It was like the Cincinnati Reds had a brawl with themselves yesterday. The image of Jesse Winker going after the Angels dugout was just burned into my mind — it was like deja vu! Former Red Jesse Winker on the Mariners engaged in the brawl with teammates Eugenio Suarez and Taylor Trammell against the Angels with former Reds Raisel Iglesias, Archie Bradley and Michael Lorenzen in the opposing corner. It wasn’t long ago that these players were all teammates (with the exception of Trammel, he never actually played in the major leagues) as they were the Reds of a bygone era.
Hindsight is always 20/20. Benefit of the doubt is always important. Major League front offices are more knowledgeable than fans. These three statements are all things that a fan of a baseball team must remember when their team trades their star player. I know I didn’t remember these statements when the Reds shipped Sonny Gray to the Minnesota Twins in March or when they sent Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez to the Seattle Mariners less than a week later.
It hurts to see good players leave the team. It hurts when they get traded, but even more when they sign with a different team. When Nick Castellanos agreed to a five year, 100 million dollar deal with the Phillies I was heartbroken. When the replacements for these players turned out to be guys like Brandon Drury, Justin Dunn, Jake Fraley, and Tommy Pham, I was enraged. No offense to these guys, but could you imagine the horror I felt of journeymen veterans replacing former all-star starters?
But maybe….. Cincinnati’s offseason wasn’t that bad.
The Reds are a bad baseball team this year. I’ve come to terms with it. The 2021 Reds, however, were an above average team. No matter how you spin it, going from a .512 W-L% to a .347 W-L% is bad. This fact alone is enough evidence that Cincinnati had a poor offseason — going from a good team to a bad team so rapidly does not naturally happen. The Front Office failed to address a paper-thin bullpen, a bench that lacked quality bats, and no MLB-ready quality minor league depth. When you create a list of Cincinnati’s lineup, rotation, and bullpen at full health, they look like a playoff team. Naturally, however, teams suffer injuries and unexpected underperformers (see: Jonathan India and Mike Moustakas) which means they need players that serve as a solid “plan-b.”
The Reds lack the pieces that make them a serious baseball team. There aren’t the reliable backend relievers and strong bench bats that a contender requires. But as a sentimental fan all moral victories are well-received. When looking back at this past offseason, there are plenty moral victories to find.
I looked at the eight most impactful Reds let go and 8 most impactful additions over the recent offseason and compiled their respective fWARs and 2022 salaries. The eight Reds I considered were: Jesse Winker, Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez, Tucker Barnhart, Sonny Gray, Wade Miley, Michael Lorenzen, and Amir Garrett. So far (as of June 27), these players have compiled 4.0 fWAR and are due to be paid a total of $73.975 million in 2022.
The Reds picked up many players via signings (both major and minor leagues) as well as via trade. The eight Cincinnati additions I considered are: Tommy Pham, Donovan Solano, Hunter Strickland, Brandon Drury, Albert Almora Jr., Connor Overton, Jake Fraley, and Mike Minor. They have been worth a combined 3.2 fWAR and are due to paid a total of $26.835 million in 2022.
This means that the Reds shed roughly $45.42 million in salary obligations this past offseason alone, while losing just 0.8 WAR. While the WAR gap will likely widen as the season progresses, $45 million in salary cut for less than one win above replacement is great salary management. Furthermore, in the Sonny Gray, Tucker Barnhart, and Jesse Winker trades they gained four prospects. They are Nick Quintana from the Tigers (40+ FV), Chase Petty from the Twins (40+), Brandon Williamson from the Mariners (50 FV), and Connor Phillips (45 FV) (future values via FanGraphs). When Nick Castellanos rejected the team’s qualifying offer, they received a compensation draft pick (32nd overall). These five prospects bolster the depth of Cincinnati’s farm system and are a large help to securing a strong future for the team. Furthermore, by having such a poor record this season, they will be poised to gain a top draft pick in the forthcoming amateur draft. With the draft lottery, as long as they have a bottom-three winning percentage they will have the top chance to have the number one overall pick.
Sure this team would be much better with Eugenio Suarez’s 125 wRC+ and Sonny Gray’s 2.53 ERA, but it is also better with Tyler Stephenson’s 128 wRC+ instead of Tucker Barnhart’s 49 wRC+ and Brandon Drury’s 132 wRC+ instead of Nick Castellanos’ mark of 93.
So now I revisit the question — Was this past offseason really that bad? If you look in terms of wins and losses, it was definitely bad. But if you look more into the future the offseason was not that bad. The Reds trimmed down salary obligations and gained quality prospects at the same time. The young players currently on the roster (Tyler Stephenson, Jonathan India, Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft, Alexis Diaz, etc.) will eventually be supplemented by a strong farm system.
The Reds are in the midst of a rebuild. Or maybe a “retool” or whatever you may call it. Cincinnati might use the money that they are saving from this past offseason to spend on more quality free agents when the window looks like it will open again. I don’t want to seem like I’m making excuses for a team faltering — I’m definitely not — but the reality is that the team is setting itself up for more sustainable success. Cincinnati went on a spending spree in 2019 and the results were not satisfactory enough to keep the team together. While it is heartbreaking to see a fun team fall apart, eventually the Reds are going to try again. General manager Nick Krall is playing the long game. It is never fun to be in the middle of a rebuild, but given the fact that the Reds have just two winning seasons since 2013, the fanbase is patient. When Reds fans recognize what this past offseason really was, they will begin to see it in a better light.