DISCLAIMER: Know that as these points are made, personally, I agreed with most of them at the time. So if today is pink slip day in Reds Country, I’m probably awarded one too. In baseball, you have to rely on instinct and intelligence, often a healthy blend of both. Your scouts tell you who to get, you follow through or you don’t. I won’t pretend to know the intricacies of baseball administration, despite seeing Moneyball. But the fact remains: Walt Jocketty has once again witnessed his master plan thwarted, this time following what has to be considered a collapse. Does losing six games in a row to end a season qualify as a collapse, even if number six is a playoff contest?
I digress. The 2013 Reds, despite the moves and decisions made in the off-season, were still flawed. And when the opportunity presented itself for Walt to play add-on and supplement an offense he knew was prone to do what they did last night, he passed. Let’s revisit the moves made from the end of 2012 to now and see how they look using our remarkable hindsight.
1) Beef the Bench – The depth of this team has been a problem for far longer than 2013. Moves were made last off-season to bring suitable replacements to fill in for Reds starters. The most notable names to arrive? Caesar Izturis and Jack Hannahan. Izturis goes .198 on the year while Hannahan turns in .216. That’s virtually useless, which honestly matters a lot, especially when your starting third baseman is in the middle of an 0-31 slump and you need a fresh, serviceable bat to give Todd some time off. This was a weakness last year, too. Even though Derrick Robinson and Xavier Paul proved to be the kind of bats they needed off the bench, they were already here. The point is that the targeted players the Reds proactively sought were ultimately failures, again. The Reds are constantly walking on eggshells because one injury to that lineup can open a black hole of inefficacy.
2) Bringing Back Dusty – I don’t invest stock in the importance of a manager. Ultimately, every manager in baseball is making the same personnel moves as the next guy. Bring in a lefty to face the lefty, righty to face a righty. Put your best hitters atop the lineup. Alternate your lefties and righties so one bullpen move can’t stifle everyone. He’s doing the same things. But after last night, he’s still winless in elimination games, and the Reds have now witnessed first round exits in every playoff berth under his reign. Ultimately, the guy setting the lineups is trivial – Clint Hurdle won zero games for the Pirates this year. But I do believe in tone. I disagree with saving the “sense of urgency” for the last out of your season, even if he is just removing the pressure from his guys. Maybe the Reds needed it. Who knows, but the entire core of this Reds franchise failed last night, in their own respects. Cueto’s control, BP’s error and Joey’s futility at the plate with runners on are far more revealing than anything Baker did.
Still. Baseball is business. And in business, when companies reach a plateau, when quarterlies aren’t rising, people get replaced. Just the nature of the beast. Dusty is the manager. When productivity slips and mistakes happen, managers roll first. They’re on guard, it’s on their watch. It’s a business decision. If this were P&G, Baker’s replacement is being named by the end of the week, if even just to satisfy shareholders, which is normally the case.
3) Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati’s Vanguard Rocket- This may arguably the most disappointing. Aroldis Chapman was initially secured to be a premiere starting pitcher. That was back in 2010. After turning in just over 60 innings this year, I think it’s time to come to grips with the fact that this organization has botched the Chapman experiment in near Jesse Pinkman fashion. He’s endured success in the bullpen, sure, but how much can a guy pitching 63 innings honestly contribute to the big picture in any significant fashion?
At this point, they have to realistically consider dealing him. They’re already paying closer money for two set-up guys and they have the talent in the bullpen to mix and match for any 9th inning threat. I hear center field may have a vacancy next year. Maybe you use Chapman to help fill it?
4) Rush Hour, starring Johnny Cueto: When you lose your ace, it’s all bets off. This needs to be understood by everyone. When the team’s ace goes down, the entire team takes a step down. The ace is any team’s deadliest weapon. The ace makes your offense and its struggles irrelevant, because you can count on your ace to return the zeros. I’m positive Johnny Cueto was assertive in his return(s). But that’s where it’s on the organization to ensure ambitious players aren’t rushing themselves into a worse situation. And that’s exactly what happened to Johnny Cueto – thrice. So after missing virtually the entire year, he’s called upon to start the most pivotal nine innings to date. The result was unfortunate, but if Captain Hindsight has the mic right now, we’re talking about why he missed virtually the entire year. Because he rushed an injury we were repeatedly told was minor.
5) Deadline Stagnation – Familiar story in this city. Deadline comes, deadline goes, same Reds in uniform the following day. And I don’t know that Reds needed to make heavy moves this season. But the opportunity presented itself for Marlon Byrd. I acknowledged as much back in July.
Byrd: .282, 17 HR's, trade for him today have him batting fourth by Friday evening. Honestly seems like no-brainer at this point.
— Tyler Grote (@GroteT) July 31, 2013
Ok, but what would it have taken to get Byrd? Easier said then done. Except when you read that the Pirates sent the Mets minor league infielder Dilson Herrera and a player to be named later in exchange for Byrd, you kind of feel like the Reds could have been in on that. They could have blocked the claim before it got to Pittsburgh. Marlon Byrd could have launched his first postseason home run in Red instead of off it. But in familiar fashion, the Reds sit on their hands at the deadline, and in true tragic form are dispatched by the guy they could have had.
Alas, 2013 has ended and every Reds fan feeling pretty familiar at the moment. Beaten mercilessly by a rival in four consecutive games to cap off a six-game season-ending losing streak makes it hard to conjure anything positive. Jocketty did a lot of good things right though – Choo, Marshall, signing Latos, Cueto, BP, Joey – but honestly, those were pretty obvious. You’d like to see them sure up some other core arms in the staff, too.
Castellini and Jocketty have built a team that’s on the brink, which after years of nothing in this city is pretty refreshing and fun. But so far they’ve built one that can’t get off it either. Stagnant, dormant – kind of like the Reds offense of late.