This week, the Reds and their fans said goodbye to one of the biggest fan favorites of the last few years in Scooter Gennett and a budding fan favorite in Yasiel Puig. Scooter will be off to the Giants and Puig off to the Indians. Purely as a diehard fan of the Cincinnati Reds – it sucks. It just does. It’s so easy to become attached to these type of guys and overlook the baseball sense these trades might make. At the end of the day, I’m not just blindly rooting for the name on the front of the jersey that represents the town I grew up in. You genuinely start to care about the players themselves and want so badly to see them succeed. Hell, Scooter Gennett provided my favorite moment as Reds fan of the last five years (embeded above) when he hit four home runs in a game. A hometown guy fighting his way into the lineup and mashing four dingers in one ballgame, against the dreaded Cardinals no less? And his name is Scooter?? How could you not love this guy. Unfortunately this season got derailed by a gruesome injury in spring. Who knows what would have been had he been playing the whole season. Maybe we’d have won more games and wouldn’t have traded him, maybe we would’ve traded him anyway, but been able to get more the cash considerations and a player to be named. Who knows. Constant speculation and “what if” games will make you go crazy.
Yasiel Puig had one of my favorite moments of this season, scoring in the 11th on a bad throw from Christian Yelich to walk off the Redlegs. It was the perfect example of his hustle and nose for the game. Something we definitely know how to root for in Cincinnati. The city began to fall in love with Yasiel just as it did Scooter. And just as it with Joey Votto. And just as it did with Todd Frazier. And with Brandon Phillips. And when it came time to part with those last two names, it was just as painful if not worse. Sports fans have always and will always be totally irrational. If Brandon Phillips could have played second base for the Cincinnati Reds for the next twenty years at an acceptable level I don’t think a single Cincinnatian would have a problem with that. But it isn’t reality. Guys get older. And without the help of steroids, their skill regresses. They find themselves no longer able to contribute to a team’s winning ways like they once were. And for a smaller market team like the Reds, they get too expensive sometimes. (The argument of whether small market teams can actually afford multiple big contracts is a discussion for another day.) For better or worse, the Reds decided they weren’t going to be able to keep Yasiel Puig and Scooter Gennett when they were free agents. A crushing blow to many fans who fell in love with the smiling faces of both these guys. I’m pretty sure you could fill Great American Ball Park with all the people who have claimed online that they would no longer be supporting the Reds after X number of years after the Reds traded Johnny Cueto, Jay Bruce, Zach Cozart, Frazier, Phillips – and just today – Puig and Gennett.
I’m going to take a quick guess and assume the Reds baseball bug bit them again pretty soon after they made those statements. Fan favorites come and ago. In the free agency era and with how saturated the league is with young, cheap talent (we need a couple expansion teams IMO – also a discussion for another day), continuing to run out expensive, aging guys just because the city loves them doesn’t make winning baseball nor business sense. Puig and Scooter have both been fantastic players over the last few seasons, with the Reds or otherwise. But man were they going to be expensive to keep next year. And we’ve got young guys like Josh VanMeter and Phil Ervin desperately trying to become regulars at the big league level. I hate saying it, but we’ll find new fan favorites. Shit I found one pretty quickly a couple years ago in Luis Castillo
Though in this case it wasn’t an aging issue like, say, Brandon Phillips, (Puig and Scooter are still right in their prime) it still makes baseball sense. Both players are solid. But so are the young guys they force to the bench. Young guys we’ll surely fall in love with when we get to know them and we see them produce in the lineup every day. Now lets be clear, I have absolutely no stats to back this up, but I think Josh VanMeter and Phil Ervin can for sure match the production Scooter and Puig have provided their teams over the last few seasons. If you want stats, head over to FanGraphs or maybe The Athletic. They’ll set you up nicely. This blog is about emotion. And man oh man does it suck to say goodbye to our favorite players the last few years but lets face it – its been nearly 30 years since the Reds won a World Series, and we haven’t won a playoff series in my lifetime.
I grew up watching the likes of Barry Larkin, Ken Griffey, Jr., Adam Dunn, and Sean Casey. Those guys played for some god awful teams. Imagine if you had said to me in October some year in the mid-2000s, “Hey Donnie, we’re going to take away your favorite guys that you’ve been watching all season and replace them with this team of players who absolutely will win a World Series. You and your fans don’t have a clue who any of them are, but they’re gonna wear the wishbone C and win a championship for your city”. Seems like an easy choice right? Lets win a damn World Series!! But man, the guys I watched fight so hard for our city day in and day out don’t get to be the ones to hoist the trophy? The Mayor himself wouldn’t be waving at the cheering crowd in the celebratory parade? It would just feel wrong. Championships are great but we want to feel connected to the players. We want them to be our guys.
