The lull in Reds news will soon end. Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. With the young team and sorting season we Reds fans expect, spring training will be loaded with important developments.
Jason Linden’s thought-provoking column this morning (All of a Sudden, I Trust the Front Office) concerns a vital topic for Reds fans: What to make of the early moves taken by Dick Williams’ front office. We don’t have to wait for spring training to come up with a preliminary answer to that question.
Those of you of a certain age will remember Kremlinology. Because analysts in the West weren’t privy to the internal workings of the Soviet Union, a vast industry of academics and other analysts was formed to read Russian tea leaves. Inferences about what to expect from the Soviet Union were formed based on the few public statements by their leaders and the occasional visible actions they took.
That’s not to imply the decision makers at Joe Nuxhall Way are the Politburo or that they shouldn’t be trusted at face value. And let’s not forget that as Reds fans, we’re on the same side as the front office. There’s no war, cold or otherwise.
But by necessity, we aren’t in the know of all the thinking and decisions being made by Dick Williams and his staff. We see the signings and trades that are made, not the ones rejected. So we end up writing January posts like this one, and Jason’s that attempt to connect a few dots on our own.
It’s a tricky project. For one thing, it’s hard to know when the new regime’s decision-making began. We don’t know whether Walt Jocketty or Williams (or neither) was responsible for the successful 2016 amateur draft. We don’t know who possessed the nimbleness to approve signing TJ Friedl.
We don’t know whether Jocketty or Williams was the major driver behind the decision to use the Todd Frazier trade to acquire Jose Peraza, and whether that was the same person who used the Jay Bruce trade to acquire Dilson Herrera. We also don’t know who was the prime mover behind the signing of Alfredo Rodriguez and other international players last year.
Connecting the dots is all the more fraught with error when the lines of responsibility for decisions before November 2016 are blurry.
As Jason outlines, there have been encouraging indications since the transition of power to Dick Williams became official and total: the rationale given for the Drew Storen signing and the Dan Straily trade are two prominent examples.
Also, under Williams’ leadership, the Reds have staffed up with pro-analytics folks; committed resources to biomechanics and injury prevention; and taken steps to increase minor league instruction.
Another positive by inference: We can assume that the attribute of a player having been on one of Walt Jocketty’s Cardinals teams will no longer be a reason for acquiring him.
All that evidence is positive. It’s hard not to feel a sea change has occurred for the better.
But, let’s tap (not slam) the brakes on unbridled optimism. In evaluating the new front office, it’s important to differentiate tactics from strategy. Strategy in this case is the overall vision or philosophy of roster construction and team building. Tactics are the metrics and methods for how that vision is pursued. The recent promising steps in player acquisition fall into the tactics category.
While there’s ample reason to share Jason’s newfound confidence that the front office will take a more modern approach going forward, apprehension about its strategic vision remains warranted.
The decision to commit Michael Lorenzen to a bullpen role because of his success there last year weighs heavily. Coming in a rebuilding year, it displays a crippling fealty to roles instead of maximizing the impact of talent. Is the new front office emphasizing speed and stolen bases at the expense of hitting for power? Are they emphasizing contact instead of on-base skills?
Writ large, are they devoted to copying what they interpret as the Kansas City Royals model of building a team? The Reds front office might be doing an excellent, modern tactical job of putting together the kind of team they want. But that leaves the strategic question of whether the kind of team they want is the right one.
Others do have differing interpretations of the preliminary evidence and don’t share these concerns about the bigger picture. Each of us is doing nothing more than modern-day Kremlinology, drawing inferences from scattered data points, looking for patterns. But even with the hopeful early clues, withholding trust in the Reds front office’s while we verify their strategic vision seems prudent.