I’m sorry, you don’t trade Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman and Brandon Phillips and then give us Scott Feldman.
But that’s what happened Monday when Bryan Price announced Feldman would take the mound for the Reds on Opening Day. Major league baseball teams choose Opening Day starters in advance for a variety of internal purposes. But the reason they announce the selection to the public is to generate excitement for the season. That’s why the decision to start Feldman is so puzzling and disappointing. The news landed with a disheartening thud throughout Reds Country.
The concern isn’t selling tickets for April 3. That day, starting with the Findlay Market Parade, is sacred to Cincinnati and Reds fans. Great American Ball Park would be filled to the rafters whether Scott Feldman or Scott Baio was the starting pitcher.
Beyond one game, the selection of an Opening Day pitcher conveys a broader message to fans and the team itself. The choice of Scott Feldman says – no, it shouts – to fans and anyone else paying attention that it’s not time to start believing in or caring about the Reds. It expresses the dreary notion that the painful rebuild somehow hasn’t produced a single suitable young pitcher.
To be sure, Anthony DeSclafani was acquired by trading Mat Latos in the leading wave of the rebuild. If DeSclafani wasn’t ailing, he’d take the mound on Opening Day and rightly lead the Reds into 2017. But his injury happened and he’s unavailable.
What should the Reds do instead?
Assemble the Filthy Five.
Through drafts and trades, the club has amassed a half-dozen young, exciting – and healthy – pitchers who are competing out here in the desert for spots in the starting rotation. In no order: Cody Reed (23), Robert Stephenson (24), Rookie Davis (23), Amir Garrett (24), Sal Romano (23), and Brandon Finnegan (23).
The Reds should select five of those six players for the Opening Day starting rotation. Let fans and the media dub the group the Filthy Five. The order in which the young men pitch wouldn’t be important. Go by the alphabet, age or uniform number. For who goes first, pick the name from a hat. What matters is the pack and what it represents, not the individual.
Are all five of those pitchers ready for the major leagues? Think of the first couple months of the season as an extended tryout. Eventually, DeSclafani and Homer Bailey will return, each with several years of valuable talent and maturity to contribute to the Reds. But for a while, the ball would be in the kids’ hands. They’d gain experience facing big league hitters while games still mattered.
I’ve seen this strategy succeed at the University of Michigan. I worked there during the basketball program’s Fab Five Era and was fortunate to attend many of their games. Those five players fed off each other and the common identity they shared. So did the fans. That bold experiment produced a team of five freshmen starters that made it to the NCAA national championship finals. The analogy to this year’s Reds rotation isn’t perfect, but it demonstrates the potential of the unit – both as symbol and for competitive success.
Aside from a couple more high draft picks, the Reds are through their rebuild. They have new infielders and outfielders. You could make a case they have more than enough of those for now. Announcing the young starting rotation would make a dramatic and clear statement that the Rebuilt Reds have arrived. Sure, we’d know the Opening Day roster won’t be the final product. But the declaration of a Filthy Five would inspire fans to support the team. Uncommon pre-season enthusiasm would be at hand.
Yes, that would be the death of the dream that was Scott Feldman.
Don’t diminish Feldman, but let’s not oversell him either. He’s been with the Reds for five minutes. His career strikeout rate is below 6 per 9 innings. The best hope is that the club can trade him in a few months. Even that wishful thinking might be best served by putting Feldman in a reliever role.
Feldman is 34 years old and lasted only four starts in the Astros’ 2016 rotation. At last year’s August 1 deadline, the Astros traded then-reliever Feldman to the Blue Jays. Toronto used Feldman for only 15 innings over the last two months. He didn’t pitch in the Wild Card game or the AL Division Series and was left off the Blue Jay’s ALCS roster. This is another year later, further down his aging curve.
But the club has already announced Scott Feldman will be the Opening Day starter. Wouldn’t backtracking now be a public relations problem?
Who cares? The excitement generated by an announcement of the Filthy Five would dwarf the PR downside.
The Reds should simply say they changed their mind. The young pitchers have earned the opportunity. Scott Feldman can contribute to the team as a swingman in the bullpen. Like Adele at the Grammy’s, fans understand the do-over. What golfer hasn’t called for a mulligan?
The new front office should grab this unique opportunity. Instead of boring the baseball universe and demoralizing Reds fans, it should announce the future is here in the form of five young arms. And then don’t look back. With one audacious move, the organization could catalyze Reds fans behind its rebuilding plan and their new team.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. Contemporary Reds thrills: witnessing Jay Bruce’s 2010 homer and Homer Bailey’s 2013 no-hitter in person. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 280 characters about the Reds is Redleg Nation, although you can follow his tweets @spmancuso.