The first definition of log jam in the dictionary is pretty straightforward: “a situation in which a large number of logs floating down a river become tangled with each other so that further movement is not possible.”
Mother Nature made the earliest log jams. Hundreds of years before Europeans and commercial logging arrived in North America, river flooding would tear loose trees from the forests lining the water’s banks. Entire trees would fill the river and form jams. If the jams didn’t clear quickly, the timber got locked into place when the water receded. New streams and lakes were created as the water diverted.
For example, historians say an enormous log jam formed in the 12th century on the Red River in what is now northeast Texas, where Bob Wills is still the King. The clog extended more than 100 miles and lasted centuries. You read that right.
Henry Miller Shreve, an inventor and steamboat captain, is credited with making the Red River navigable. The clearing project lasted six years, from 1832 to 1838. Opening the river allowed ships from New Orleans to travel north to the city now named Shreveport.
More recently, logging practices have contributed to the development of woody buildups. Loggers cut down trees and haul the raw logs down to river banks. The logs remain there until they are floated in an orderly manner downstream to mills. But obstacles and sudden flooding can produce massive unintentional pileups in a short time.
According to Merriam-Webster the first known use of the term “log jam” happened in 1885. It was probably in the context of The Great Log Jam that occurred in the Grand River of Michigan in the summer of 1883. The pileup involved over 150 million feet of logs, weighing 37 million tons. Efforts by river man John Walsh and the Ottawa Boom Co. partly mitigated the jam. Eventually, the logs destroyed several major bridges and caused flooding of population areas.
After commercial logging as a source of log jams came baseball front offices. This is where we pivot from the literal to figurative and to the Cincinnati Reds middle infield. The second dictionary definition of log jam: A situation in which no progress seems possible.
The Rebuild has produced five players for three infield positions. In alphabetical order, with ages on Opening Day 2017 in parentheses:
- Dilson Herrera (23) acquired for Jay Bruce
- José Peraza (22) acquired for Todd Frazier
- Alfredo Rodriguez (22) international signing
- Nick Senzel (21) first round draft pick 2016
- Eugenio Suarez (25) acquired for Alfredo Simon
This list does not include Alex Blandino (24), first round pick in 2014. He’s hit .378/.465/.541 in the past ten games.
It also leaves out the major league logs at the front of the jam, Zack Cozart (30) and Brandon Phillips (35). Both are under team control through the end of 2017.
Of course, one fan’s metaphorical log jam is another’s organizational depth. You can easily imagine a 2018 Opening Day roster with three of the five starting and the other two as backup. Say: Senzel at 3B, Peraza at SS, Herrera at 2B, Suarez and Rodriguez on the bench, or a variation on that. Maybe Rodriguez beats out Peraza at short.
From one perspective, if Senzel and Herrera develop as they might, that’s a pretty good infield. On the other hand, all four of those players can’t start at the same time. In that sense, it’s a waste of either the Bruce trade, the Frazier trade, the #2 draft pick or the $7 million international signing – each a huge opportunity.
The situation could be rectified through an additional trade. Or the logs may unjam themselves if the team’s scouting or judgment misfired and one or more of these players doesn’t make it as a major leaguer. What is clear is that whether or not this sudden surplus of infielders has a happy ending depends on how it’s handled by the organization.
We know the Reds front office has a plan, with PowerPoint presentation, binders and everything. As fans, we want to have faith in their project.
But it’s hard to believe in it when the organization wastes a third of José Peraza’s year. Sitting on the bench (like a bump on a log) stunts his development and postpones learning what he can do. When Peraza did make it out of the dugout, he played more outfield than infield. More outfield than infield. There’s still plenty to figure out about José Peraza. Like whether he can play shortstop at the major league level. And if he can produce runs. Peraza walked 2.2 percent of his 93 major league plate appearances and had one extra-base hit. Peraza swung at 42 percent of the pitches he saw that were out of the strike zone. But his playing time was so erratic these numbers are meaningless.
It’s hard to believe in the organization’s plan when they can’t talk about it in a coherent manner. The unwillingness to cut back on the playing time of Zack Cozart or Brandon Phillips shows more commitment to coddling veterans than consistent prioritization of the Rebuild. Walt Jocketty said it was extremely tough to trade Jay Bruce. The Reds summoned the courage to do that. But they haven’t shown the nerve to cut back on Brandon Phillips’ playing time. Bruce is having one of the best offensive seasons in baseball. Phillips, notwithstanding his performance yesterday, is at the bottom of overall rankings for second basemen and suffering through one of the bottom ten offensive performances in baseball. Yet the organization won’t sit Phillips, even with a broken hand.
It’s hard to believe in the front office plan given they were on the verge of trading for an outfielder instead of Herrera. The Brandon Nimmo deal fell through over health concerns with one of the minor league players in the package. The Reds preference was Nimmo. If all the reports were accurate, they’d agreed to a trade that didn’t include Dilson Herrera. Plan B produced Herrera.
Maybe Herrera will end up better than Nimmo, maybe he won’t. Let’s remember to check back in five years. But let’s also not kid ourselves in buying that there was a grand plan to use Jay Bruce to acquire another middle infielder when the day started. There wasn’t. If anything, the Reds started the day planning (both sides confident) to unload Zack Cozart to Seattle.
For now, the jam continues. Cozart and Phillips soak up the precious major league playing time. Meanwhile, José Peraza and Dilson Herrera are assigned to face minor league competition. They can play together for a month in Louisville. Both will almost certainly get called up to the Reds in September when rosters can expand. Neither will reach a year of service time if they’re with the club for 32 more days (although Super Two status may be a separate issue). We’ll learn then if the club feels they should receive meaningful major league experience.
Real log jams make profound changes to the local ecosystem. The figurative kind can, too. Whether the impact is for better or worse depends on the level of competence in how it’s managed.