The Reds Don’t Add a Big Name at the Trade Deadline

And give up 20 runs to the suddenly resurgent Cubs. A coincidence? What’s the plan in Cincinnati?
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The Major League Baseball trade deadline has passed, and perhaps the best place to begin our analysis of the Reds’ activity is where I left off last week:

The Reds should be good in coming seasons, but with the Cubs and Cardinals presumably improving over the winter there’s no guarantee the Reds will be in this position next year—or any year in the future, for that matter. The Reds have a shot at glory now, and, as we’ve seen in recent years, anyone who sneaks into the playoffs has a chance to win the whole thing.

(GM Nick) Krall’s goal should not be to scrap the plan but to evolve it, given the new realities of Cincinnati’s situation. Improve the rotation. Improve the bullpen. And give this incredibly fun group of kids (plus Joey Votto) a chance for Cincinnati immortality.

Cincinnati’s situation at the trade deadline was better than it’s been in more than a decade. The Redlegs stood atop the National League’s Central division, a game and a half ahead of Milwaukee. Despite recent struggles against the Brewers, the Reds rebounded to win two of three in Los Angeles, then took the first game of a series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Things were looking good again. The Reds even had a positive run differential for the first time all season!

If you were placing your bets on the Reds going full steam ahead at the deadline, leaving no stone unturned in their quest for the division title … well, you wouldn’t be alone. Many, including yours truly, were hopeful that the organization would make real strides to bolster this young, promising squad for the stretch run. Krall, after all, didn’t just hint at it, he spoke it aloud a month ago. “We’re looking to win,” he said. “That’s our goal. I think we want to do whatever we can for this team.” And then, “Yeah, we do have financial flexibility to add (players).”

After all these years, I should know better than to get my hopes up. We’ll see if we get more details in coming weeks about Krall’s efforts to improve the pitching staff. I’m perfectly willing to believe that he cast his net wide, scanning the depths of the starting pitching market with a fine-tooth comb, driven by the gaping holes left by the unfortunate injuries to the electric duo of Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo. But if you were hoping for (and there’s that word again, “hope”) a big catch, a headliner … well, you were disappointed. Instead, we got Sam Moll.

Now listen, Sam Moll is a perfectly cromulent player. He’s a southpaw reliever with a nice spin rate and plenty of upside. The Reds needed another lefty in the bullpen, and the club is better with Moll wearing the red and white. Krall acquired him for a former fifth-rounder, Double-A pitcher Joe Boyle. As far as I’m concerned, it was a good trade, and I tip my cap in the general direction of Cincinnati’s GM for pulling the trigger.

On the other hand, Krall’s own description of Moll was that he was “a nice extra guy in the bullpen.” Reds fans should perhaps temper their excitement over his addition to the roster given that scouting report.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s starting rotation teeters precariously on the shoulders of a couple of rookies, Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson, plus up-and-down sophomore Graham Ashcraft. Also a couple of retreads: Ben Lively (who, to be fair, has mostly been good, despite not pitching in the big leagues since 2019) and Luke Weaver (with an ERA of 6.80). Enough said.

Yes, Greene and Lodolo should be back within the next month. Maybe. Seems like Krall is banking an awful lot on those guys coming back and being healthy and being effective. As things stand, Weaver—who, let’s be honest, is by far the worst starting pitcher on any contending team in baseball—is now going to have to make at least three or four more starts before Greene returns. If Greene returns as expected.

As for Lively, his ERA is now 5.20 in 12 starts after giving up 13 runs in Tuesday night’s 20-9 shellacking by the Cubs. I hope he can return to the form we saw in the previous two months rather than his established performance that we witnessed before he turned 31 years of age. We need it, since he’s going nowhere until Lodolo returns.

But these are the Cincinnati Reds, and there are no examples in recent history of this club actually trying to field a winner. We should be accustomed to this by now. If you want more evidence of the lack of commitment, take a look at these comments from Krall as the trade deadline inched closer:

“Our goal is sustainability, and we’re trying to get sustainable. To give up players that hurt us in that way—whether it’s guys that are here right now on this team, or whether it’s guys that are going to be here for the long term, or guys that are close to ready and have a chance to help this team next year—I think we’re looking at that we want to make sure we can be sustainable. That’s our goal.”

As one of my friends noted, there’s a word you won’t find in that quote from Krall: “winning.” The goal is “sustainability” instead of “winning.” Take a couple of moments to process that.

While Krall was talking about “sustainability,” Cincinnati’s chief rivals in the NL Central were getting busy on the task of improving their teams. Milwaukee bolstered their bullpen by acquiring reliever Andrew Chafin and a couple of key bats, Mark Canha and Carlos Santana. The Cubs, in third place—but only by four games—added reliever Jose Cuas along with perhaps the best third baseman available, Jeimer Candelario.

I’m not here to tell you that Krall screwed up this trade deadline. Perhaps he made all the correct decisions in the last couple of weeks. I hope he’s right to think that the Reds didn’t need any more reinforcements as they navigate the final two months of this season. On the other hand, take a look at the results from the last three decades. This team hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. Trust them at your peril.

Despite all that, I hope the Reds continue their run of good form. This is still a fun team, the most exciting Redlegs club in many years. I can’t wait to watch tonight’s game! I’m rooting for them to defy the odds. At this point, hope is really the only thing we have to cling to as Reds fans.

But hope is not a strategy. I wish someone would deliver that message to Nick Krall and Reds ownership.

Chad Dotson helms Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His newsletter about Cincinnati sports can be found at chaddotson.com. He’s @dotsonc on Twitter.

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