It feels like it’s been ages since the Cincinnati Reds looked like a real, contending team. A win over St. Louis on July 14 gave the Reds a record of 43-52, the only time this season the team dipped below 10 games under .500. It also meant the Reds had gone 40-34 in the post-Bryan Price era, 18-7 over the previous 25-game stretch and had taken series from the Cardinals, Cubs (a four-game sweep, even!) and Atlanta.
Since then, it’s been nothing but sadness, particularly since the All-Star break. Injuries have decimated the roster with Joey Votto, Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker all spending time either on the disabled list or, in Winker’s case, having the season come to an end as a whole.
The once-competent Reds look destined to finish with a worse record than year’s past even despite the promising middle months of the season. Heading into Friday’s contest, the Reds are 59-82. At the same point last year, the Reds were 61-79. Two years ago, the team was 59-82. The team needs to reach the 69 win mark to finish with a better mark than years past. To avoid another 90-loss season, the team must go 14-7.
In short, it doesn’t look great for the franchise, which begs the question, are the Reds really in a better spot than years past?
Coming into the season, the Reds appeared to have a plethora of starting pitching options, more than one rotation could even hold. And that didn’t even include Homer Bailey or Matt Harvey. Fast forward six months and there’s never been more uncertainty about the starting pitching.
Luis Castillo has been disappointing in his sophomore season. At times he looks incredible, like going 6.2 innings while allowing just two hits and striking out 11 against the Cardinals. At other times, like the start that preceded that in which he lasted just 3.2 innings while allowing five runs, he’s frustrated.
Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano suffered struggles of their own. While both had positive signs, the negatives outweighed the good and both were demoted in separate ways, the former sent to AAA and the latter to the bullpen. Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson look like lost causes as starters. Reed has shown enough promise to earn a chance in the bullpen while Stephenson looks like a player that needs a change of scenery.
Harvey and Bailey hardly deserve discussion about the future. Neither belong in the present Reds rotation and certainly don’t warrant a spot in the coming seasons.
While the bullpen has been largely a positive for the team this season, overall, the pitching has tons of question marks. Free agency or trades could address the matter but it means the team can’t address other holes with their limited funds.
The offense has not been a source of questions. When at full strength, the Reds not only have an offense worthy of competing at a high level but one of the best in the league. Heading into next season, the Reds will have some combination of Votto, Schebler, Winkler, Nick Senzel, Eugenio Suarez and even potentially Scooter Gennett in the lineup. That’s the type of offense that a contending team should have.
The biggest source of concern for the Reds, though, is not on the field but off of it. Recent moves, or lack thereof, have raised many concerns about the structure of the front office. While President Dick Williams and General Manager Nick Krall are saying many of the right things publicly, owner Bob Castellini has handcuffed both of them.
The comments about the team not moving Billy Hamilton and Harvey point to an owner unwilling to let those who he hired have freedom. And when your boss is hovering around in the day-to-day operations, it wears on a front office.
To be honest, does any fan trust Castellini to make the moves necessary to turn the Reds into a winner now? Hamilton’s time as a starter should be done. Harvey and Bailey’s time as Reds should be done. Gennett should have been traded months ago and that’s not even taking into account the necessity of finding a spot for Senzel in next year’s team.
Because of Castellini’s lingering, the Reds appear to be in a worse position than any year prior. The team is on the brink of capping off the rebuild and balking at the trade deadline could prove costly. Even then, the correct sequence of moves in the off-season could still put the Reds back into contention. But the question marks are continuing to arise more quickly than they disappear and without a properly-functioning front office, the Reds may be moving backwards than forward.
How To Rebuild The Cincinnati Reds Fan Base
They haven’t won a playoff series since 1995. They haven’t won a World Series since 1990. Not many kids these days are seriously excited about the Reds. Not many kids these days want to go to the ballpark to watch at best a slightly above mediocre team. For years it had always been Mike Brown doesn’t care about winning a Super Bowl. All he cares about is making money. That is the sentiment now for most of the die hard fan base now for the Reds ownership.
