, situation next season. What other Realities are out there, waiting for us, putting our dreams beyond reach like a fat kid struggling to dunk a basketball?

REALITY #1: JAY BRUCE’S CAREER IS NEARLY OVER

I hesitate to say this, because I’ve been burned before (Paul O’Neil’s success with the Yankees in the ‘90s comes to mind), but this one seems fairly certain. Jay Bruce peaked in 2013 – three years ago – and has been slightly worse than league average since. If you take out his short-lived streaks of Awesometasticness™, he’s been even worse.

Fading stars are often like a mirage in the desert. The dream is almost enough to keep hope alive. Michael Jordan, at 50, would occasionally show up at the Charlotte practice center and school the younf NBA stars, for a few minutes at least. Sandy Koufax, more than a decade after retirement, allegedly pitched batting practice one of the late ‘70s or early ‘80s Dodgers teams prior to a World Series game and mowed everyone down. Heck, even my idol, Spudd Webb, can still dunk.

Fading stars epitomize the Toby Keith line, “I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.”

Jay has always been streaky, but the valleys have been lower and longer with each passing season, and the peaks fewer and farther between. He will most likely break out of his current slump to have a magical week or two where he’ll launch a few monstrous homers, but he’ll eventually settle back into the less-than-pedestrian production we’ve seen this season.

Jay Bruce is a great guy. I have LOVED having him on the team, and I will happily eat crow if he proves me wrong. But if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to bet the entirety of the $5.92 in my savings account that he’s nearing the end.

REALITY #2: THE REDS HAVE AN UPHILL CLIMB

The Cubs are good. It’s hard to say that with a straight face, because of how bad they’ve been for what seems like ever. I feel like I’m in Bizzaro world. The Cubs are good. Scary good.

That kind of Good doesn’t just go away in a season or two, when the Reds hope to be competitive again. That’s a difficult Reality to face, because most of us aren’t interested in the Reds just being competitive again. We want them to win.

The Reds were competitive 2010 – 2014, and it was a lot of fun, but they nearly always found themselves looking up at the Cardinals, the Phillies, the Pirates, or the Giants if it was an even-numbered year. I’ll be happy if they get there again – wins are always better than losses – but the Reality we need to face is that we want to see a World Series winner this time around and, in order for that to happen, the Reds will have to get through the Cubs.

Jake Arrieta and Dexter Fowler are only 30. Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward are just 26. Kris Bryant is just 24, which means he was in high school when the Reds broke out of their decade-long slump to make the playoffs in 2010. He was in Kindergarten when the Reds traded for Griffey.

The Cubs are currently 26-9, they are demolishing everyone in their path, and they likely haven’t peaked yet. If the Reds are going to be more than just competitive in two years, they’ve got an uphill climb in front of them.

REALITY #3: WE WERE WRONG ABOUT BRANDON PHILLIPS

Reality isn’t always negative.

Okay. If you’re a Cleveland sports fan it is (I can’t wait to hear the complaints when they lose to Golden State in the finals again this year), but for the rest of us, Reality sometimes takes a positive turn.

I’ve been singing the siren song of DatDude’s demise for longer than all four of my kids have been alive. Somehow, he finds a way to prove me wrong each and every season. Brandon’s an elite defensive second baseman. There is no arguing that.

Where he has excelled is his versatility, as Patrick said in a recent post. He’s not the ideal at every position in the lineup, but he’s good at most of them. He’s found a way to maintain production, despite his loss of speed and power.

BP is one of if not THE best second basemen in Reds history not named Joe Morgan. Which is saying something. He’s been with the team so long, he played with the actual Eric Milton, not just the goat that shows up when the Reds play poorly.

We’ve been expecting a catastrophic decline for nearly half the time he’s been here, and the Reality is we were wrong. When BP takes his final bow, he will have had an amazing career the defied the cynics, and for that, we should be thankful.

