By HAL McCOY
Fans keep asking: “If the Cleveland Indians can do it, why not the Cincinnati Reds?”
Yeah, why not?
Well, they can. It is not why, it is when — if the planets align and the creek don’t rise.
And let’s not invoke the small market-big market excuse.
THE CLEVELAND INDIANS payroll and the Cincinnati Reds payroll are nearly identical. The Tribe’s payroll this year is $114.7 million, 23rd lowest in the 30-team majors. The Reds was $114.3 million, 24th lowest in the majors.
So, it isn’t money. It is how the money is spent, how trades are made, how free agents are signed, how draft picks are made and developed.
True, the Reds are in the throes of a rebuilding era. The Cleveland Indians have been in a rebuilding project since 1948. OK, OK, so they were powerful in the mid- and late 1990s and made the World Series twice (1995, 1999), but they lost both. The Reds haven’t made the World Series since 1990.
The Tribe made it this year because they added to an already good team when they saw the need. Instead of trading established players for prospects, as the Reds did, they added established players like Mike Napoli, Coco Crisp and Andrew Miller, who turns the pitching mound into a one-man stage.
TO THEIR CREDIT, it seems as if the Reds are on the right highway. They’ve acquired a bushel basket full of prospects by trading Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman.
And Baseball America called their 2016 draft the best in baseball. By finishing last for the second straight year, the Reds have an opportunity for another great draft in 2017.
That, though, is all Back to the Future stuff. How well they’ve done in the draft is TBD, to be determined.
THE MAJOR PROBLEM confronting the Reds is the division they are in. The Cubs will be outstanding for years to come. The St. Louis Cardinals are, well, the Cardinals. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers have fantastic prospects in their pipelines.
Can they do what the Pirates did after more than two decades of losing records.
And where is there stability? Back when the Reds fired general manager Wayne Krivsky, I asked CEO Bob Castellini when the club would show some stability.
He said sternly, “We just aren’t going to lose any more.” That was in April of 2008. How has that worked out?
They did bring in Dusty Baker to manage the team and he took them to the playoffs in 2010 and 2012, then fired him shortly after he lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2013 wild card game.
He was replaced by Bryan Price and with basically the same team in 2014 the Reds finished below .500 as the team was ravaged by injuries.
Then came The Grand Plan, a rebuild, and two last place finishes. Price was given a one-year extension at the end of this season, not exactly a pat on the back.
THE TEAM NEEDS to show some stability in the manager. Either let him know he is The Man or bring in the guy they think can lead the team out of the dense jungle.
They named Dick Williams as general manager to replace Walt Jocketty, but Jocketty was merely moved to a higher position in the hierarchy and still makes the major decisions. Either Williams is the GM or he isn’t. Is he or Jocketty going to guide the listing ship?
The fan base is not happy.
Attendance dropped from 2.5 million in 2015 to 1.9 million in 2016 and insiders say it will be worse next year.
Nobody ever said baseball is easy and it won’t be easy for the Reds to turn things upwind.
What the Indians did should show the Reds front office and the fans that it can be done. But will it? It will take a lot of hard work and a lot of good luck.
And that’s the parting shot: Good luck.