Wishing for a most auspicious New Year, the Cincinnati Reds are in the midst of a massive rebuild. It’s tough to throw a label on any team’s offseason maneuvers given that we’re only halfway through, but we can safely assume that Walt Jocketty, Dick Williams, and the rest of the braintrust have a goal in mind: to restore what was a 100-win ballclub in 2012 from the depths of the abysmal on-field product in 2015. It also appears as if the Reds are pursuing contention with particular style — accumulating an especially large quantity of potentially talented players with hopes that something will stick.
It’s also safe to assume that the Reds have cleared nearly every crippling salary impediment they can. They sent Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox and Aroldis Chapman to the New York Yankees for prospects, leaving Brandon Phillips as perhaps the team’s lone overvalued position player, and Homer Bailey holding that designation on the pitching side. Not high praise, for sure, but with other rebuilding clubs failing to relinquish their own super-pricey contracts (e.g., the Philadelphia Phillies with Ryan Howard; the Atlanta Braves with Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher; and the San Diego Padres with Melvin Upton Jr.), the situation clearly could be worse in Cincinnati. I’d strenuously argue that Jay Bruce isn’t overpaid, and Joey Votto, despite his $25 million annual salary, is one of the best and most underrated players in baseball.
On Monday the Reds dealt Chapman to the Yankees for a quartet of young players, each of whom will join Scott Schebler, Jose Peraza, and Brandon Dixon, acquired in the Frazier trade, as some of the Reds’ more notable additions in this offseason’s rebuild. There is likely much more to accomplish, and the offseason has a long way to go, really, so while it may not be fair to judge an offseason yet, it’s certainly worth the discussion.
It appears that clubs can approach a resurfacing of their roster — or a rebuild — in various ways, depending on the tactics of the corps at the helm, the state of finances, estimates of contention possibilities, and so on. Some organizations have a knack for targeting particular players and will pull the trigger on a trade only if one of those names is included; other teams compile a list of young players that have to be included in one of their deals, no matter what; some teams resort entirely to their baseball ops department on a case-by-case basis. Then there are the general managers and presidents who fixate on certain players over time with hopes that one day, one of those players just might be available in a trade.
That seemed to be the case with former Detroit Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski in 2012 when he acquired Robbie Ray — not considered by many baseball folks to be a grade-A prospect — in a jaw-dropping deal that sent Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals. But the Reds are pursuing a strategy that looks to be a successful new trend ever since Neal Huntington essentially blueprinted it during the backend of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ ugly years, similar to what John Hart is doing in Atlanta: acquiring as many players as possible. In one sense, each of the players these other general managers have acquired has some sort of distinction, whether it’s through their fading prospect legacy or because they’re very good but raw, light years away from the major leagues. It’s the idea of getting in a trade as many high-upside prospects as possible as opposed to one really good player. Is that player one you can build a franchise off of? But then again, maybe he isn’t.
Williams might not be intending to accumulate playable talent that will benefit the Reds immediately, but he’s doing exactly that while also reeling in potential top prospect players even the columnists haven’t heard much about. So even though both of the Reds’ recent major trades were viewed with far more confusion and skepticism than you usually see, Cincinnati is acquiring talent that, while not silver and shiny and heralded, hasn’t been degraded either. And it’s not fair to assume that they’re done dealing.
So let’s say that the Reds do find themselves in far better financial shape than previously, and can spend some money. You’d think that the extra money could be allocated to areas of the roster that need fixing, whether with cheap veterans who will represent midseason trade candidates or, though unlikely, somebody like Alex Gordon or Justin Upton. Those deals, while costly, could get them even closer to contention, though that gamble isn’t something Jocketty has pursued in the past, and there’s no reason to think he’d do so now.
It’s a shame that Zack Cozart missed over half of what looked to be a career year. It doesn’t help that Cincinnati probably should have dealt Frazier before last year’s trade deadline, before his troubling decline, and I’m sure the Reds wish Phillips hadn’t exercised his no-trade clause recently, but the brass have done what they can to fill major league holes while also stocking up on minor league talent for what is a decent farm system as is. It’s what all rebuilding teams should be doing, and if the next step is to sign a bevy of veterans on one year deals to fill other holes, such as an outfield or starting pitcher upgrade, the offseason will be even more of a success.