REALITY #4: THERE IS REASON TO HOPE

I have to confess. Despite my apparent doom and gloom, there’s a part of me that thinks the Reds still have a chance this season. Perhaps I’ve seen too many “plucky group of loveable losers somehow finds a way to win” movies. But the Reds are still only a few games shy of .500.

Moving forward, however, the Reality is there is reason to hope. With an infusion of young talent and an organization that seems to be moving in more of an Analytic direction (the results of which remain to be seen), there is good reason to believe the Reds will eventually develop into not only a contending, but also a winning team in the near future.

All we have to do is wait and see.

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50 Responses

  1. ohiojimw

    Refrigerator with legs… As a fellow person who was called a fire plug, fullback etc growing up, I think I like the fridge reference better.
    In the last several years, I’ve gotten into the fitness thing and lost a bunch of weight but alas the arrangement of what’s left still looks about the same. At the Doc’s the other day, everything was in great order (BP, pulse, HDL/LDL blood work etc). Then the Doc points out that technically per BMI, I am still (just barely) in the obese range but -5Lbs more would clear that. Once a refrigerator always one I guess 🙂

    • Joe Shaw

      Nice. My Little League baseball player used to tell me I ran so slow he had to time me with a calendar instead of a stopwatch.

      Glad I’m not the only one!

      • ohiojimw

        When I was in my late teens, the Doc doing our school athletic physicals was also a weight control specialist. He did me the favor of pulling me aside and explaining to me that my proper weight was always going to be about 25-30Lbs heavier than charts or most Docs thought. And that’s the way its always been.

      • Joe Shaw

        Same here. I went to a doc one time and they told me, “According to this chart, you should weigh between 140 and 170.”

        “But Doc,” I said. “You just told me I’m XX% bodyfat, if you take all of that away, I’m still 45 pounds over the max.”

        “Yeah,” he said, then he left the room. I didn’t stay there for long. I like it when my doctor understands basic math.

      • lwblogger2

        Also true with me. Even in great shape in the USAF I was usually around 200lbs. The charts say I should weigh ~180. I was heavier than that coming out of basic training and I barely ate.

      • ohiojimw

        I worked in a USAF environment the last 15 years. They are just now grudgingly starting to admit that BMI is not the end all for every body type. But it works for pilots so who are the rest of folks to question 🙂

      • lwblogger2

        My HS coach said “sundial”… Guess you’re actually the rare person who’s slower than me 😉

  2. ohiojimw

    I don’t think we as Reds fans should be overly concerned with the Cubs as long as there is a wildcard. It looks like the Reds pitching will be their strong suite as they come back; and, as the saying goes, pitching generally wins out in a short series. Thus I wouldn’t hold up the train or change directions to specifically try and match up better with the Cubs.

    • Joe Shaw

      I guess that depends on whether you want to be competitive or successful.

    • jveith1991

      It’s a tough situation the Reds are in. It is certainly possible to see them ending up with a winning record in 2017 when the rotation likely will consist of Stephenson, Reed, Bailey, Iglesias, and DeSclafani. That instantly improves the bullpen by adding to it the rotation-rejects. The bullpen could consist of names such as Lorenzen, Finnegan, Moscot, Lamb, Adleman, Straily, Cingrani, etc. The lineup will most likely still include Votto, Phillips (final year of contract), Suarez, Peraza, Barnhart/Mesoraco, Duvall, Winker, and possibly Hamilton.

      With a team composed of the players listed above, it is difficult to see the Reds ending up with a losing record in 2017. Even with this improved team, the Cubs still have a substantially better team, especially in terms of hitting. If the Reds want to have a chance to compete with the Cubs for the NL Central title, they will have to improve their lineup. That’s why it is so crucial for them to draft a bat with their top pick this year (Kyle Lewis is one to keep in mind). The Reds have a glut of quality starting pitching prospects in their system already. Not only should the Reds draft a first-round bat in June, they must also make a trade this winter for a bat by dealing away one or two of their pitchers. Also, the Reds must also pay attention to the international market. They have done a good job of signing Cuban pitchers lately, but have not signed any hitters.

