One week later, and Reds fans are still debating whether general manager Nick Krall’s trade deadline strategy—or lack of a strategy, depending on your perspective—was pathetic or brilliant. You can find loud voices willing to defend either of those views, with each side essentially declaring themselves to be better fans than those with an opposite opinion. It’s exhausting.
The volume on those arguments cranked up steadily over the last week as the Reds, who were in first place by a game and a half at the deadline, lost six straight and looked very ugly in the process. Cincinnati surrendered 20 runs to the Cubs in the first game of that streak, then another 16 the next night. The pitchers, both starters and relievers, struggled, and the rookies started looking like rookies defensively. They dropped into a tie with Chicago for second place, 1.5 games behind the Brewers.
As if we needed more evidence that the Reds are desperate for pitching, they sent a rookie making his big league debut to the mound on Sunday, as they tried to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Nationals. That rookie, Lyon Richardson, is Cincinnati’s 25th-best prospect according to MLB Pipeline. He has a live arm and will likely make a decent reliever, at the very least, in the coming years. But he started this season at Class-A, and he’s made a grand total of one start above Double-A in his career.
A team that’s serious about competing doesn’t send that kid out there in August to struggle in a game they needed to win to keep pace in the division race. But the Reds aren’t serious about winning this year; Krall has told you as much, and he demonstrated it by his inaction at the trade deadline.
For what it’s worth, my opinion about Krall’s deadline strategy hasn’t changed since last week. I will concede that it’s absolutely possible that standing still at the trade deadline was the right decision for the Reds long-term. I suspect it’s not, but that’s arguable. There is no question whatsoever that it was the wrong decision for the 2023 team’s chances of competing the rest of the way. And that’s a shame, because I want to see the Reds win. I need to see these kids playing under October lights. I want to see Joey Votto in the playoffs again.
A number of baseball writers agreed generally with that sentiment but were even more incredulous that the Reds didn’t do more to improve their club. Over at The Athletic, Keith Law reacted this way:
How do the Reds do nothing at this deadline? OK, they made one tiny deal, adding lefty reliever Sam Moll, but they’re in first place in a division that’s probably going to be a dogfight, against a team in the Brewers that’s one game behind them in the loss column but a little stronger on paper. The Reds have needs they could have addressed, including the rotation (as I write this, Ben Lively has given up 87 runs tonight), and they have surpluses from which to deal, particularly in the infield. I am most shocked that they didn’t add any starting pitching, with Andrew Abbott their only healthy starter who has a sub-4 ERA at the moment.
Ben Clemens said something similar at FanGraphs:
The Reds are leading the NL Central, but they essentially sat out the deadline. Their core is made up mostly of rookies, and I’m sure they’re telling themselves that now is too soon to strike, but come on, man. The NL Central probably won’t be this winnable for years to come. The Cubs are on the rise. The Cardinals won’t stay down long. The Pirates… Well, fine, you can’t win them all. But the Reds sat on their hands, which meant the Brewers’ additions went unopposed.
Come on, man, indeed. As for me, I wasn’t incredulous about the lack of activity, and you probably aren’t either. Because this is what the Reds have done to their fans over and over and over.
What you’ve just seen for the, I dunno, one millionth time in your life as a Reds fan—unless you’re a supporter of a more recent vintage, I suppose—is Cincinnati management telling you they have no interest in trying to win this year, while simultaneously promising that they’re going to try in the future. We can’t improve this year’s first place team in an effort to get across the finish line. But trust us! We’ll try at some point in the future. We promise!
Believe them if you wish. As for the 2023 team, what’s done is done. Is it time for fans to panic?
The answer to that question is “no,” I think. But we do need to be realistic about where the Reds are right now. They’re the same team we’ve been excited about for the last two months. Remember: A team is never as good as they look at their best and never as bad as they look at their worst.
As I’ve been saying for weeks, this is a good but flawed team. Now that we know those flaws will not be addressed by the front office, we have to hope that Hunter Greene and Tejay Antone and Nick Lodolo and Ben Lively can return from the injured list and provide more depth in the pitching ranks. We have to hope that the rookies can adjust to the league and recapture some of their earlier magic. We have to hope that the Reds can run and slug their way to victories like they did in June and July.
Maybe they will, and maybe they won’t. But after a win over Miami on Monday, finally snapping the losing streak, Cincinnati is five games over .500 and alone in second place, 1.5 games behind Milwaukee. It’s the second week of August and the Reds are playing meaningful games; presumably that will continue into September.
Reds fans should resolve to treat the rest of the season like Nick Krall has: Try to ignore the team’s obvious flaws while enjoying the fun.
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.