Yes, I appreciate the irony of an optimistic post about the Reds built around a metaphor of brightening skies while the Opening Day game is rained out. But let’s persist and use the overcast and now unoccupied moment to assess where the Reds stand in relation to being good.
Reconstruction of the team progressed too slowly for most of us. You can choose from a dozen narratives to explain it. The plan began with the timely ditching of Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon in December 2014. But subsequent months brought the halting, sluggish exodus of Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart.
Not only were many of the trades poorly timed or executed, they stung. The loss of one popular player after another were blows to loyal Reds fans.
Yet with each departure came the promise of better days ahead. Charles Lindbergh, who saw plenty of skylines, spoke of the necessity sometimes of seeing distances beyond the visual horizon. Reds fans have had to do a lot of that lately, scanning the horizon for the arrival of the next competitive Reds team. In fact, we’re still staring and, on occasion, blinking at an uncertain future.
It sure would be tidy to give a definitive answer of yes. But that cheerful dawn isn’t here, just yet. The messy reality is there aren’t distinct beginnings, middles and endings for these things. Yes, the Cubs and Astros were able to put dramatic exclamation points at the end of their projects. But quick World Series championships aren’t common.
For the Reds, it feels like the target date for winning again is perpetually moving, always a year in the future. Like the 5-10 minute wait at Seinfeld’s Chinese restaurant.
Before we get to specifics, it’s worth reminding ourselves that change for the better can happen quickly. We only need look back a few years to see an example from here in Cincinnati.
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It was the spring of 2012. The Reds had surprised the baseball world, winning the 2010 NL Central championship, led by league MVP Joey Votto.
But a menacing cloud hung above the otherwise joyous landscape: the dreaded Votto Window and its impending, inevitable closure. The Reds first baseman would become a free agent at the end of the 2014 season. The narrow opening for success was shutting.
Yet like brick and mortar, competition windows can be remodeled. Two full seasons before Votto’s ETD, he and Reds ownership agreed to a deal covering twelve seasons at a price of $251m. Joey Votto will turn 41 years old during 2024 when the final club option expires on his contract.
Were the Reds lucky or smart? The front office may have been optimistic about Votto’s future, but I doubt anyone expected he would become arguably the greatest hitter in franchise history, one of the best all-time in baseball.
Still, the Reds took a wrecking ball to that skinny Votto Window. With the stroke of a pen, they built an enormous vista of possibility.
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Until recently, the vast length of Votto’s contract had been beyond comprehension. Its duration even challenged the practical dimensions of spreadsheets displaying Reds future payroll commitments. Votto’s row of seasons ran right off the page. 2024 was beyond the horizon. I’m not sure I ever tried to visualize the Reds after Joey Votto.
That changed when the Reds inked Eugenio Suarez to a contract that runs through 2025. The Suarez extension overflowed with symbolism. A player from the initial group the Reds acquired in rebuilding became the first to outlast Joey Votto, at least in a contractual sense. Suarez now has a row in that salary spreadsheet that ends further to the right than Joey Votto.
But more important than what the new Suarez contract says about the middle of next decade is what it conveys about the present. Much like last year’s mid-season promotion of Luis Castillo, the long-term commitment to Suarez puts in place a solid vision of the finished rebuild, circa 2019. You can add Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, Tyler Mahle, Sal Romano, Amir Garrett and others to the picture, but don’t stop there.
Reds ownership and the front office will spend and acquire much more. The stocked and refurbished minor league affiliates will develop more.
Here’s an important rainy-day message of this post: Don’t judge the Reds by the 2018 Opening Day roster and dugout. Those 25 player names and coaching staff are nowhere near as important as the team they’ll field the second half of the season and the manager they’ll employ in 2019.
Nick Senzel and Alex Blandino are already better than Cliff Pennington and Phil Gosselin. Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Brandon Finnegan and Kevin Shackelford will get healthy in coming weeks.
By July 1, Senzel will join the infield cornerstones of Suarez, Tucker Barnhart and Votto for good. His position yet to be dictated by how well Jose Peraza and Scooter Gennett perform. Jesse Winker will be a regular in the outfield and his welcome combination of hit, on-base and power skills will be a productive new part of the offense.
By July 1, Anthony DeSclafani will be pitching every five games. Luis Castillo will emerge an ace. A few of the young pitchers will become solid major league starters. We don’t know which of them it will be and we know it won’t be all of them. But they don’t all have to make it.
Because at the 2018 trade deadline, the front office will look for big opportunities. Yes, they’ll be shopping spare parts like Adam Duvall, Scooter Gennett and Devin Mesoraco. But Dick Williams will also be searching for important long-term pieces. The small-market Milwaukee Brewers’ have set the bar with the dual acquisition of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain (and probably still to go: a top-tier starting pitcher).
This will all come together for the Reds in 2019. Then in 2020 we may see Taylor Trammell in center, Tyler Stephenson behind the plate and Hunter Greene on the mound. Cheer for these young Reds as we watch them develop.
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That’s the brightening horizon, visible even on this cloudy day.
But if we’ve learned anything the past few years it’s that the path forward isn’t static. That line, where the Reds metaphoric earth meets its figurative sky, it isn’t fixed. Renovations seem chaotic right up until the project is finished. The view of your destination can fog up even as you near it. Yet, we know organizations can accelerate timelines and broaden competition windows with new contracts. Players breakout and become stars. Change, after years of waiting, can come fast. Like popping the lid off a jar that’s been difficult to open.
Here’s a bit more irony. When we do finally greet that horizon, a new one will emerge. Change in perspective is an inherent feature of the horizon. The goal of a winning record turns into the aim of the Reds making the postseason, which is replaced by the objective of the NL pennant, followed by the ultimate achievement of a World Series championship. Then more than one.
Reds fans have been through a few years of failure so profound it’s been hard to keep a grip on the path forward, let alone stay focused. Loss of faith is understandable. And for a bit longer, we’ll have to find satisfaction on our own terms. But the wait is now measured in months, not years.
Next March the metaphor will be a sunrise, come rain or shine.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as 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. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.