First, the truth. When Nation editor Steve Mancuso asked for a quick 100-word prediction of the 2016 Cincinnati Reds, I almost wrote: “I hope these Reds aren’t as bad as the team in 1982.”
The train wreck in 1982 resulted in a record of 61-101. The Engineer of that debacle was General Manager Dick Wagner.
The current 2016 disaster, 55 games into this current season is worse, record-wise but not by much. The 1982 Reds were 23-32 at this juncture, the current Reds on Saturday morning were 20-35, just three games to the south. And while pitching injuries are a part of this equation, one simply can’t look past how brutal the bullpen has been. When you’re “closer” and one of your “set up” men are demoted to Triple A so early in the season, you scratch your head and wonder just what the Reds front office was thinking about for the last several months.
The biggest difference between 1982 and 2016 is this: In 1981, the Reds had the best record in baseball. They missed the playoffs due to MLB’s adoption of a split-season concept due to a players strike, er labor stoppage. The Reds’ stunning slide the next year was unexpected. In 2015, the Reds barely averted losing 100 games. This season was expected to be a bad one, by those with a realistic and honest vision. Just not as bad as it is. There have been some ugly moments that, for the sake of our collective sanity, I will not summarize.
After the 1981 season, Wagner traded three starters (Ken Griffey, George Foster and Ray Knight) and acquiesced to Johnny Bench’s demand to be moved to third base. The return Wagner got in the trades were centerfielder Cesar Cedeño, catcher Alex Trevino, relief pitcher Jim Kern and a couple of pitching prospects in Greg Harris and Brian Ryder. In a separate deal, he acquired one-time phenom Clint Hurdle from Kansas City for journeyman pitcher Scott Brown.
Wagner also counted on help from the farm system in outfielders Paul Householder, Duane Walker and Eddie Milner.
None of this worked out. Once one of the best players in baseball for Houston, Cedeño was an “old” 31 (to borrow a quote from Bill DeWitt) when the Reds got him. Cedeño’s power numbers were low and his speed was gone. Householder and Walker never panned out. Ryder and Harris produced next to nothing. Trevino was simply awful. Hurdle batted .208 in just 19 games and had one double and one RBI.
So are the 2016 Reds as bad or worse than the 1982 team?
I could put numerous charts and graphs in this article using statistical data but I didn’t. First, I don’t know how to do it. Second, you would probably be bored stiff if I did.
But when you compare the two teams position by position, the 2016 Reds have a clear advantage— in right field (Jay Bruce), first base (Joey Votto) second base (Brandon Phillips) and left field (Adam Duvall, although he still has a small sample size.)
I’d also give the nod to Tucker Barnhart over Trevino because Trevino was one of the worst catchers in a Reds uniform I ever saw.
It’s the pitching staffs where the 1982 Reds had a vast edge. The ’82 Reds actually had an ace in Mario Soto. This meant they had a legitimate chance to win every fifth day and also avoid long losing streaks. They also had Frank Pastore (8-13) and Bruce Berenyi (8-18) who had decent stuff and pitched most of the season. Tom Hume had 17 saves out of the bullpen and was the lone All-Star representative for Cincinnati in 1982; he even had a save in the All-Star game that season.
The Reds 2016 bullpen has been an unmitigated disaster. A couple of them, Tony Cingrani and Blake Wood, have had their moments but their relief corps is the worst in baseball.
There’s a chance if the Reds get healthy they can avert losing over 100 games but I wouldn’t count on it. Many of our “protected assets” litter the disabled list. And if the Reds trade Bruce and Zack Cozart it’s not going to help the offense out. I understand it’s the right move to make but only if the Reds get the right prospects in return to build on.
When I asked him about the 1982 Reds, Milner said, “Well, we had Mario Soto,” and after a pause, added, “and nobody else.”
The 2016 Reds? Hmmm. Cozart and Bruce. Votto and Duvall. Brandon Finnegan and … nobody else.
I understand the rebuilding process in the baseball world of 2016. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. I know, the Astros and the Cubs went through this as well. And I will never desert the Cincinnati Reds. But this hurts. It really does.