Even when the first dream popped into your head of growing up to be a big league ball player, there was probably at least one person in your life who was a realistic life planner (i.e. a cynical dream killer, if you ask me) who told you that your plans were just some pipe dream. Sure, they may have had more tact than just saying it so bluntly and maybe they gave you a popsicle when your incessant sobbing became an annoyance, but the message was essentially the same.
“Drop the bat and ball, kid. Strap that refrigerator to your back. You’re gonna learn to haul furniture.”
Reflecting on that life altering and soul crushing moment, the 99.99952% of us who couldn’t make a living playing professional baseball did find a way to move on and we’re probably all the better for it. Probably.
So where does this leave us with the Cincinnati Reds? The owners, the general manager, the manager, the players, the fans, we all have dreams that we hold on to when it comes to the Reds and they almost exclusively point toward our chosen 40 hoisting the World Series trophy at a Fountain Square rally while we cheer in ecstasy and they lap praise on us in return for believing in them. But what about all the little dreams that fill the gap from here to there? Well, this may sting a little.
The Dreams of the Owners: That they will be able to field a championship team without spending more than the revenue generated by the club, increasing payroll as the budget allows but never going into the red.
The Sting: It’s unfortunate that the Reds don’t have 3 million in attendance and a season long sellout streak, but it’s reality that the team will not reach maximum support unless they are, in fact, good. The Castellini Group has been phenomenal in improving the entire franchise, but they are probably going to have to take a risk and bet on the reward. They have to open the purse just a little further, say another $10-15 million and bet that their staff will put together another championship team that will make them more money and subsequently keep them in the black. No one can force anyone to spend their money in any manner they do not wish to and Mr. Castellini has improved the franchise enormously. It is even widely believed he puts all yearly profits back into the team. But…
Plan B: I think ownership is going to have to make a gamble to get this team to the promised land and hopefully the fans will repay that risk.
The Dreams of the GM: That he will be able to mimic the success he’s had in the past, only this time with more budget restraints.
The Sting: Let’s assume that the owner holds on to his dreams and keeps the budget the same. If that is Walt Jocketty’s reality, then he has to adjust accordingly. When he was with St. Louis, if he needed a player to fill a hole, he could go sign one of the better available players and hope he kept up the production. With limits to the Reds’ budget, when he needs a replacement, he’s going to have to be more creative. Sadly, Edgar Renteria is not creative. That is exactly the player St. Louis Walt would sign, only he would sign him a few years earlier when his production was still valuable. Cincinnati Walt tried to apply the same line of thinking, but could only afford the unproductive model with too many miles on the engine. That line of thinking can’t be held on to if the budget remains lower than the Reds’ two biggest competitors. So…
Plan B: Walt will have to adjust his thinking to finding good value rather than signing players who were once good.
The Dreams of the Manager: That players well past their prime will still perform better than the unknown young players simply because they have done it before, that players he has fallen in love with will eventually work themselves out of their funks.
The Sting: This is not just a small mistaken notion, but probably the single biggest Achilles heel to Dusty’s managing style. Chris Heisey is probably not the savior to the wasteland that is left field, but he is definitely a better fielder than both Fred Lewis and Jonny Gomes and he’s probably a better hitter too, despite his higher than ideal strikeout rate. And yet, Heisey was the one to fight for the scraps of playing time left to him by Dusty. I don’t think it was by accident that Gomes got traded and then Lewis got DFAd with Sappelt coming up. And Dusty is a player’s manager, which means he plays toward the emotions of his players rather than toward their ability. Going back to relievers who didn’t have it, sticking with starters to qualify them for a win, letting Drew Stubbs strikeout at an alarming rate. When your expectations are high, you must not allow an albatross or two to bring you low. Therefore…
Plan B: Give up on the dream that experience equates better play. Don’t fall in love with players and move them as their ability to help the team demands.
The Dreams of the Players: That if I keep doing what I’m doing, I will eventually figure this out, and that if we’re playing from behind, the fences will be easier to reach from home plate.
The Sting: Jay Bruce may never find a breaking ball low inside or away that he can ever hit. Stubbs may never fight off good pitches. Chris Heisey may never carry his pinch hitting duties over into full time play. Nick Masset may never find a nasty pitch that he can consistently throw for a strike. Arroyo’s fastball may never again reach the speed needed to travel in time. These are all possibilities and if the players continue to just go out there and “fight through it,” they are doing the team a disservice. Yogi Berra famously said that half this game is 90% mental. On top of that mentality, the Reds rarely attempted to play small ball when they were playing from behind, hoping that if they could get just one big swing, the game would finish how they wanted it to. This could be due to the players not trusting the hitters behind them to get a hit if they got just a single, but opposing pitchers figured this out and feasted on it. Late innings were a veritable Death Valley where no life could be found. They’re going to need to wake up and…
Plan B: Add a mental approach to the game, assess the problem, and approach it with the idea that it can be corrected before you ever take a swing. Don’t just try to fight through it. And play consistent offense; don’t just trying to find the seats and be the hero.
The Dreams of the Fans: That Joey Votto will stay with the Reds and prove he’s the greatest first baseman to don the red stockings, that Brandon Phillips will patrol the right side of the infield for the rest of his career with the same Gold Glove, defensive prowess he does now, that Jay Bruce will become a consistent offensive powerhouse and that Drew Stubbs will become a much more proficient hitter.
The Sting: My favorite current player is Brandon Phillips and behind that is Jay Bruce. I recognize Joey Votto’s incredible talent and I marvel at Drew Stubbs’ speed. To say that I’m attached to these players is a bit of an understatement. And yet, Phillips is declining in skill, Bruce is inconsistent, you could sooner buy Guam than Votto’s next contract and Stubbs still doesn’t know how to bunt. I’m not proposing that these players be given up on or that they be let go to sign with another team. But there will be hard decisions to make in the coming years and virtually no one on the team is untouchable, despite Jocketty’s denials otherwise. The franchise just can’t afford to think in terms of untouchable. Hard as it is to say…
Plan B: We, as fans, can not afford to get too attached to players when the team we root for is in a small market without 3m+ in attendance per year.
In the end, the ultimate dream is success; on that, most everyone would agree. To reach that summit however, some of our dreams will be crushed while others will be fulfilled. It’s just the reality that this franchise is in right now. Here, have a popsicle. It’ll make you feel better.