If you keep up with all the various outlets that cover the Reds, you might have noticed a theme this week.
First, from The Athletic:
They’re not dull, and they’re about three or four “Oh, sure, I saw that coming” success stories away from punishing the NL Central.
They’re not dull, but they’re not exactly good now, are they? They’ve outscored their opponents on the season, which means they should be above .500.
If you, like me, said out loud, “Wait, I thought the Reds had three or four out-of-nowhere success stories this season?” then this particular write-up is horribly demoralizing. It means that no matter how well Eugenio Suarez or Aristides Aquino or Sonny Gray plays, the rest of the team will still hover close enough to average to keep the team hopeful but depressingly average. For the Reds current roster to make the playoffs, literally every single player has to perform as the best version of themselves. And that’s a tall ask.
Next, from Baseball Prospectus:
And the Reds are “on the cusp” for what feels like the 14th straight year. Maybe “existential dread” isn’t quite right for this group. Perhaps their fans should be feeling something closer to anger, resentment, or at least a lack of patience. Lord knows we couldn’t blame them.
To be honest, I mostly don’t feel anything at all anymore. The Reds as a team are nothing more than the dog owner who hangs a treat from the front of the treadmill. The big dogs (Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals) know that with a strong leap, they can get the treat. The medium dogs (Reds) just keep plodding forward, hoping to one day reach the treat but never realizing they aren’t going anywhere. I guess you can find solace that the Reds aren’t a little dog (Pirates), flung from the treadmill altogether.
My point here is: Something needs to change. Everything needs to change. And yet, nothing needs to change. Stick with me.
From an organizational standpoint, the Reds finally seem to get it. That’s where nothing needs to change. They know they need to lunge for the treat and are making moves to do so. Trading for and extending Sonny Gray is a solid lunge. Trading for Yasiel Puig and Alex Wood is a tentative lunge. Flipping Puig and Taylor Trammell for Trevor Bauer is a lunge with more confidence, but still tempered.
Now this offseason, the Reds must make an even bigger lunge. Yes, that requires spending money or prospect capital. Yes, that requires upsetting some fans. That’s where something needs to change.
For years now, the Reds have only spent money when they know they’re making a safe bet. Extend Joey Votto, one of the best first baseman in franchise history? Easy. Extend Eugenio Suarez for an annual value around what most players of his caliber make in their second year of arbitration over seven years and hope he develops into something more? Might as well.
What the Reds need to do now is actual sign a free agent for big money. If Ryan Ludwick’s 2 year, $15 million contract is still the largest deal the Reds have given to a free agent hitter by the start of the 2020 season, something has gone seriously awry. Anthony Rendon is the hottest name out there, but Nick Castellanos also has his supporters. Of course, Marcell Ozuna and Yasiel Puig are also on the market. The big names are there for the bidding, the Reds just have to pony up to the table.
And here’s where everything must change: The Reds cannot just make one big signing and then hope that bit pieces will carry them the rest of the way. This isn’t the NBA: Neither LeBron James nor Eugenio Suarez can drag the Reds kicking and screaming to the promised land.
If the Reds are to compete next year, and I think many of us will riot if they don’t make an honest attempt to do so, they will need to be a constant presence in the headlines this winter. All the national sportswriters’ cracks of — “Oh, I had completely forgot the Reds existed these past few years” — will need to sound as outdated as a typewriter in the back of a Model-T.
I don’t assume any of this is news to regular readers of Redleg Nation. “The Reds just need to do things differently” is classic sports fan advice. But it feels counterproductive to focus on the minutiae of this season when so clearly it’s the big picture mindset that needs to change. We can praise Freddy Galvis as much as we want, but the reality is: Winning teams don’t employ Freddy Galvis. They employ Jose Altuve or Gleybar Torres or Anthony Rendon for crying out loud.
If the Reds want to make the playoffs, they have to make the lunge. Otherwise, it’s another year of misplaced hope and late summer doldrums.