Over the past few weeks it’s been a great moment to be a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. As a die hard fan who grew up during the lost decade of the 90’s when the Bengals became the Bungals it brings me joy to see Bengals fans coming out of the woodwork to join the bandwagon. I remember being one of only a few kids that was brave enough to wear a Bengals Starter jacket to school. I remember being one of a few kids that didn’t have to be begged in order to go to a Bengals game. The 90’s were dark times us Bengals fans for a franchise that seemed to have no direction or possibility of being a serious contender.
How the tables have turned. The Reds haven’t been to a playoff (excluding the 2020 COVID season) since 2013. They haven’t won a playoff series since 1995. They haven’t won a World Series since 1990. Not many kids these days are seriously excited about the Reds. Not many kids these days want to go to the ballpark to watch at best a slightly above mediocre team. For years it had always been Mike Brown doesn’t care about winning a Super Bowl. All he cares about is making money. That is the sentiment now for most of the die hard fan base now for the Reds ownership. #SellTheTeamBob is rallying call for our current die hard fan base. This is what happens when you lose a generation of fans. All you have to rely on is die hards and nostalgia to keep people coming to the ballpark.
How do you rebuild the fan base? For starters, a plan. Dick Williams had a very transparent plan of adding the puzzle pieces to turn this team back into a contender. Then in 2020 right as the playoff contention window opened, COVID smashed the window on our hand and caused ownership to hide behind the bottom line. Dick Williams saw the writing on the wall and left. The plan now for the future of this franchise now seems to be stay the course and run the franchise based on the bottom line. That’s not a plan, that’s a joke. The Reds were maybe one or two parts away from being a contender at the end of 2020. Either through free agancy or trades the Reds could have been a serious contender last season as well as good chunk of this decade. Instead now it seems we are destined for third place with our mediocre roster this year. The ownership needs to make up it’s mind on winning a World Series and fast. Are we going to do it the traditional way of piecing together players we’ve developed, trades, and free agency? Or are we going to go full Tampa Bay Rays and put all of our eggs into player development building and trade away everyone else? Either way I don’t care because it gives a sense of direction to the fan base. Right now they seem to have us fans in a sense of being lost at sea with nothing on the horizon. At some point even the most faithful will give up hope. The simplest answer to rebuilding your fan base is winning. Winning cures all. The Bengals have made that crystal clear.
Next the Reds have to give easier access to watching the games on television. Probably the most common complaint among Reds fans is how difficult it has become to watch the games. Most of us from the younger generation have cut the cord. Using services such as Hulu Live, YouTube TV, or Sling to name the more popular streaming services for live sports. Every single one of them lost Bally Sports this past season. Even the actual Bally Sports app for streaming was not the greatest because of a poor interface and constant issues. MLB TV, MLB’s counter to the NFL Sunday Ticket, has the most outrageous blackout maps for local teams. Just another way they’ve blocked fans from enjoying and spreading their sport. There is talk of the MLB making it a la carte so you could purchase your franchises games to watch. The Reds and Major League Baseball need to figure out how to make this possible ASAP. There are not many people going the extra steps in order to watch an average baseball team right now.
Ownership must get back to their old ways of fan engagement. Some of which was out of their control because of COVID. These past two years of Redsfest being cancelled has been difficult. It doesn’t matter what the team looks like because Redsfest always gets you pumped about being a Reds fan. Reds Caravan was also a great way to engage the community where they lived by visiting the entire Reds nation with bus stops, interviews, and autograph signings. I am a season ticket holder and in it’s absence they provided us with goody bag of stuff in the absence of Redsfest. This years goody bad looked like the clearance rack the day after Christmas. Kind of a slap in the face for us loyal fans. If they’re smart they go above and beyond to bring as much interaction as possible to those who attend Redsfest and the Reds Caravan this year. Another huge even I think many people forgot about was Reds Rockin’ 150. In 2019 to celebrate it’s 150 birthday ownership hosted the event at no cost to the fans. Anyone was welcome. They had 3 bands in concert. Huey helicopters were flown onto the field. Nearly all the players and coaches were present for fan activities throughout the ballpark that evening. This needs to become an annual event mid season. It shows commitment to the fans that no matter how well our record is that were dedicated to making you apart of the experience as much as possible.
