I’ve spent a lot of time in various places (digital and earthly) defending the current Reds front office, and for the most part, I feel like they’ve done a solid job in terms of drafting and retaining young players. Fortunately, the Reds have started to look like they know how to play baseball again these last few days, but the recent historically terrible start has served to highlight some particularly frustrating things that are the purview of the front office, at least to some extent, and which do matter.
For one, until yesterday, the roster included both Cliff Pennington and Phil Gosselin who are both: 1. The same player, 2. Old, and 3. Not as good as several younger options in the minors. That Alex Blandino was called up was much more a function of Eugenio Suarez being hurt than anything else. But he should have been on the roster from the start and he should absolutely have played every day while Geno was down.
And then there’s Yovani Gallardo. Remember him? What could the front office possibly have been thinking? Sure, Bryan Price used him in ways he shouldn’t have (which is to say ever pitching at a time when the Reds weren’t down by 10 runs), but Dick Williams signed him. Oh, and let’s not forget Amir Garrett not even getting a chance to start.
Last, there’s the lineup. People love to argue about the lineup and then people like me like to point out that lineup construction doesn’t matter that much. But here’s the thing: it does matter some. And it is very easy to figure out who should hit where. Also, at this point, most of the players are aware enough of analytics, that it shouldn’t cause anyone to throw a fit if his position in the lineup shifts slightly. And sure, the lineup is theoretically the manager’s job, but the front office can absolutely exert serious influence there.
Those are all little things. If the Reds were anywhere near .500, I doubt I could muster the energy to complain. However, they are not anywhere near .500. And the Reds clearly felt like they needed to show the fans they were trying, because they fired Bryan Price. So maybe it’s time to also stop with the silly mistakes.
Reds fans have put up with a lot. From 1961-2000, things were good. The club had 30 winning seasons and 10 losing seasons. Since then? Three winning seasons and 14 (probably 15) losing seasons. Fans have been pretty patient with the rebuild, but it’s time to start losing patience when the Reds continue to insist on rostering has-beens who were also never-weres. Give me Blandino and Brandon Dixon over Pennington and Gosselin because that’s the smart baseball decision. Give me Nick Senzel now. You’ve got your extra year of control. Let’s see what he can do. He makes the team better and no fan should care about the few million dollars he may cost the team by coming up now instead of in June.
A few weeks ago, I used Twitter to build a fans-choice roster. Now, I love Twitter, but I’m also rational, so my expectations weren’t high. But, I have to say, even though I didn’t agree 100 percent with the crowd, I do agree that the roster they put together was better than the one the Reds had put together, and I doubt any baseball analyst would disagree.
Which raises an important point: There is an enormous amount of baseball research out there. Sure, each organization has its own proprietary stuff and they always have more information than we do. However, they also keep hiring well known analytics people to work for them and the most successful teams are generally those whose strategies best align with publicly available analysis. This would seem to tell us that, whatever extra information they have, it’s not telling them that much more than the public already knows.
So public criticism given by thoughtful people should be felt more keenly and seen as valid. The “you didn’t play the game stuff” only works until people who didn’t play the game work with other people who didn’t play the game to build championship teams. At which point, maybe it’s time to realize that just because you used to be able to hit a fastball, that doesn’t mean you are good at predicting which players will be good and which won’t. Those, after all, are very different skills.
So, the Reds front office needs to start doing the little things right. Give us the best roster you can give us. Don’t make us scratch our heads wondering what you’re doing. Of course, there are always things that are known only inside the organization, but there’s nothing that should make anyone think signing Gallardo was a good idea. Stop doing that stuff and I’ll go back to defending you when there are legitimate questions about what the right decision is.
Jason Linden is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, Redleg Nation, and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLinden.