The Cincinnati Reds are too much of a laughingstock despite being one of MLB’s most storied franchises. It’s easy to forget the team dates back to the 19th century despite winning just five World Series titles.
It sure seems it’s been that long since Cincinnati baseball was truly great. The last World Series appearance (and win) was in 1990. Gone are the days of the Big Red Machine dynasty, which won four National League Pennants and two World Series in a decade on the backs of greats like Johnny Bench and Pete Rose.
Today, the Reds have nothing to celebrate. An upward trajectory for a young, fun, intense team stopped dead in its tracks simply because ownership said so. The Reds went from 83 wins in 2021 to a mere 62 last season.
And unfortunately for Cincinnati, it’s hard to envision the 2023 campaign being much better.
Greatest Addition: Wil Myers, if he’s healthy. This is his 11th season and he’s only managed 100 or more games in four of them. Myers was limited to 77 games with the Padres last year and hit .261 with just seven home runs and 41 RBI. The Reds are probably grateful they only signed him for one year and $7.5 million.
Now 32, Myers figures to be the Reds’ everyday right fielder and can also play first base as needed. At best, he stays healthy and uses hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park to his advantage. At worst, he puts up average numbers and the Reds find a way to dump his salary at the trade deadline.
Greatest Loss: Luis Castillo, even though he was technically traded to the Mariners last season. The sad truth is the Reds have had minimal roster turnover since the trade. There’s a giant hole not only in the Reds’ rotation, but on the team’s whole roster.
The dominant righty posted a 2.86 ERA before the trade and a 2.99 mark for the season. Seattle rewarded him with a five-year, $108 million extension. Cincinnati, meanwhile, can only hope Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo keep trending upward as this young rotation’s anchors.
Greatest Strength: David Bell, whose continued employment by the Reds is a miracle. He arrived in 2019 with a chip on his shoulder and watched the intensity trickle down to his young team. Cincinnati improved from 67 to 75 wins, earned a Wild Card in the shortened 2020 season, and then 83 wins in 2021 before last year’s fire sale.
Except now you can see why ownership kept Bell around despite blowing up his team. He’s the baseball version of Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell. Bell does things his way, his players respect him, and they don’t really care what people think. They’re playing the game they love and they’re playing to win.
Bell’s led the Reds out of the tunnel once already. We’ll soon find out if he can do it again.
Greatest Weakness: Owner Bob Castellini. He’s owned the Reds since 2006 with little to show for it save for four early playoff exits. Just when it looked like his team might be turning a corner in a low-key competitive NL Central, he blew up the team after the lockout.
Granted, the Reds are a small market team and almost never spend in free agency. It was hard to imagine them keeping key free agents like Nick Castellanos and even Castillo. But was trading Jesse Winker with two years of team control left really necessary?
What’s worse is at the end of the day, Castellini’s reasons for slashing the payroll all go back to losing money during the pandemic. It doesn’t matter that he’s technically MLB’s poorest owner with an approximate net worth of $400 million, or that his son Phil is the COO and often runs his mouth. Forbes listed the Reds as worth just north of $1 billion last year.
If Castellini doesn’t see his team as a valuable investment, then he should sell it to someone who cares as much as Steve Cohen does.
Do the Reds have any saving graces in 2023? Yes. Because even with a gutted roster, the Reds still have some fun young players to watch this season. Greene and Lodolo should keep developing as pitchers and it’s easy to forget Jonathan India was Rookie of the Year in 2021. They’re not a winning team, but not a terribly bad one.
It’s going to be another long season in the Queen City. The Reds will visit the Yankees for three games in May and maybe a few extra fans will pay attention. The Mets also visit Cincinnati in May, but perhaps the Reds’ visit to Queens in September can be a sad sequel to last year’s Cubs fiasco.
Other than that, it’s just a matter of hoping David Bell can rally the troops again and create something out of almost nothing.
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