There are the changes needed on a macro level from the MLB in order help get fans excited about baseball. One of the biggest has to be fixing the inequality among franchises payrolls. Part of the solution is giving baseball something it has desperately needed in a salary cap not just a luxary tax. The second part of that solution would be a salary minimum. If this could slowly be implemented over the next 10-15 years to mirror that of other major professional sports it would take away ownership’s excuse for the bottom line being the key reason for owning the team. It does seem as though the MLB Players Association wants this to be addressed in the current labor dispute. The disparity payroll has destroyed baseball. There are players earning a higher yearly salary then some teams entire payroll. The incentive for these small market teams to own the team is strictly financial. Winning is an after thought. Tanking is transparently encouraged. There is no reason that small market teams should have a small 3-4 year window if they’re lucky once a decade in order to put a competitive team on the field. Otherwise at least a third of the league is guaranteed to be tanking before the seasons stated.
Something else I would love to see the Reds celebrate is their actual fan base. The Bengals have done a tremendous job this season highlighting their die hard fan base. Characters like Bengal Jim, Tony Da Tiger, and Bengals Captain to name just a few. They give out a fan of the year award. There fans are celebrated on social media as well news media. You see just a fraction of that with the Reds fan base. Probably because we’ve grown so accustomed to losing that their isn’t much to celebrate. It would be nice to see ownership commit to celebrating their fans who’ve continued to show up and root for the Redlegs during these dark ages.
Finally they have to get creative with getting fans to come to the stadium. 2020 there were no fans allowed. 2021 was an odd year for fans. We started the first two months of the season with a 30% cap on attendance. However things will probably continue to trend down for attendance if Opening Day doesn’t start on time because of the labor strike. Regardless of which side your on, players or owners, the fans are always the ones who lose. The fans had no problem showing their disdain during the shortened 1995 season when play resumed after they stopped playing mid season in 1994. The result was a 25% drop in attendance league wide. Fans find it hard to sympathize when it’s millionaires versus billionaires. Combine that with ownership that has shown no signs of taking winning seriously, things don’t look good for drawing fans down to the ballpark. They need to be aggressive by offering discount days and free tickets to fans. Maybe a five games of a steep discount on concessions and merchandise. Perhaps even a $10-20 credit with the purchase of a ticket. The Atlanta Falcons ownership did this with their concessions and found they made even more off concessions since people were willing to buy more with the money saved. Another five games in which for every adult ticket purchased two kids 18 and younger get in free to certain sections in the ballpark. The Baltimore Orioles started doing this a few years ago. Probably because they knew people weren’t gonna show up anyway but those free tickets fill seats and the savings given to the fans are probably put towards concessions and merchandise.
I always used to tell people we were more likely to see multiple Reds World Series victories than I would ever see a Bengals Super Bowl win in my lifetime. I sadly believe we’ll be lucky to see a World Series from this franchise for the foreseeable future unless ownership decides to making winning their number one priority.
The Positives for the Cincinnati Reds of Keeping Nick Senzel in AAA
The Cincinnati Reds are telling us it is time to change our expectations of Nick Senzel, writes Clay Snowden
Things have not gone as planned. Nick Senzel was selected with the second overall pick in 2016 and was praised for his plus hit tool. Fast forward to now and Senzel is an often injured player who currently sits in AAA Louisville. I am not sure if I remember a player with as much frustration attached to his name, maybe Billy Hamilton? I am not writing Senzel off as a bust just yet, but things are trending that way. With him in AAA what should we make of this?
I think it is time to change expectations. Once thought of as a potential building block of the Reds rebuild and future, Senzel has proven he cannot be that. Injury after injury has limited his time on the field, but even when he has played he has not been very good. Definitely not second overall good. Hell he’s a negative WAR player. He’s still young(ish) and has not had enough at bats to really determine what he will become. If I was a betting man, I would bet he wouldn’t reach the potential we once though he had. A lot of the blame falls on….well….bad luck. Injuries stunting development is not something I like to blame on players. The organization has not exact made it easy on him. Changing his positions several times including a drastic change to center to fit team needs was not easy on Senzel. Changing his swing/stance during his rookie season was crazy. And here we sit on August 16th, 2021 with Senzel playing for the Louisville Bats. You can debate if it’s the right move or not, but its where we are. What positives can come from this move?
