We’re approximately one month away. In 33 days, the MLB All-Star game—with all of its somewhat irrelevant bells and whistles—comes to town for the first time since 1988. There will be banners and waxed mustaches everywhere. The Banks will be a-buzz…for once. Cincinnati will put on its best song and dance (Bootsy Collins, stand up!). And then, when MLB officials and fans of better teams from across the country pack up their bags and return home to watch Wild Card and Divisional races of which the Reds will have no part, Cincinnati’s team will be dismembered and sent away for prospects and hope that they’re not still this dysfunctional in three years’ time. That’s the consensus, anyway.
At the very least, Aroldis Chapman seems sure to be traded after the break. He’s expensive, and there’s no point in paying an elite closer to close for a mediocre team. It’s likely, and pressing, that the Reds will find a way to attach Jay Bruce’s contract to the Chapman deal. Johnny Cueto is obviously the Reds greatest asset, and it unfortunately makes perfect baseball sense to deal him away for several high-caliber prospects, as the Reds begin what looks to be a massive overall for the first time since the Ken Griffey Jr. trade. As local radio host and Reds guru Mo Egger said earlier this week on our Nuxhall Way Podcast, the Reds should be open to listening to offers for anyone. They didn’t last year, and that’s part of the reason they are now in this position. And that brings up an interesting question.
What if the Reds win? Specifically, what if the Reds win, and keep winning in the month leading up to the All-Star break, just as they did last year?
It’s interesting to note that on this day (June 11th) of last year, the Reds were four games below .500, 30-34. It just so happens that the 2015 Reds are 27-31, four games below .500, heading into tonight’s game with the Chicago Cubs. Last year’s squad went 22-10 from June 11th through the All-Star break, moving from four games below .500 to a 51-44 record, just a half-game back in the N.L. Central standings.
What we know now is that this was somewhat of a fluke, a brief hot streak—the only real bright patch of play from a very disappointing 2014 team. Looking even further through the lens of retrospect, that short span of winning baseball may have greatly harmed the franchise in the long run. That 51-44 record at the break shifted the mindset in Cincinnati, from sure-sellers to non-movers in any direction. The Reds didn’t have the money or a wealth of prospects to be major buyers, and by winning, took themselves out of the market as major sellers. Had the Reds gone into the break below .500, it’s possible they could have moved at least two starting pitchers (from a top five rotation in the league) and Chapman, and for far more than they ultimately received from moving Alfredo Simon and Mat Latos during the offseason. Unfortunately, it took just 10 days after the break for the Reds to fall back below .500, as they lost nine of their first 10 games. By the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, they were 54-54. Thirteen days later, they dipped below .500 for good.
What happened last year leading up to the All-Star break puts this year’s Reds fans in an uncomfortable position: Should fans want the team to finish the first half poorly? I hate that question, but it seems relevant enough. It feels as if the current mindset in Cincinnati grows more accepting of the impending fire sale with each passing week—most have come to terms with it, and some even seem optimistically excited about the changes to come. But the Castellini’s are fans of the Cincinnati Reds; it’s part of what helped them turn the organization around, but also a big part of the excessive loyalty and overly optimistic attitude that has slightly buried the Reds at the moment. If the Reds are miraculously near the top of the two-team Wild Card race come mid-July, will Bob Castellini and Walt Jocketty still have the temerity to do the right thing and embrace the rebuild anyway?
True, this scenario is almost assuredly impossible. The Reds team that pulled off a miraculous mid-June through mid-July last year had the third best rotation in baseball at the time. This Reds team has three-to-four rookies toeing the mound every week. There’s also the issue of mounting injuries; Zack Cozart just joined the list, out for the season after a very frightening scene at first base during the Reds 5-2 win/sweep against the Philadelphia Phillies yesterday. Yet despite all these issues, the team is just 4.5 games behind the Cubs and Pirates in the Wild Card race, and, for the first time all season, the bats seem to be hot.
Of the 30 remaining games before the break, 13 come against teams currently above them in the Wild Card Standings—four against the Cubs, three against the Pirates, three against the Mets, and three against the Washington Nationals, who are clinging to a half-game lead in the N.L. East. Of the Reds 17 other games in the next month, only a four-game series against the Detroit Tigers will come against a team with a winning record. Which is to say, it could be a very big month for the Reds. Though even if they do stay hot, we know now what we didn’t know at this time last year: this team is not built to be successful for a full season, nor the foreseeable future.
But I’ll ask the question again: What if they win? Would you still blow this team up at the break? And more importantly, will the front office?
Joshua A. Miller is a Nuxhall Way and Cincinnati Magazine contributor. You can follow him on Twitter at @_J_A_Miller.