By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — This question is asked so much by fans these days Alex Trebek should use it as his Final Jeopardy answer,
The answer: “With the July 31 trade deadline approaching, this team was in a quandary over to be Buyers, Sellers or Stand-patters?”
The answer is: Who are the Cincinnati Reds?
It would be a good Final Jeopardy question right now because few people would get it right because right now there is no answer.
The Reds didn’t go all-in over the winter to make the team competitive, but they came close.
They traded for Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer. They traded for Sonny Gray. They signed free agent Tanner Roark. They signed free agents Jose Iglesias and Derek Dietrich.
They made significant moves to make the team better, to make the team capable of climbing out of last place, a place they have inhabited four straight years.
And now a Debbie Downer realization: Where has it gotten them?
They have played 94 games as of Thursday night and they are 43-51, Shockingly that is one game better than their record at this point last season. They were 42-52.
Was all that spending and dealing worth one additional win? Fans talk about how much better the team would be if they hadn’t started the season 1-and-8. Well, last year’s team started 3-and-18 and were only one game worse-off at this point.
What’s the answer? We’ll take ‘Sell’ for $1,000, Alex.”
There should be few untouchables on this team. Joey Votto is untouchable because he has a no-trade contract and wants to finish his career in Cincinnati. Sonny Gray has a three-year $30.3 million deal.
If the Reds don’t hang up on any caller asking about Luis Castillo they should report to the team psychiatrist. Castillo is young, he is under team control through 2023 and he is one of the top pitchers in the game. He is the pitcher which the team should construct its staff around.
Eugenio Suarez is locked up on a long-term deal and is the Reds most consistent run-producer and plays third base like a Dyson vacuum cleaner.
Nick Senzel is a no-no. Not available, don’t even ask. He is probably the future face of this franchise.
Everybody else should keep their suit cases within reach. A slew of fans want the team to sign Yasiel Puig. At what cost? He is looking for a large market contract for a lot of years. There is no doubt if the Reds don’t trade him they’ll lose him via free agency. But they would get a top compensatory draft pick if another team signs him.
Everybody needs starting pitching and that makes Roark a blue chip. He, too, is a free agent after the season. The Reds probably could do well for him at the trade deadline.
Everybody else should stay close to their cellphones.
What does Reds manager David Bell think? He is true to his crew.
“I don’t want anyone else in our clubhouse,” he said. “I love the team that we have. We have the talent and we have the ability. We just have to get better.”
One might call him a cock-eyed optimist, but Bell still expects the Reds to put it all together and dash off a long winning streak.
“It is very simple for me,” he added. “I love the guys we have but we simply have to get better. And I don’t mean I’m looking for that to happen in the distant future.
“We’ve worked hard on these things all year and we recognized we have to get better in all areas — baserunning, defense, score more runs and there are ways to get better with our pitching.”
Most of that has been up and down all season, mostly down, but Bell clings to his positive demeanor.
“I believe that can all happen soon and once it does we are going to take off,” he said. The runway, though, is getting shorter and shorter. There are 68 games to make up eight games in the standings, with four teams in front of them.
Impossible? No. Improbable? Highly.
“We just have to get better and that’s my responsibility,” said Bell. “And that’s great. That’s exactly where I want to be and we have to get better. We know that. We know what it takes and it is going to show up. We can’t wait for that to happen.”
Reds fans, most of them foot-stomping impatient, have lived through mediocrity and downright ineptitude at times. It has been 29 years since the Reds played in a World Series (and won it in 1990 in a sweep of the Oakland A’s). It has been 24 years since they played in the National League Championship Series (they lost every game to the Atlanta Braves in 1995).
Standing pat with this team isn’t going to work. It is reality check time. If they don’t trade Puig and Roark, their most valued available pieces, they will lose them after the season. Get something now.
Puig, of course, has become a fan favorite with his screwy antics, his hustle, his defense and his suddenly potent offense. And it is difficult to say good-bye to a fan favorite, but it happens all the time, going back to Tony Perez and Pete Rose and Joe Morgan. And in recent times it happened with Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart and Aroldis Chapman.
Of Puig, Bell says, “He has made some good adjustments after his slow start. He has picked up the pace and we’re benefiting from that right now. In a lot of ways he has carried our offense in the last month.”
In that time, Puig is third in the majors in slugging (.703), tied for fifth in home runs with 12 and is hitting .344.
“He has made a difference defensively all year and when he is swinging the bat like he is, he is a real presence, he is dangerous. To have that in the middle of the lineup is important.”
Puig runs full bore after every baseball hit in his vicinity and if a wall gets in the way, well, the wall probably will get dented.
“Even when he struggled offensively, which can wear on you, he continued to play hard in the field,” said Bell. “I never knew how good of an outfielder he was until what I saw so far this season. I didn’t know he is as fast as he is and can cover so much ground.”
All that said, unless the Reds plan to mortgage the future the way they did with Joey Votto and Homer Bailey, Puig won’t be around too long.
So, Alex, we’ll take the category, ‘Trade for $800.”