This was originally published in The Athletic.
I remember two things about the summer of 2014.
One is that you couldn’t go anywhere or turn on any device without hearing Pharrell Williams singing about how damn happy he was. Want to know a surefire way to put me in a lousy mood? Make me have to listen to that guy crooning about his sunny disposition. In fact, now I’m cranky, which ultimately might fit the mood of what you’re about to read.
The other thing I remember about that summer five years ago was how much time and energy folks here spent agonizing over whether that season’s Reds club should acquire added pieces for a postseason push, or look to dump players to contending teams to start a rebuild that no one wanted to admit was inevitable.
It was an odd season, with most of the previous season’s 90-win roster intact. But a new manager, a rookie leadoff hitter who was fairly useless with the bat, and a series of devastating injuries to key players kept that year’s team from ever really taking off. Yet still, in mid-July they were just a game and a half out of first place before free-falling in the days after the All-Star break. Their record on the morning of July 31 wasn’t terrible, but there was almost no way to envision that a third straight postseason appearance was in the offing. It made all the sense in the world for the Reds to be sellers.
Instead, they did nothing. They didn’t add anyone who could’ve helped in the short-term, and when asked if he’d considered himself or his team sellers at the deadline,Walt Jocketty famously dropped this line…
“You know who I work for, right?”
The reference was, obviously, to Reds owner Bob Castellini, whose thirst for winning and burning desire to not ruin hosting the following summer’s All-Star Game provided resistance to throwing in the towel, even if all of us knew a rebuild of some sort was more a matter of when, and not if. Of course a year later, Jocketty would trade Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, and a process that should have begun 12 months prior was on.
I’ve always wondered, though, both how the past four seasons would’ve played out and what the current state of the Reds would be if, instead of standing pat, the Reds hit the eject button at the 2014 deadline and started flipping players. What if they would have traded Cueto, that year in the middle of a resurgent 20-win season, while he still had another year left on his contract, and possibly more value? Would they have gotten more than the trio of underwhelming arms they eventually acquired when they traded him the following summer?
What if their willingness to make deals at the deadline in ’14 would’ve compelled them to move more guys the following winter rather than waiting, perhaps accelerating a rebuild that was never fully embraced until they started getting lesser returns for the guys they traded?
What if Jocketty would’ve been more aggressive in his reported attempts to trade Brandon Phillips before his 2014 even started?
How about if, instead of making Homer Bailey a cornerstone of what’s next, they’d moved him for prospects?
And maybe instead of waiting to move on from them until they did, the list of now-former Reds like Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce and Zack Cozart could’ve yielded a better collective return in potential deals, perhaps making the last few years slightly less painful and possibly putting this year’s Reds team in better position to do something more substantial than hoping hover around .500.
We can’t go back in time to redo what the Reds did and didn’t do, and frankly, if I could, I’d start with that damn Pharrell song before I addressed anything baseball-relate. What I can do is apply lessons that should be learned from 2014 and blend them with a current assessment of the Reds and where this year’s team stands.
The Reds need to be sellers.
To read more, go to The Athletic.