The Reds finished the 2021 season with a record of 83-79, their best mark since winning 90 games all the way back in 2013. Cincinnati finished a distant third in the National League Central race, unfortunately, though there were plenty of fun moments along the way. Even better, the Reds have an exciting group of talented players who could form the core of The Next Good Reds Team™.
Seriously, if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic about the future of this club, that’s where to start. Probable 2021 Rookie of the Year Jonathan India is just the beginning. Tyler Stephenson has already proven to be a budding star, and we saw good things out of starter Vladimir Gutierrez this season. On the horizon are Jose Barerro and reliever Dauri Moreta; we saw them in Reds uniforms this year, and both were simply brilliant in the minors. Next year should finally see top prospects Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, along with other fruits of the eighth-best minor league system in the game, according to Baseball America.
On the other hand, the Reds are in a similar situation as they faced last off-season. They have a good core, but ownership and management have some work to do to fill in the gaps and build a complete roster capable of competing for championships. We know what the Reds did last year (reminder: nothing). Is there any reason to think the Reds will do anything differently in the coming months?
We already know the answer to that, I fear, as I noted here. But let’s pretend we’re in a world where Bob Castellini cares more about the product on the field than he cares about his wallet and vacation homes. What should the Reds do this off-season if they want to compete in 2022?
Commit to bringing back Nick Castellanos.
Castellanos has the option of becoming a free agent after a career year with the Reds, hitting .309/.362/.576 with 34 homers and 100 RBI. In the wake of his final game this season, he said all the right things about how this year in Cincinnati was the most fun he’s ever had. In truth, Great American Ball Park (and Reds fans) have been very good to him, but there are plenty of variables.
“These are major decisions,” Castellanos said. “You have to balance everything that you possibly can: How much you like where you’re playing, how close it is to home because I’m co-parenting, where the organization is in the spot to compete, and obviously, the financial part of it is important as well. It’s a balance of all of that, which will [help] make the best decision possible. It could very well be here in Cincinnati.”
How the Reds approach Castellanos’ camp will tell us a lot about how committed management and ownership are to actually fielding a competitive team next season.
Make decisions on Tucker Barnhart and Wade Miley.
The Reds hold team options on both Barnhart ($7.5 million, with a $500,000 buyout) and Miley ($10 million, $1 million buyout). The Reds could choose to part with both, saving a cool $16 million in the process. That buys a lot of fuel for private jets, you know, and it’s a version of what the Reds did last season with relievers Raisel Iglesias and Archie Bradley, leading to the disaster that was the 2021 Reds bullpen.
You can make good arguments that retaining the services of both Barnhart and Miley makes the Reds a better team in 2021. But does that matter to ownership?
Improve the bullpen.
Do I need to say anything more? Did you watch the 2021 Reds bullpen? I’m still having nightmares.
Depth, depth, depth.
The Reds faded down the stretch this season largely because they didn’t have the depth to compete after losing key players to injury. It’s pretty much a guarantee that General Manager Nick Krall will try to tell us that the outfield will be a strength because Jesse Winker, Nick Senzel, and Tyler Naquin will be healthy in the spring. Don’t believe a word of that. All of those players have long and consistent injury histories.
Depending on the health of any player is a foolish gambit. Smart organizations—yeah, I’m not talking about the Reds here, obviously—plan for injuries by putting together as deep a roster as possible.
What do we do with Eugenio Suarez and Mike Moustakas?
Another guarantee is that, at some point this winter, Krall will try to convince you everything is peachy keen because Suarez had a good September and can be counted on in 2022. It’s true that he looked better in the season’s final month, hitting .370/.460/.808 with eight homers in 25 games. And I’m the world’s biggest Geno fan, so I hope he really has returned to form.
But a non-dysfunctional organization—again, not the Reds—would not count on either Suarez or Moustakas. Moose never looked healthy this year and in two seasons for the Reds has posted a slash line of just .217/.304/.413.
Again, as a fan, I hope these guys can be stars next season. But for professional sports franchises, hope is not a strategy. Krall and company need to plan for the eventuality that these guys won’t be above-average contributors in 2022.
Negotiate long-term contracts for the team’s best young players.
An organization that cared less about the bottom line and more about setting the club up to be competitive for the foreseeable future would be exploring long-term deals with Winker, Luis Castillo, and Tyler Mahle. Alas, the Reds are dysfunctional and/or cheap. Again, this isn’t news to you. But if you need more confirmation, check out this recent interview with Krall. He can barely answer a question without talking about how the budget will impact every decision the Reds make this off-season. Once again, the Reds are going to cry poor. We’ve seen this movie before.
But just like every Reds fan, I’ll continue to hold out hope that the Reds will actually make a real effort to be competitive. They have a fun core, after all, and this team really isn’t far away from being a legitimate contender. And if they won’t listen to me, perhaps they’ll listen to Joey Votto. In an interview just after the season ended, he seemed to be making a statement to ownership/management about urgency going into the off-season:
“We’ve got good players and guys in the prime of their career right now,” Votto said. “We always want to win, we’re trying to be a perennial playoff team. As far as there being an urgency, I don’t feel one year’s urgency changes to the next. I’m also not in the front office, and I’m not very objective. But there are some guys who are really good players right now, and we have to take advantage of them.”
The Reds have a great opportunity in front of them. If they make the right decisions this winter, we’ll have a lot of fun cheering for (and buying tickets and merchandise of) a team that should be a legitimate World Series contender. I’ll be at the front of the line.
If, on the other hand, we’re reading the tea leaves correctly and Castellini and company intend to cry poor and refuse to improve the roster for the second consecutive season, well, you can choose to not spend your money on the Reds, too. There are plenty of other places you can direct your discretionary income.
For now, I choose to be optimistic. The Reds have the most exciting group of players we’ve seen since the 2010-2012 clubs. I hope ownership and management give them a chance to compete for a championship. If nothing else, Votto deserves that opportunity after all these years.
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.