While the Reds were in the process of losing their eighth consecutive series over the weekend, some off-the-field news was announced that should be far more worrisome to fans than the team’s collapse in the middle of its first real playoff chase in years. In case you missed it: Cincinnati’s minor league pitching coordinator and hitting coordinator resigned on the same day.
That’s not a big deal, you might think. You’d be wrong. What these guys said as they were walking out the door confirms everything we’ve been discussing in this space over the last year. From the outset, let me be as clear as I can be: The Cincinnati Reds have no future as long as the Castellini family is in charge of the team. Reds fans’ only hope is if Bob Castellini sells the club, and the longer he waits the more emotional pain loyal fans are going to have to endure.
Overly dramatic? Maybe. You can decide for yourself. But more on that in a moment.
Kyle Boddy was the team’s director of pitching, hired in late 2019 in what was seen in baseball circles as a coup. As the founder of Driveline Baseball, he helped usher in a wave of technological and physiological advances that have revolutionized the art of pitching. From training pitchers with weighted balls to using pitch-tracking devices and super-slow-motion cameras, Boddy brought a unique perspective and new techniques to the Reds when hired by former President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams.
Soon thereafter, Williams hired CJ Gillman as minor league hitting coordinator as part of William’s attempt to completely reshape a Reds player development effort that hadn’t produced results. The results were nearly immediate and have been nothing short of remarkable.
When Boddy and Gillman were hired, Cincinnati’s farm system was ranked 28th in MLB—third worst, if you want to look at it that way. In the latest rankings, the Reds were firmly in the top 10, at No. 8. Travis Sawchik (author of Big Data Baseball and The MVP Machine) noted that Cincinnati had some of the top season-over-season development gains in baseball. That’s due to the player development staff put in place by Williams as well as to Boddy, Gillman, and others.
Yet listen to what Boddy said when he resigned:
“The Cincinnati Reds and I have mutually agreed to no longer continue our professional relationship. I can’t thank Dick Williams and Eric Lee enough for their support and taking a chance at moving the Reds’ player development in a new direction—both were instrumental in effecting enormous change. (Reds pitching coach) Derek Johnson lent incredible support over the last two years with the Reds and for a decade prior to that—without DJ, much of the change you see in the world of pitching would have been unattainable.
“The Reds are moving in a different direction in many areas of player development and I certainly wish them the best. It no longer felt like the best fit for either party. I’m exceptionally proud of the results we got in the minor leagues—our MiLB pitchers as a group went from sixth-worst to sixth-best in xERA (expected ERA) out of 30 organizations in just two years—with a number of notable prospects doing well and popping up on radars everywhere.”
I want you to read one sentence again, and shudder: “The Reds are moving in a different direction in many areas of player development.” Despite the almost inconceivable gains in such a short period across the entirety of the minor league system, Reds ownership wants to change course mid-stream. It’s consistent with their decision last winter to jettison two good relief pitchers because they were too expensive, as well as Castellini’s refusal to spend money over the off-season to, you know, actually fill holes on the roster.
Well, this is just one disgruntled employee, you say? Here’s what Gillman said when announcing he was parting ways with the Reds:
“With the direction and leadership in-place when I was hired having moved on, it’s just simply the right direction for me to go personally and for the Reds to go professionally.
“I believe deeply in what we accomplished in the time I spent with the Reds. Where we committed to change, the numbers stand up on their own, and I am very proud of that.
“There are many organizations with hitting and (player development) beliefs similar to my own and their fruits are coming to bear at both the minor and major league levels.”
These resignations come on the heels of Williams’ departure at the end of the 2020 season, and Eric Lee—Cincinnati’s senior director of player development, mentioned in Boddy’s statement above—in July of this year. All of a sudden, there has been a large-scale upheaval in the baseball operations and player development departments within the Reds’ front office.
Think about where this team should be right now. The big-league Reds, as we’ve seen this season, are mostly a good team with some significant (and obvious) holes. If Castellini had committed to improving the team over the last off-season, is there any doubt that the Reds would be competing for a division title today? They shifted course instead, and the Reds are now trying to cling to a .500 record.
Are we destined to see the same thing happen to the minor league system? Are the Reds cutting bait on a winning strategy, developed under Williams, right when it was beginning to bear fruit? It’s what they did with the major league club, after all.
From his perspective, Boddy says it’s all about vision and not about wanting more money: “I took less money and fewer guaranteed years to be with the Reds over two other teams. It was an irreconcilable difference in vision, leading to mutual separation. I don’t need more money. I wanted to bring the best player development system for the fans of the Reds. The new regime disagrees with my approach, and I disagree with theirs. So, here we are.”
Yes, here we are, unfortunately. So what should die-hard fans make of this mess?
While you are living and dying with the Cincinnati Reds, ownership has proceeded to dismantle (in less than a year!) nearly every single thing that made me excited about the future of this team. Bob Castellini does not care about you, and the Reds will never love you back as long as the Castellinis are in charge. Disagree with me if you like, but all the evidence points in only one direction: The ownership group has more important priorities than putting a winning team on the field.
Remember, Castellini lied to you and hopes you won’t remember. I haven’t forgotten the promises he made when his ownership group purchased the team. Remember when he said, “We’re buying the Reds to win. Anything else is unacceptable.” We now have 16 years of evidence to prove that losing is quite acceptable to him after all. Either he’s meddling in baseball operations, where he has no competence (ask him how many times he personally nixed trades involving Billy Hamilton), or he’s refusing to spend on the team he said “truly belongs to you,” the fan.
And that’s the portion of Castellini’s statement upon purchasing the Reds that really galls me, because it’s so obviously untrue:
We know this team truly belongs to you, and we understand what the Reds mean to our city and our region. We know what a winning team can do for a city’s pride. We also understand the unique legacy the Reds hold in baseball history and the potential to reignite an American love affair with the nation’s first professional baseball team.
If you truly understand what the Reds mean to the fans, Mr. Castellini, you’ll sell the team immediately. Because you have tarnished the city’s “unique legacy.” You have done damage to the team’s relationship with the fans that cannot be undone until you sell the team to someone who actually cares about the product on the field.
Or there’s another option: Prove that I’m wrong about the Reds not loving their fans back. Beg Dick Williams to return and give him free rein to reshape the organization according to his original vision—or hire someone from the Rays front office, for example, or even Theo Epstein. Ask that person to try to convince Boddy and Gillman to continue their outstanding work. Keep your nose out of the baseball operations department and let them do the job they’re hired to do.
Do you really believe this team “truly belongs to the fans”, Mr. Castellini? Or was that just wordplay designed to fool all the suckers who pay to watch that billion-dollar asset in your portfolio? Call me, and let’s discuss it on my podcast.
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.