The Reds’ Season in Review: Yuck!

The team plummeted from a winning season to one of the 10 worst records in franchise history in one year, but a young on-field core and new prospects offer some hope.

As you know, Dear Reader, I’ve been chronicling the story of the 2022 Cincinnati Reds in this column all season long. I’ve tried to have a little fun with the messy situation down at 100 Joe Nuxhall Way, but Phase 1 of General Manager Nick Krall’s plan to “eliminate peaks and valleys” has provided more than its fair share of headaches for the die-hard Reds fan. (Krall seems to have been partly successful so far, at least eliminating the peaks.) If you’re here still reading about this Reds team, well, I’m talking about you. You may want to consider taking an ibuprofen.

How do we evaluate this Reds season in the grand scheme of things? Are the Castellini-era Redlegs any closer to putting a winning product on the field than they were this spring? The answer: It depends.

If you choose to take a pessimistic view about the long-term success of this franchise, the Reds certainly provided you plenty of ammunition. Just two years ago, they actually qualified for the National League playoffs. Sure, it was the watered-down expanded playoffs of 2020, but still! They actually celebrated on the field and everything!

Even as recently as last September, the Reds were in the playoff race and fighting for a Wild Card spot. Sure, they were bounced from the 2020 playoffs after an abysmal season and they faded in the Wild Card race late last year—but they were close! They had a winning record one year ago. And yet today the Reds are trying desperately to avoid losing 100 games with a post-fire sale roster featuring precisely one key player from last year’s team, Jonathan India. (And perhaps Kyle Farmer, depending on your definition of the word “key.”)

The season began with Cincinnati’s COO Phil Castellini, silver spoon dangling precariously from one corner of his mouth, essentially admitting that ownership cares more about the team’s monetary value than championships and mocking fans who actually expected ownership to deliver on their promises. The season will end with the Reds stumbling to the finish line with one of the 10 worst winning percentages in franchise history. They’re still within striking distance of setting the club record for most losses in a season, a mark currently held by the 1982 Reds at 60-101.

And yet, if you choose to take the “glass half full” approach, there is plenty of reason for optimism. Stop laughing. I’m being serious.

First of all, the core of the 2023 Reds will be a group of exceptionally talented youngsters who have proven themselves worthy at the big league level. India is just one season removed from winning Rookie of the Year. If catcher Tyler Stephenson had been healthier, it’s not a stretch to suggest that he would have been a strong contender for the award this season. He’s a future All-Star waiting to happen. Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene, and Graham Ashcraft are an exciting trio of starting pitchers who have only scratched their potential, while 25-year-old Alexis Diaz looks like a stopper at the back of the bullpen.

Added to that mix, perhaps as soon as next year, is uber-prospect Elly De La Cruz. Before last year, he was virtually unknown, but today he’s a top-15 prospect in all of baseball and Cincinnati’s Minor League Player of the Year. De La Cruz played in 120 games across two levels of the minors, batting .304/.359/.586 with 28 home runs, 86 RBI, and 47 stolen bases. And there’s more than just the numbers:

De La Cruz became the first player in [Dayton] Dragons history to hit at least 20 home runs and steal at least 20 bases while batting at least .300. In a Baseball America survey of Midwest League managers, De La Cruz was named the league’s “Most Exciting Player,” “Best Batting Prospect,” “Best Power Prospect,” and “Fastest Baserunner.” De La Cruz will be a strong contender for 2022 Midwest League Most Valuable Player; the voting results have not yet been announced.

Let this be the first of many times I find myself writing far too many words about the wonders of Elly De La Cruz. He’s the most exciting Reds position prospect in many years. But he’s not the only exciting player on the horizon.

As I have noted, Krall acquitted himself quite well with the return received in recent trades. (I don’t concede that the Reds simply had to trade Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, etc., but at least Krall got a haul of prospects in return.) Take a quick look at the Reds’ top prospect list according to MLB Pipeline: Five of the top nine prospects were acquired via trade this season, including numbers two (Noelvi Marte) and three (Edwin Arroyo), who came over from Seattle in the Castillo trade. Some observers now rate Cincinnati’s farm system as among the best in baseball.

In addition, thanks to the team’s dumping of every veteran player with any value at all, the Reds will have mountains of available payroll as soon as next year. As a matter of fact, Cincinnati has just two players currently signed to a contract for next season: Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas. Everyone else is either arbitration-eligible or not yet to that point in their careers. (Well, the Reds do have a mutual option for 2023 with pitcher Mike Minor, but presumably they will pay him $1 million to go away.)

What that means is that the Reds have young talent, with more on the way, and plenty of roster flexibility if they choose to improve the big league club. Obviously, that’s a big “if” because you would have to trust the Castellinis to invest in the roster with the intent of putting a winning team on the field at Great American Ball Park. And if we’ve learned anything over the last 16 years, it’s to not trust them.

You do not, however, need to be a wide-eyed optimist to see that there’s a path to Cincinnati being able to field a winning franchise within the next year or two. I’ll walk through that winning recipe next week in these digital pages. In the meantime, someone please send Phil Castellini that link.

Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.

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