I don’t want to talk about rebuilding any more. You don’t get a trophy for being the best rebuilder. You get it for winning. We’re entering a phase now where we’ve done some of hard legwork. Over the next couple of years we want to build a positive trajectory and start winning again in our division.
— Dick Williams, Reds President of Baseball Operations (yesterday)
With that statement Dick Williams told us the Reds have hit bottom and are moving full speed ahead back to the surface. The club has entered a new phase. That’s something Williams couldn’t say until this week. We can quit capitalizing “rebuild” and start referring to the Era of Positive Trajectory.
In other words, it’s fair to stop judging the front office solely by process and projections and start evaluating the club based on results.
But as fans we must be careful to choose the right short-term criteria to evaluate success. For a while longer, we need to focus on gains in individual player development instead of collective production in the wins column. Forget the sum of the parts being greater than the whole, judging progress is still about the parts.
Only four players – Devin Mesoraco, Zack Cozart, Joey Votto and Homer Bailey – remain from the 2012 Reds’ Opening Day roster under manager Dusty Baker. That team won 97 games and the NL Central. It feels longer than four seasons ago.
You could make the case the Rebuild isn’t quite finished. The Reds still need to move Cozart, right? But we may be learning this week not everyone in the organization is sold on Jose Peraza at SS and Dilson Herrera at 2B. That means there might be value in Zack Cozart sticking around for a couple years at a reasonable price. Could be all of that is part of sorting.
The Cozart question aside, Williams is right that the Reds have finished the hard stuff. Trading Brandon Phillips was the final piece. In a literal sense, the Phillips move just made way for the next second baseman, one player.
But symbolically, the announcement felt so much bigger. Like an enormous page in the Reds media guide has been turned. It suddenly seems like the players who earn a ticket to Cincinnati this April will represent a big chunk of the next good Reds team.
Not every important piece will be at Great American Ball Park just yet. For example, Nick Senzel will lace ’em up against the Tennessee Smokies not the Philadelphia Phillies. A few other players, some who aren’t even in the organization yet, will need time before they knock down the Reds’ clubhouse door. Down the road, a big trade or two will fill the inevitable holes created by players who get hurt or don’t cut it.
Cheering for the home team and familiar players is one of the traditions that makes baseball great. But so is the thrill of renewal.
For a while, meaningful gains in the win column will lag behind the upturn we’ll observe in individual players. Patience and understanding is oh, so hard. But they’re also vital for our sanity as this young team struggles through its growing pains. We’ll have to keep that in mind this summer.