- Baseball in the Garden of Eden, A Book ReviewPosted 774 days ago
Do the Reds Have a Plan?
- Updated: September 15, 2009
A team needs a plan. A losing team especially needs a plan. So, the Cincinnati Reds need a plan. Do they have one? Recent evidence calls this into question.
Owner Robert Castellini has installed a win-now team, going with a veteran manager in Dusty Baker and a veteran general manager in Walt Jocketty. Castellini said at one point, “We just aren’t going to lose any more” All these things point to a win-now philosophy. At the same time, at the end of last season Jocketty dealt off sluggers Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn as their contracts expired, with the team not expecting to re-sign either. That pointed to a rebuilding phase. So, which was it? It’s still hard to tell.
Plans for 2009 were scattered. The Reds planned to switch to a pitching, defense, and speed strategy, with their main power sources gone. New young arms were in place, Willy Taveras was signed to lead off and play center field, and there were plans to play youngsters in many spots. At the same time, veteran Ramon Hernandez was also brought in, and Alex Gonzalez was returning to the shortstop job, so this wasn’t exactly an all-in youth movement.
Projections indicated that the Reds had a shot at a .500 record for the first time since 2000, with veterans filling spots not belonging to improving young talent. That looked promising to fans, who were tired of the sluggardly sluggers clogging up bases and striking out while doing poorly afield. This would be a more exciting Reds team. The year began with low expectations but a sense of fun.
After starting the year with two losses, things got better, and the team hung around .500 for awhile, reaching a peak of 20-14 on May 14, on which date they were tied for the division lead. They were last at .500 on July 7, at 41-41. At that point the bottom fell out on the season as the injuries began. The Reds sank to the bottom of the standings. Now what?
The smart team would start running auditions for next year, maybe trade off some veterans for young talent, trying to build the next good team. The Reds…traded for a 35-year old third baseman, Scott Rolen. To get him, they traded their younger 3B, Edwin Encarnacion, and two young pitchers. They also picked up a young outfielder cheap in Wladimir Balentien. Balentien, talented but struggling in Seattle, is the type of talent a struggling team should pick up. But Rolen?
The deal is indicative of the same bipolar condition of the franchise. At one and the same time, they seem to be trying to rebuild while acquiring pieces designed to win now. A player like Rolen is a short-term fix, while Balentien is a project. Do the Reds really think that Rolen will lead them to victory?
This is just speculation, but it seems almost like Jocketty is trying to rebuild without telling his owner what he is doing. Unfortunately, Baker doesn’t seem to be in on the secret, because he keeps giving playing time to guys who are spare parts (Darnell McDonald) instead of to the projects the Reds need to develop, or decide to discard (Balentien). Rolen becomes something of a Red herring, brought in because he is a native (from southern Indiana) who wanted to return home, and could provide that valued veteran leadership. Whether he can still play at a championship level is open to question, but Rolen is a seasoned veteran.
At the same time, Paul Janish getting playing time at shortstop is a positive, and Ryan Hanigan has given reason for hope behind the plate. With Taveras hurt, Drew Stubbs has been able to get a chance to impress. They could all be part of the next Reds team that exceeds .500. The question of whether that will be in 2010 or in a later year remains to be seen. Part of the answer will depend on whether the right decisions are made the rest of this season, and in the offseason.