I’m 23. In my lifetime, the Reds have 3 winning seasons I can actually remember
— Joe Cheek (@Joe_Cheek) September 24, 2018
I saw this tweet last week and nearly gasped. We all know things have been difficult and disappointing in Redleg Nation for many years. But my experience as a Reds fan beginning in the early 1970s is so different from the person who posted the tweet above. I asked myself, would I have so fallen in love with both baseball and the Reds if I started following the team in, say, the early 2000s instead of during the Big Red Machine era?
After the 67-94 Reds and 81-79 Pirates bring down the curtain on this fourth-consecutive 90-plus-loss season in the 1:10 p.m. start at Great American Ball Park, a critical off-season will begin for this franchise.
Attendance continues to decline, and who can blame people for not wanting to come and watch a team that has made it clear that winning has not been its top priority for the past four years? The big question that many of us diehards are beginning to have: How many people will show up at GABP when the Reds are once again competitive? How many ardent Reds followers remain after this decades-long stretch of mostly losing baseball?
It’s my belief that the Reds front office and ownership understand that they risk losing the interest of even the most diehard fan if they don’t turn things around. Dick Williams’ statements to the media early last week were a signal of that. Williams let the fan base know, through the media, that
- The team is prepared to spend substantially more in free agency than at any time in recent years;
- Interviews have already begun for the manager position, indicating that Jim Riggleman isn’t going to automatically have the interim tag removed from his title;
- Barry Larkin will not be a candidate to manage the team in 2019, instead retaining his position as a minor league instructor;
- There will be a sit-down discussion with Homer Bailey to discuss how he can best help the team in 2019
It’s not a coincidence that these topics are the top talking points of Reds fans these days. Williams wanted to let all of you know that the front office is aware of your concerns, and wanted to let you know that they have plans to address them. He was clear that acquiring starting pitching is the top priority.
Yesterday in this space, we reviewed what we’ve learned about the pitching during this season. Luis Castillo was the only Red who performed anywhere close to the major league average for a starter. This team needs at least two established starting pitchers, not prospects, from other organizations. Here’s the list of available free agent starters (from MLB.com, ranked by WAR):
Patrick Corbin (29 years old, 5.7 WAR)
Dallas Keuchel (31, 3.4)
Clayton Kershaw (31, 3.2) — Can opt out of the two years and $65 million remaining on his contract.
Charlie Morton (35, 2.9)
David Price (33, 2.5) — Can opt out of the four years and $127 million remaining on his contract.
J.A. Happ (36, 2.5)
CC Sabathia (38, 2.2)
Lance Lynn (32, 2.2)
Trevor Cahill (31, 2.1)
Derek Holland (32, 1.9)
Clay Buchholz (34, 1.7)
Anibal Sanchez (35, 1.6)
Nathan Eovaldi (29, 1.5)
Gio Gonzalez (33, 1.4)
Hyun-Jin Ryu (32, 1.2)
Matt Harvey (30, 1.1)
Jeremy Hellickson (32, 1.1)
Wade Miley (32, 1.0)
Garrett Richards (32, 1.0)
Tyson Ross (32, 1.0)
Brett Anderson (31, 0.8)
Edwin Jackson (35, 0.8)
Marco Estrada (35, 0.5)
Bartolo Colon (46, 0.2)
Jaime Garcia (32, 0.0)
Adam Wainwright (37, 0.0)
Drew Pomeranz (30, -0.3)
Miguel Gonzalez (35, -0.3)
Francisco Liriano (35, -0.4)
Chris Tillman (31, -0.4)
Hisashi Iwakuma (35, N/A) — Hasn’t appeared in the Majors in 2018.
Lefthander Corbin is the prize of this group, but rumors all year long have had him all but signed, sealed and delivered to the Yankees. He’s a native New Yorker and grew up a big Yankees fan. The Reds are not going to win a bidding war with the Yankees.
Righthander Keuchel has a career record of 76-63 and a 3.66 ERA. That’s pretty good, but is it worth $15 to $20 million per year for several years for someone over age 30? If it’s my money, I say not. Some team somewhere will pay that to him.
Reports indicate Morton has been weighing the possibility of retirement. Doesn’t sound like someone I’d want to invest in with the hopes of helping to elevate my pitching staff for the next few years.
Kershaw and Price are probably not going to opt out, based on the way the free agent market developed last off-season. Anyone else on that list, including Harvey, is not worthy of any more than a year or two at $10 to $15 million maximum per year. It’s my belief that one of the at least two new starting pitchers on the staff in 2019 will come from among the Happ through Harvey segment of the list above.
It is more likely that the Reds will acquire that established pitcher with a track record of success via trade. They can use their surpluses at the second base position, catcher, and in the minor league system. I don’t know who the target will be, but it’s likely the Reds will have to overpay for this player, just as they would if they went after one of the top available free agent starters. I believe the management will opt to overpay in terms of on-field talent rather than cash. Just a hunch.
Speaking of management, Jim Riggleman enters his final game today as interim manager. When the team was playing well at mid-season, there was a great vibe going on, and Riggleman was part of it. But as this team has completely fallen apart in the final weeks of the season, it’s clear that Riggleman doesn’t have the special sauce needed to lead this team out of its doldrums.
If Riggleman, who appears to be a favorite of Owner Bob Castellini, is named the permanent manager, there will be a revolt certainly in Redleg Nation and probably beyond. The front office is aware of this, I believe. It is my belief that Castellini has been convinced, at least to a degree, that the fan base has had it with the status quo, and will likely not put up with it any longer. After four years of a rebuild process, the expectation is that there will be some signs of progress. The quality of talent in the minor league system has grown tremendously over the four years, so that part of the plan has worked. But it’s still going to be a few years before that core group is at GABP, and the average fan is done paying top dollar to see a team that is finishing its worst four-year stretch in history.
After year four of their rebuild process, the Cubs opened the pocketbook and signed free agent starting pitchers Jon Lester and John Lackey. If the Reds follow that playbook, they would sign two of the top five or six starters from the list above. And we’d probably, as a Nation, feel quite refreshed about this team’s chances. But to do that, the Reds will be forced to overpay, as the Cubs did this year with Yu Darvish, and look how that worked out.
I believe the Reds and Dick Williams will be very aggressive this off-season, in hopes of recapturing the attention of a generation of Cincinnati residents who have no idea what winning baseball looks like or feels like. It will be interesting to watch.
|LF Pablo Reyes||SS Jose Peraza|
|CF Starling Marte||CF Billy Hamilton|
|1B Josh Bell||1B Joey Votto|
|C Francisco Cervelli||3B Eugenio Suarez|
|3B Colin Moran||LF Scott Schebler|
|RF Jose Osuna||RF Phillip Ervin|
|2B Kevin Kramer||2B Dilson Herrera|
|SS Kevin Newman||C Tim Federowicz|
|P Clay Holmes||P Sal Romano|
Tom Mitsoff is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up in the Dayton suburb of Beavercreek, Ohio. He lived a teenage life atypical of most his age by prioritizing following the Reds. At one point in the 1970s and early 1980s, Tom kept complete scorecards on more than 1,000 consecutive Reds games. Now that adult life has forced him to move on from his beloved Southwest Ohio, he follows the Reds daily through MLB.TV and other online media sources, including Redleg Nation.