In the same way, it’ll feel wrong if the Reds complete a magical turnaround this year and the hometown hero Scooter Gennett isn’t there to help make a World Series victory happen. But that’s baseball. It’s how its always been and how it always will be. That said, it would feel way worse if the Reds are hoisting that trophy and Joseph Daniel Votto isn’t right there in the middle of the celebration. The window is closing for him. In 2013/2014 we tried too hard to hold on to what were the best players on the team and the players the fans loved to watch play and it screwed us out of a lot of value when it finally came time to move those guys and probably set back this slow rebuild a couple years. It’s time to win. This front office made some moves this offseason that signaled it was time to come out of this rebuild and start to really win a lot of ballgames. We said “screw it” to all the pitchers we’d been trying to develop over the last few years and said went out and got some proven ones. We made the moves the Reds front office hadn’t been willing to make in quite some time.
Where did it get us? We sit six games below .500 and stuck behind five other very strong teams in the wildcard race. Puig, Tanner Roark, and Matt Kemp – three of the big names we brought in this offseason in our “go for it” year, are already gone. I don’t want to say this season has been a failure, because I really do think we are so, so close. But the Reds went out and got an electric arm who is signed through next year in Trevor Bauer and cleared more space in the lineup for some of their most talented young bats. Dick Williams and Nick Krall seem pretty heavily set towards making 2020 the year.
Even so, when I take a step back and say, ok, the Reds are trying to put the best players on the field they can for as long as they can, without necessarily caring who the “fan favorites” are, I still feel a little lost. Sure, the fans may love to go to the ballpark just to see certain guys, but winning solves that attendance problem too. But there’s always two arguments towards building a team – take a step back from trying to develop guys, like the Reds did with their pitching staff this past winter, or clear out some proven guys, who may have reached their potential and passed their peak (though still asking for peak money) to pave the way for younger, cheaper guys, like the Reds have done with their position players time and time again over the last 4-5 years. Why does one argument serve us better in some cases but not the other? Going into this season, I was sure Scott Schebler and Jose Peraza would be heavy contributors to this team. And looking at their stats from 2018, that would be a great guess. But Scott Schebler is now a struggling farmhand and Peraza hardly starts twice a week now. Whose to say the same won’t happen to Phil Ervin and Josh VanMeter? As great as those guys have been lately, what if they both totally fall off a cliff like Scott Schebler did this past year? Consistently trusting the hype of your prospects and young talent is a great way to always be “one or two years away.” Prospects just don’t always pan out. Why shouldn’t we go for the safety of paying veteran guys? Sure the ceiling may not be as high, but you know what you’re getting. That worked for pitching right?
What if we hadn’t gone out and “gotten the pitching” but instead continued to focus on developing our internal talent. What if a rotation of Castillo, DeSclafani, Mahle, Romano, and maybe Michael Lorenzen, Cody Reed, or Robert Stephenson could’ve ended up being just as good? Do those guys all have the talent to lead us to a 50-56 record? Maybe, who knows. Which is basically the answer to every question I’ve asked in this now very much rambling blog. I don’t know if trusting the young talent on offense and the veterans on the hill is the right move. I don’t know if parting ways with two of our favorite players was smart. What if the guys we’re trusting to replace those All-Stars become the next Scott Schebler? All I can do though is trust Dick Williams and the front office. Trust the process. They want to win just as much as you do. They aren’t taking away your favorite players to spite you. Pray to the baseball gods that we really are turning the corner and we’ve built a winning team. Trust that these guys we don’t know well will soon become fan favorites. Trust that GABP will soon be packed day in and day out with fans screaming the names of new players and cheering on new faces.
I don’t want to say we’ll forget about the likes of Scooter Gennett and Yasiel Puig. It’s literally the last thing I want. But its a fact that those guys aren’t going to be on the roster when we raise the Commisioner’s Trophy. I think this whole blog has basically been me trying to talk my way into feeling good about losing some of my favorite pieces that were supposed to be the main tools of the ending of this long and dreadful rebuild. I’m a Cincinnati sports fan so man oh man can it be tough sometimes, but I really do think we are oh so close. So keep the faith, Reds fans. I know your favorite players from the last decade aren’t all still on the roster, but boy do we still have a fun bunch. This season hasn’t quite been what we were hoping, believe me, I’m well aware. The trade deadline came and went, and while it was tough in some senses, being in the mix is worlds better than staying on the sideline or holding a fire sale. The Reds are making moves. Though it can be very tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes, I truly believe they’re bringing winning baseball back to Cincinnati and its going to be so fucking fun to watch.
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