Let’s go back to expectations. It’s time to shift from all star build block to useful utility player. We can be mad about it all we want, but it won’t change anything. My hope is Senzel is used all over the field in Louisville. He’s played some SS down there which makes things interesting. We know he can play second, third, and center. Adding short to that resume makes him a very useful piece. If the plan is to transition him to a utility role, he could get plenty of starts at multiple positions, cover pinch running, defensive subs late in the game, and be a back up shortstop (especially in 2022).
Bottom line, Senzel needs a role and they need to stick to that role. I think the utility role with more playing time than an average bench player is the best role for him. No, it’s not the role we all expected when the Reds selected him in 2016, but it could be the best role for him and the Reds going forward.
Cincinnati Reds July Reds Mailbag
The Cincinnati Reds are battling to retake first place in the NL Central, here in July, and questions abound. Clay has some answers for you!
Here we are, a few days before the deadline and more than a couple spots outside of first place. The Reds are looking less and less like a playoff team, and have yet to make a move (7/27/21 2:24 pm). Let’s get to some questions.
Miguel Rojas and Yimi Garcia for Allen Cerda and Alejo Lopez?
These are the caliber of players the Reds seem likely to get. I think World Series contenders are more likely to overpay for some all star caliber players than the scratching and hoping for playoff Reds are. I do think the Reds will get someone, but not a splash move. I would love to add Rojas and Garcia. However, I think the Marlins say no to this. Lopez projects to a bench bat and Cerda has been good, but not a high profile prospect. I think the Marlins could get someone in the 8-11 range plus another top 30 from a team. OF course, each team ranking is different, but you get what I am saying.
What do you see in the future for Castllanos? Do you think the Reds will sign him to another deal?
I hate to say this, but I do not think Castellanos will be a Red next season. His agent, Scott Boras, is tough. An he loves to have his clients test the market. Castellanos will opt out, as he is worth more than the $16 million option. Once he hits free agency, another team will outbid the Reds. This isn’t me being some grouch, this is me being realistic. One of the best bats hits free agency at age 29, he will be looking to get locked up to a big money/term deal into his mid-late 30s.
Will Alejo Lopez get a chance? Does Jose Barrero get called up? What about Phil Diehl?
Lopez has been mostly up and down from Louisville and Cincinnati, and has received a spot start here and there but mostly has been a bench bat. I’d like to see him play some third and give Suarez time on the bench. However, that doesn’t seem likely. To me Diehl is a classic example of a AAAA player. I don’t expect him to come up and make an impact but with the way he’s pitched in Louisville and the current state of the bullpen, he’s earned a shot.
Jose Barrero has been outstanding this season. He was recently moved to the number 20 overall prospect for Baseball America. The deadline will determine the rest of his season. If a SS is acquired, he will stay down. If not I think he would be their “deadline addition”. For the record, I would keep him in AAA the rest of the year and go acquire a SS. Bringing him up as the answer is a lot of pressure. Also, he has less than 250 at bats above single A. If his lack of experience was the issue less than 12 months ago, 245 at bats isn’t a huge amount to prove otherwise. But the way he’s hitting…I would understand if he’s brought up.
What should the Reds do with Shogo? Does he stay or go?
He stays. Too much money with another year left for an older outfielder with zero (proven at MLB level) hit tool. I doubt there’s much of a market for that. Maybe he “needs more playing time” to get comfortable, but he has done nothing to earn that. I love Shogo, but it’s getting harder to justify playing him. Keep him on the roster for a defensive replacement/pinch runner.
Will the Reds do anything to strengthen the bullpen? Will the starters be stretched out to go 7 innings?
I think the Reds will add a bullpen arm. I don’t think it will be some all star closer, but an above average guy. Givens/Bard from Colorado come to mind.
The issue with a lot of these starters isn’t David Bell *not* letting them go deep, but instead, they are throwing too many pitches. It’s on them more than Bell most of the time. We need to advance past thinking every starter should go 7 or 7 plus innings.