      • lwblogger2

        I think when it comes to significant injuries, you can never rely on “getting a guy back”. A lot of teams do it but the good ones generally don’t assume that a severely injured player will be back and productive. It’s always great when you have a case where everything works out but a good portion of the time, injured guys don’t come back, don’t come back on schedule, or aren’t effective upon returning. The good teams plan for the worst and hope for the best. That’s why it’s so important to build depth into an organization.

    • greenmtred

      I agree. The Cubs look overwhelming now, and will probably be good going forward, but stuff happens. Injuries. Free Agency. Players who don’t quite live up to their promise. Arrieta and Fowler are just 30, but that could be viewed as: Arrieta and Fowler are already 30.

  3. Gaffer

    You are right on, except that the Reds have ANY chance to win a WS in the foreseeable future. The idea of this reboot was based on adding young stars to older established stars. This was blown the moment the July 31 trade deadline passed last year without trading Bruce, Chapman, and Frazier for some real young studs. Instead we got basically a utility infielder and a couple middle relievers.

    We have a single established star (Votto) who will be around in two years and a single young position player with star potential (Winker). We have some nice arms but that is a crap shoot and in reality we will need most to over perform to be anywhere near pitching dominant. Reboot requires a top 3 farm system, not a middle of the road one. We are not even in as good a position as 2010 when we had many more young stars (nearly all of which met or exceeded expectations). Votto was not supposed to be an 8 WAR player, nor Cueto an ace, and Frazier was not even a top 100 prospect. Then we hit big on Chapman, the Shin Soo Chu trade, and even the Latos trade had its benefits. This string of luck is rare. This team will now need even better luck.

    • ohiojimw

      Cody Reed is going to be more than a middle reliever. Ditto Stephenson and most likely Garrett. They got quality arms to fill out the rotation and build a pen.

      I agree about the position side issues; but. I doubt there was much more available at the deadline last year than they got for Frazier. Chapman could be a different case because of the DV issue over the winter; but as was often said here in the debate over whether Chapman should start or close, closers tend to be over valued by the selling team as trade chips/

    • Joe Shaw

      I get what you’re saying. That’s why I’m excited about the infusion of Analytic talent in the front office. Maybe a change in approach will bring a brighter future.

  4. Dante's Fire (@Dantesredfire)

    While the cubs are a team we should significantly envy, they are not without their problems. They have a solid 3 year deep run play off window with the possibility of another 3 year+ window thereafter. The aging pitching staff will eventually show it’s wear as this season goes on and into next couple years. Arrieta can’t pitch every game. Heyward’s opt out will also come into play as well as salary increases/contract extensions for other players.

    For the cubs to remain competitive after those three years, they’ll need to acquire a younger pitching staff. Seems like the rest of the league will increasingly lock up top tier pitching before players hit free agency. So the Cubs ostensibly have to trade for pitching. And make critical decisions about who to trade and keep on the position player side.

    I live a 15 minute walk from Wrigley. If the Cubs perform well over the next couple seasons, I guarantee the fan base will put much pressure on their team to keep the players they have. To sign the players the north side has fallen in love with. The cubs can’t simply claim they can’t afford it. I think the extent of the cubs ability to remain a serious contender long term turns on whether they can obtain younger starting rotation and avoid long term contracts to aging players. It won’t be so easy for them to pursue these goals.

    • David

      There will always be free-agent pitching to sign. But you are absolutely correct about the long term dilemma the Cubs have. But it is dilemma for winning team to have, with lots of money to spend. Theo Epstein can figure this out.

      The Reds, as presently managed and led (by their ownership and front office) are probably doomed to be a losing team/marginally winning team for the foreseeable future. They do indeed have some very talented young pitching. And have a lot of weakness in position players. The farm system is very weak at “A” and High A. They will have to trade some of the pitching talent for position players to just be competitive, not championship caliber.

