COMMENTARY: Will deadline deals help Reds clean up mess of own making?

Cincinnati Reds' Tyler Mahle (30) high-fives teammates in the dugout after being pulled during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants in Cincinnati, Sunday, May 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

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Cincinnati Reds' Tyler Mahle (30) high-fives teammates in the dugout after being pulled during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants in Cincinnati, Sunday, May 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Let me start off saying I like what the Cincinnati Reds did at the trade deadline.

I just wish I hadn’t hated all the stuff they did before it so much.

Maybe the latter won’t matter in the future, but I’m trying to live more in the present even if that is not something the Reds really do.

ExploreWhat does it mean to be a Reds fan anymore, anyway?

First the good news: Unlike the last time they were in this position, the Reds appear to have maximized the return for Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle by trading those top-line starters this year instead of next when they would be pending free agents and presumably bring back less in return.

General Manager Nick Krall and crew may have pulled in some useful assets for spare parts like Brandon Drury and Tommy Pham, too, but that’s actually something the organization has been oddly good at in recent years so it’s hard to get too excited about that.

More trades that look on paper like the John Smiley deal way back when than the failed Johnny Cueto trade (not to mention Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce...) of 2015 are essential in pulling out of the Reds’ current morass, so that’s something to feel good about.

But did Reds fans really have to wait until August for something to feel good about? And was it worth likely eliminating next season from being something to feel good about, too?

That is not quite clear because a funny thing happened as the Reds were finishing their latest teardown: Against all odds they moved into third place in the NL Central with a win over the Marlins on Tuesday night.

Of course, they are still 19 games under. 500 and going to lose at least 100 games, so it’s not like they were going to make some miracle run if they didn’t make the moves of the last week, but it still makes one wonder…

Did it have to be this way?

I wasn’t really thinking about the standings when I started putting together thoughts on the moves they have made over the last week, but they are relevant based on the fact last fall I was actually feeling good about the present and the future at the same time — only to be brought back to Earth by a sell-off that started in December and continued in the spring after a winter of depressing labor discontent.

Since the end of last season, the Reds have mortgaged a totally acceptable present to make a solid-looking future brighter… unless these guys don’t pan out, of course, in which case they could end up farther away from competing than they were this time a year ago.

I can see the pros and cons of each side, but I’m more inclined to think it’s a false choice.

If the goal of owning a baseball team is for it to be good, the Reds had achieved that while having some nice prospects just starting their careers (Tyler Stephenson, Jonathan India) and more close to joining them (Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, maybe Jose Barrera if he hadn’t hurt his hand).

After finishing above .500 last year despite a September swoon, this season was going to be, you know, worth watching for more than hints about who might be worth building around.

There’s something to be said for lowered expectations, but what if fans could have their cake and eat it, too?

The goal of sports is to win, but also the feeling that winning is possible is important.

How many seasons of no hope are worth one or two that have a lot? Is that a better situation than going into every season thinking anything can happen?

The trade deadline moves could be the turning point for the franchise. Maybe they have such depth and star power in the minors now the Reds can get good and stay good because some pan out and others are traded for MLB help in future deadline deals.

Given this organization’s track record of drafting and development, more margin for error is obviously important.

They have made a lot of errors in the past decade-plus so this ownership group won’t deserve benefit of the doubt until they actually do win.

Tanking works in baseball if you have the right people making decisions, but I still go back to the preseason and find concern in team president Phil Castellini giving a strong impression ownership might not even believe winning is possible in this market.

And yet one can look to the north to see proof a small market team can be good and sustain hope even if there is more some years than others. Not far to the east, we see the fruits of perennially rebuilding. Do the Reds want to be the Guardians or the Pirates?

Ironically enough, the Reds could also look to the Bengals’ surprise Super Bowl appearance for inspiration — if they aren’t too focused on 2025.

I’m not a fan of the expanded playoffs, but the new postseason could work out for a team like the Reds.

Baseball is now set up more than ever for surprise runs in October, and getting there is easier than it’s ever been because there are more invites to the party.

Winning it all is what it’s all about, and of course ownership should set the team up to be in the best position to do that.

Maybe they’ve done that this past week. Maybe they didn’t have to go to this much trouble.

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