The week the Reds stopped pretending to care about winning
The veil has lifted as GM Nick Krall says the quiet part out loud
What a week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best week to be a Reds fan.
It all began with the trade of two-time Gold Glove catcher Tucker Barnhart to the Tigers last Wednesday. In exchange, Cincinnati received minor league infielder Nick Quintana. The last time the Reds traded for a minor league infielder from Detroit, they struck gold with Eugenio Suarez. Quintana may not be quite as talented. From Redleg Nation:
The 23-year-old 2nd round pick from 2019 has struggled as a professional. The year in which he was drafted he hit just .194/.273/.280 for rookie-level Connecticut and Low-A West Michigan. This past season he played in Low-A Lakeland where he hit .196/.329/.346 (he also played in 7 rehab games in the Florida Complex League where he went 2-25).
Suffice to say – Nick Quintana has really, really struggled to hit beyond college.
So why did the Reds trade Barnhart, a future Reds Hall of Famer (in my opinion), for a marginal prospect? Well, enter Reds general manager Nick Krall for one of his typically well-crafted quotes to the media: “[G]oing into 2022, we must align our payroll to our resources and continue focusing on scouting and developing young talent from within our system.”
We must align our payroll to our resources. My first thought was that you will never find a better summation of what the Reds intend to do this winter than that statement. In some ways, sure, it’s an obvious statement, in that every team has to do that every year. But I read that as saying there's more cost-cutting to come.
The Reds were immediately panned far and wide for the trade, but the issue was not really the trade. The time had come for Tyler Stephenson to be the primary catcher in Cincinnati, and it’s not difficult to justify moving Barnhart (although I hate to see him go, and I think it’s easy to justify keeping him too). To me, the problem was that, once again, Reds management insists on screaming "We're Poor!" every time they make a public statement.
Here, by refusing to pick up Barnhart’s team option, they saved the $7.5 million they would have had to pay him next year. But by trading him before exercising that option, they also saved the $500,000 they would have had to pay him to buy out the option. Now, half a million dollars is a lot to you and me, but it’s not a lot to a professional sports franchise. Unless that franchise is owned by Bob Castellini.
Think about it: the Reds could have picked up the option and still traded Barnhart over the winter when they had more time to negotiate with potential trade partners. But they traded him before that option decision even had to be made. It was 100% about money. I don’t see how you can spin it otherwise.
I wasn’t the only observer to notice the timing of this decision, and this statement by Krall:
On the other hand, maybe we were just being dramatic, right? I mean, this trade was justifiable on baseball grounds, so maybe things weren’t as bad as they seem on the payroll front, right?
Not so fast, my friend.
Two days later, the Reds announced that lefty starter Wade Miley had been claimed off waivers by the Chicago Cubs. That’s right: claimed off waivers.
Miley was the other player (along with Tucker) who the Reds could have retained for 2022 by exercising a team option. If the Reds had exercised the option, Miley would have been paid $10 million next season; if they declined the option, Cincinnati would have to pay Miley $1 million to go away. So the Reds just gave him away before they had to make a decision on the option.
There is no world in which Miley was not worth more than $10 million dollars (in baseball terms):
But wait! Once again, Nick Krall comes to the rescue with some hilarious quotes about the reasoning behind Cincinnati’s decision. Well, they are hilarious if you aren’t a fan of this franchise, I suppose. First:
“We didn’t have a ton available to us with this (Miley) transaction,” Krall said. “I think for us, what we don’t want to do is attach a prospect to get rid of money. We’ve done that in the past and it’s not a good strategy for success moving forward. Your prospects are going to be your next big leaguers and you’ve got to make sure that you’re maximizing those folks.”
“…to get rid of money.” Krall just said the quiet part out loud. The Reds are not even pretending that they are going to try to win in 2022. The goal is to save money. They aren’t even bothering to lie to the fans any longer.
But Krall wasn’t finished. There’s this: "We tried to trade him the last couple of weeks and didn't have a buyer"
Which prompted one of my favorite tweets ever:
Oh yeah, and Krall also repeated his 2021 off-season mantra that, once again, “we’re aligning our payroll with our resources.” Cue eye-roll emoji.
Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned that Nick Castellanos opted out of his contract and will almost certainly be playing elsewhere next year. Sorry for those of you who, like me, enjoyed watching him in a Reds uniform. His days in Cincinnati are over. But hey, at least the Reds will get a draft pick out of this, right?
There will be those who try to put a good spin on these decisions. Don’t buy it. There is every single indication that the Reds have just quit on you again. And it could be worse than we actually know. I’m working to confirm this, but there appears to be as many as 24 employees in Cincinnati’s baseball operations and data analytics departments who have either quit, mutually agreed to leave because of differences about the direction of the franchise, been fired, or have requested permission to interview elsewhere over the last year. Stay tuned; I hope to have some independent reporting on this subject soon.
The last “rebuilding process” resulted in four seasons with 90+ losses, one full season with a record above .500, and two “playoff” games in which the Reds didn’t come close to scoring a single run. Now here we go again.
Meanwhile, where are we as Reds fans? Well, the Reds just quit on you. Perhaps it’s time you quit on them.
While you are living and dying with the Cincinnati Reds, ownership has proceeded to dismantle (in less than a year!) nearly every single thing that made me excited about the future of this team. Bob Castellini does not care about you, and the Reds will never love you back as long as the Castellinis are in charge. Disagree with me if you like, but all the evidence points in only one direction: The ownership group has more important priorities than putting a winning team on the field.
This off-season seems like a pivotal moment for the team that has defined this city for so many decades and that just celebrated the 150th anniversary of the first Redlegs squad a couple of years ago. But this fan base appears to be more apathetic than I’ve ever seen. The reason for that: it’s the fan base the Reds have cultivated by being mostly awful for an entire generation. It’s the fan base the Reds have cultivated by having two straight ownership groups whose primary interest seems to be in convincing you that the franchise is too poor to compete with other professional baseball franchises.
Which is exactly what Castellini is counting on. He’s depending on Reds fans just ignoring the fact that he doesn’t care whether his team wins or loses…or at least, that he doesn’t care enough to go all out to win. He’s counting on fans coming back to the park because they can, not because they expect the Reds to be good.
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