      To the comment by Joe Shaw that Bruce is over the hill, I would also add…So is Joey Votto. Yet, we have years of Joey Votto ahead of us. Elite career hitters are not hitting 0.235 in mid May. He may yet get hot, but ….I doubt it.

      • greenmtred

        You think that Votto has suddenly rolled down the wrong side of the mountain in one year? Seems too sudden to be likely.

      • StillRed

        In this world of stats, anyone over 30 is on the backside of their career…so Votto is by definition on the backside of his career…but from his heights, it should be a long descent…I wouldn’t count him out just yet.

    • Chuck Schick

      I live 10 blocks from Wrigley. I think one thing that Ricketts and Theo showed during the 2012-2014 period is that they don’t care what the fans think and they’re willing to take the heat if they think they’re right.

      • David

        Chuck, I wasn’t trying to be an obtuse blockhead with you in the previous thread. But I think the mental approach to any sport (at the professional level) is as important as physical talent. I don’t think this years’ Reds team is that short on overall talent (not championship talent, but certainly not as weak as an expansion team that is destined to lose 100 games). What I think they lack that is separate from talent is knowing what they are supposed to be doing on the field. Hitting the cut-off man, taking the extra base, hitting behind the runner. Throwing first pitch strikes. Not making all the mental mistakes that have lost them games this season, and will continue to lose them games.

    • Joe Shaw

      Let’s hope they get into a few of this generation’s Alfonso Soriano type signings.

  5. Carl Sayre

    There are things going on this year I couldn’t dream of. The beloved Reds are about where I expected in the standings but not nearly as bad in the win loss category. I would be willing to wager that in January someone had said JV isn’t hitting his weight and Mez is gone again, combined with the absolute plague of injuries to a young pitching core that the Reds could see .500 you all would have laughed. I will give you that it is a small sample size but Duvall while not a regular starter at the major league level he has made a case for that 4th outfielder and pop of the bench when this team is contending again. The fact that Cozart has come back from a horrific injury and is still a plus defender but his anemic bat has picked up like he had it last year early on. I do not want the Reds to try and keep him but he sure is driving up the asking price. This will still be a painful year but there is a lot IMHO that bodes well for this team going forward. The anchor that is Bryan Price can be jettisoned at any time would make me happy especially if he was following WJ out of the door. I watched an interview with Williams the other day and he just about convinced me he is ready for at least the 20th century and with the right nudge even the 21st.

  6. another bob from nc

    Enjoyed the article. Want to believe the hope is justified. After years of disappointment and wasted emotional capital, am skeptical that hope will finally win out over experience.

    • Joe Shaw

      “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” – Andy Dufresne

      • another bob from nc

        “Hope is not a strategy. Luck is not a factor.” – James Cameron

  7. Indy RedMan

    Historically bad bullpen is almost comical but last in walks and lowest runs scored on the road in mlb is sad! Guys like Hellickson (who we’ve seen before) with a 4+ era just mowing guys down right and left. When the Reds actually score 6 or more in a game its usually at home with the aid of a GABP homer or 2 and there isn’t much help on the way from the minors unless Winker turns into Rafael Palmeiro or something? All I expect in the future is for them to keep it interesting atleast until the AS break and they’re almost ready for NFL training camps….this team was eliminated in April for intensive purposes.

  8. kmartin

    I also really fear the Cubs. In addition to Bryant, Heyward, Rizzo, and Fowler, don’t forget Addison Russell. He is very highly regarded and only 22. Ugh!

    • Indy RedMan

      Don’t forget old man Zobrist…..have him on my fbb team. He put up 4 HR/14 rbis in like 4-5 days last week

      • David

        Zobrist, besides his actual statistical value, is also important to Joe Maddon, because he is the physical, veteran embodiment of how Joe Maddon wants all his players to approach the game, especially hitting. Joe preaches how he wants his players to approach at bats, and Zobrist has been doing this for years, so there is the living example of what Maddon preaches. Don’t think that this approach does not have an effect.

