Reds’ Rebuild: Failing to Plan or Planning to Fail?

As the Redlegs crawl home with their collective tails between their legs after yet another losing road trip, Reds fans are wondering: Can FC Cincinnati really shock the soccer world again?

No, the Reds haven’t completely lost the town to FC Cincinnati, but everyone seems to agree that management of the Queen City’s new MLS franchise seems to know what it’s doing. After two months of the 2018 baseball season, there is increasing doubt about whether you can say the same about the Reds front office.


If you’re looking for reasons to be confident in the direction of the Reds’ never-ending rebuilding process, this hasn’t exactly been a banner week. Let’s recap.

First, there was the Homer Bailey fiasco. Last Tuesday, interim manager Jim Riggleman announced that Homer Bailey was being shifted to the bullpen. (Incidentally, this was the correct move, as one wise analyst told you a couple of weeks ago). The next day, Bailey seemed baffled. When asked if he was happy with the move, he said, “It’s not a matter of happy. You all (reporters) had more information than I did at the time. I didn’t know exactly what was going on. … They talked to you (the media) before me, so I don’t know what I can and can’t say.” Bailey also expressed frustration at the move and said “probably not” when asked if he could be an effective reliever.

Two days later, the Reds surprised everyone by placing Bailey on the disabled list with “right knee inflammation.” (There appears to be no truth to the rumor that he was actually placed on the DL because of an inflamed ERA.) Riggleman claimed that Bailey had been suffering from the knee issue for more than a month and it was probably limiting his effectiveness on the mound.

What is going on here? Does the left hand know what the right is doing in the Cincinnati front office? Shouldn’t all of this have been ironed out behind closed doors before making a public pronouncement about demoting Bailey?

Hang on, it gets curiouser and curiouser. On Wednesday, Riggleman announced that he was benching rookie outfielder Jesse Winker in order to play Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, and Billy Hamilton every day. In defending the decision, Riggleman offered what’s been described as a rambling and incoherent explanation:

“That’s one of the things we’ve talked about a little bit, let’s put three of them out there and see if we can get them hot. Wink is actually the odd-guy out today. … We will see if we can get our two corner outfielders hot, really. … We’re going to commit for a period of time here to a couple of them. It’s going to be those two to see if we can get them back on the pace they were at in ’17.”

Why Winker?

“Well, that’s a good question,” Riggleman said. “I think if it was Schebler, we’d say the same thing. If it was Duvall, the same question. Basically, I think none of them have really hit yet like they’re capable. I feel that way, that all three of them have more there. Schebler and Duvall’s defense is probably a little bit ahead of Winker. It’s just kind of a decision where we’re at right now.”

After precisely one game on the bench, Winker was starting and leading off again, and Riggleman said, essentially, Ummm never mind.

Seriously, look at this bizarre quote from Riggleman: “We just can’t have Jesse sitting that much. He’s a talented young hitter. I won’t say that it’s going to be a rotation like it was before, but certainly I’m going to get Jesse’s bat in there. I’ve rethought it. I just don’t want him to be sitting four and five days at a time and just pinch-hitting. We want to get him in there. He’s working very hard on his defense.”

The Reds made a decision to bench one of their most talented young players, and the manager changes his mind after one game (and following much public criticism)? This looks like Amateur Night in Dixie. Again, what’s going on with Reds management? I see three possible scenarios that would explain the organization-wide indecision in these two incidents.

  1. Riggleman is out there making pronouncements on his own, and the front office is coming in a day or two later to clean up the messes he’s made; or
  2. Riggleman is making public decisions with the consent of some of the front office types—this is what Riggleman claims, saying both decisions were made jointly with management, and news reports noted that GM Nick Krall and advisors Walt Jocketty and Buddy Bell were on the road trip with the club—but not all (owner Bob Castellini, for example, or Director of Baseball Ops Dick Williams), and further discussion resulted in a change of heart; or
  3. Everyone agreed, but public perception caused the front office to change its mind in short order.

If scenario #1 is at play here, that would actually be the most comforting. If Riggleman is shooting from the hip and the front office has to take action to fix things, well, Riggleman should be fired, but at least it’s not evidence of incompetence in the management ranks. If either of the other two scenarios is the explanation for the bizarre turn of events over the last week, Reds fans need to be afraid. Because neither inspire confidence.

Unfortunately, the Bailey/Winker fiascos are only the most recent evidence that the Reds either (a) don’t have a coherent plan for this rebuild, or (b) they aren’t fully committed to whatever plan they think they have. Remember when third baseman Eugenio Suarez was injuredearlier this season? The very next night, top prospect Nick Senzel—who worked at shortstop in the spring, then started the Triple-A season at second base—immediately shifted over to third base for Louisville. That seemed like a good sign, as it meant that Senzel was likely to come up and fill in for Suarez.

Nope. Senzel played three games at third base, then the Reds shifted him back over to second and never called him to the majors.

Maybe I’m reading too much into that. But there’s also the situation where Williams was the General Manager to start the season, and the Reds decided after a month and a half to promote Krall to the GM’s chair. I like Krall a lot (Williams too, for that matter)—these are smart, open-minded guys—and there are quite possibly very legitimate reasons for the Reds to make this decision at such an odd time rather than during the off-season, when this shuffling typically takes place. But add it to the list of decisions made by this organization in 2018 that completely baffle me.

Over at The Athletic, Mo Egger had a piece that caught my eye in which he discussed his growing frustration with the Reds’ rebuilding process:

Maybe not playing Jesse Winker shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but it feels like one. Any sense of optimism that’s built over the last three years has been based on the belief that no matter what was happening in the standings, a nice cadre of young players was being built up. And in due time, those players would be given a chance across a number of patience-testing seasons to show what they could do. Benching Winker after he’s had one unproductive month goes a long way toward extinguishing optimism and ratchets up the growing lack of trust and impatience with a rebuilding process that seemingly has neither an end nor a direction.

I was famously optimistic about the team’s chances of making significant progress in 2018. Those beliefs were based on an expectation that the Reds front office would try to improve the club and would put the 25 best players on the field. Basically, I had faith that management was prepared to execute the next phase of this rebuilding plan, a phase in which they were ready to turn the corner. With every single day and every single instance of the Reds stepping on rake after rake after rake, I lose more and more of that faith.

Does this team have a plan? It’s possible. I want to believe they do, but I don’t have any idea what that plan might be. The Reds certainly haven’t made a very good case publicly. I don’t even know who’s really in charge. Is it Krall? Is it Williams? Why are Jocketty and Bell involved so deeply? Who’s on first? Third base!

When the Astros were rebuilding, everyone knew what their plan was. Can anyone tell me what this Reds front office is trying to accomplish? Because what I’ve seen over the last couple of months looks an awful lot like a team stumbling around in the dark, changing their minds and, like a rudderless ship, shifting their direction whichever way the wind is blowing.

In this lost season comprised of one failure after another, the Cincinnati Reds have accomplished a couple of significant things. First, they’re making those of us who follow the team question whether the Reds actually know what they’re doing. Even worse, they’re instilling indifference and distrust among those of us who care most deeply for a baseball team that is perhaps this city’s most enduring institution.

Chad Dotson is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, and the founder of Redleg Nation. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available now in bookstores and online. He’ll be signing copies of the book at 2 p.m. June 30 at the Reds Hall of Fame.

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