    • Steve Mancuso

      And Kyle Schwarber next year and beyond.

      • kmartin

        Yes and Schwarber is only 23. Rizzo, Bryant, Russell, Schwarber, and Heyward are all 26 or younger.

      • David

        It’s because….they know what they are doing and how to actually achieve their goals. The Red’s rebuilding/re-tooling/reset or whatever they are doing in the front office is half-hearted, because they must appease an owner who insists on “winning”, but yet is not committed to actually building a winning team.

        Strange times in the Rhineland.

      • Joe Shaw

        The Reds are making moves in the right direction with their analytic approach. It will take more than a few years for them to develop a core philosophy and then build an infrastructure that is substantially unique by comparison to other clubs. Anyone can get stats and build trend models. It takes time, effort, and some good creativity to build something useful. This is what has me excited for the long term. Yeah, they might win in a couple years, but the Analytics, if done properly, will start to pay dividends in 2019/2020 and beyond. That will hopefully build lasting success or, at the very least, a lasting cycle of success with fewer downturns.

        Wish I coulda been a part of that. I’m an Analytics Manager in my day job. They wanted people with PhDs, though. I ain’t got time for that.

      • lwblogger2

        I applied for the position because of my baseball background, my mathematical background, and experience with Amazon Web Services. They hired better people than me and that’s a good thing.

        That said, I’m more than a little leery. Why? Well, their rebuilding plan is held in a binder for one thing. A binder! Not exactly screaming 21st century when your plan is in a binder.

  9. Kyle

    Excellent article, particularly liked 1 and 3 which I think goes against the grain about what I and many on the blog have thought for the past few years. Have to give BP credit. Looking forward to reading more, Joe.

    • Joe Shaw

      Thanks a bunch!

      I like both Jay and BP. I think Jay gets too much credit and BP too little. BP’s been great for this organization, the incident with C-Trent notwithstanding. He’s been great with the fans, he’s done everything everyone has asked of him on the field, and he’s found a way to adapt as his primary skills waned. I don’t think anyone would have been surprised or even upset if he’d faded completely three years ago like we all expected him to. But he hasn’t. I’m afraid he’ll finish his career here to little fanfare aside from a short fare-thee-well, and I think that’s a shame.

      Jay’s been great, too, but he has almost always underperformed against expectations. That’s not his fault. But I think its clear he’s on the way down. If the Reds are going to be successful in a few years, I highly doubt Jay is part of that picture. Like I said, I’ll happily eat crow if he turns it around. But I doubt I’ll have to do that.

      • lwblogger2

        I don’t know where he’ll be at the end of the year. The last 2 have been very unkind. So far this year however, he’s at .258/.318/.500. I’m not sure how that’s bad. He’s got a 111 wRC+. He has made a few rare defensive mistakes this year that have me worried but he’s hitting about how I thought he would. My thoughts on Bruce are that he may not be part of the Reds next good team and therefore he should probably be moved. That said, I don’t think he’s done. In fact, I think he’s the perfect “Change of scenery” candidate for another club.

  10. enfueago

    I liked the article but there is no point in worrying about the Cubs. Build the best team you can and things will line up eventually. The Cubs look to be good for a while but not because their players are young but because the organization is rich and, finally, well run. At least some of their young core will not wind up being that in the future due to injuries, decline etc. There was a time when Mesoraco and Bruce were the young stars who were gonna be a core for years. No one takes that as a given now. The Cubs may be deep enough and rich enough to fill in those holes when the occur. Now its up to the Reds to do the same.

    • Joe Shaw

      I’m not worried about the Cubs. There’s no emotion to it. It’s just a simple fact that, barring unforeseen changes to either organization, the Cubs will be a major stumbling block for the Reds’ plans to win in 2017 or 2018. Like the Cards these past few years, but blue-er.

  11. CI3J

    I would feel much better about the Reds’ future if I felt like the upper management was on the same page, had a clear goals, and an even clearer plan to accomplish those goals. That’s the Cubs true stength.

    When even a site like RLN is left scratching their heads at team management decisions, that’s not a good thing.

    • Joe Shaw

      I agree. The thing that has me excited is their step toward taking an Analytic approach. That’s a good step. If they foster that department and grow it into something good, it will bear significant fruit. If not, if they just pay lip service to Moneyball fandom, things will likely get worse, because they’ll have yet another reason to blame poor decision-making. It’s very easy to blame “The book” for your faults, whether the book is traditional baseball methodology or fancy (but bad) stats/analysis dressed up to look pretty, There’s an interplay between stats and decision-making that’s hard to master. The Red Sox had it for a while THe cubs seem to have it now. Let’s hope the Reds can develop that.

      I do that sort of thing for a living … So, if the Reds are interested in someone who can assist with such things, I am more than happy to send them my resume.

  12. jimmaloney46

    `Joe, I enjoy your self-deprecating humor and positive energy, so thanks for that. You’re clearly a fun guy. But there’s a bit too much pollyanna thinking intermixed with the good points in the article.

    BP has been a mostly solid player here, especially during the good years. But his refusal to accept being traded last winter has seriously damaged both the Reds rebuild and my opinion of him. You didn’t even mention this. Why? Do you think it didn’t matter? You clearly idolize the guy. Many Reds fans don’t, never have. He has been prone to putting himself ahead of team and strutting around like a glory hound. Let’s not forget it was he who started that ridiculous fight with the Cards: it was he who criticized Castellini for the very generous big money contract, which is in reality vastly overinflated. He sometimes dogs it, other times hot dogs it. He’s a numnut too often for my tastes. His trade refusal stalled the rebuild plan, blocks Peraza, and makes zero sense, since he would have gone to a contender. Joe, how can you ignore his egregious behavior here? Do you want the Reds to get on with a successful rebuild or not? Your lavish praise of him is something I find both baffling and undeserved.

    Secondly, everything you say about analytics can be said about a scouting department. But you didn’t mention scouting at all. The Reds have a mediocre minor league system, and no amount of analytics will fix that if the people who analyze talent on all levels are mediocre at it. Emotional makeup, maturity, ability to be a team player, coachability, all these things are equally important as analytics, maybe more. Joe Maddon is one of the best at managing both personalities and game situations. You are right to feel that a good analytics dept might help the Reds, but good coaching and good scouting are still far more important than the latest, freshest computer formula.

    • Chuck Schick

      The Reds and BP aren’t partners. They have a business arrangement. He had the right to veto the trade(s). There is nothing egregious about acting in one’s best or desired interest. Was Pete Rose acting egregiously when he went to the the Phillies? Didn’t his departure harm the Reds? The Reds have the right to act in their best interest and so do the players.

      To suggest that his contract was inflated has no basis in fact. He’s been fairly paid relative to his level of production for his position. I am not a BP fan….however, no one has the right to just make stuff up.

      • ohiojimw

        Maybe the Reds thought it was a partnership when he (apparently) agreed to have a significant portion of his earnings deferred at a rate favorable to the club but then when he (allegedly) refused to cash out at present value and move on, they learned otherwise 😉

  13. jimmaloney46

    Shick: Signing second basemen to long term contracts where the tail end years are beyond the age of 31 is a bad risk. Why? They are entering into the category of diminishing returns age wise. If you don’t know this, you’re sorely lacking in your business knowledge of baseball. I made nothing up, but merely cited standard knowledge. Next time, try harder to distinguish between opinion and fact, especially your own,

    If (you and) Phillips think playing for a team losing 100 games 2, ,maybe 3 years in a row is a smart business decision, have at it. He could be in Washington playing for a potential WS team, raking in endorsements and honors, maybe even upping his HOF potential by showcasing himself in the playoffs. Seems possible part of it is he wanted to stick it to Castellini, who he already has stated screwed him. Phillips has always been a head case, worst than Votto. He’s like Chad Johnson, overly sensitive to criticism and craving attention.