On the heels of a brutal four-game series against the Chicago Cubs where the Cincinnati Reds lost three of four and were outscored by a mind-boggling 22 runs, there was one refrain that seemed to exist in the minds of Reds fans everywhere: the team didn’t do enough to address their extreme starting pitching weakness at the trade deadline. To be fair, it’s a valid point – especially after what happened against the Cubbies.
In the series, not one Reds starting pitcher managed to last beyond 4.1 innings. Translation: total and complete annihilation. Even Andew Abbott, who’s been one of the most impressive rookie starters in recent memory, got roughed up. Given the truly incredible workload of the Reds relief pitchers this season (Buck Farmer and Ian Gibaut are both tied for the league lead in appearances with 51, and Alexis Diaz and Alex Young are both tied for second with 50), it’s imperative that the Reds starters give the bullpen some “relief” of their own. Against Chicago, that didn’t happen.
Of course, adding a new starter wouldn’t necessarily solve all the Reds issues, but it certainly would have addressed their biggest. Sending Luke “Dream” Weaver out there to get hammered again isn’t just unfair to Reds fans, it’s unfair to Weaver – I’m 75% sure he doesn’t want to suck! But despite the Reds poor showing versus Chicago, the general poor state of the rotation, and an overworked bullpen, there are still plenty of reasons to feel good about the Reds trajectory. The Reds are betting on their youth, and their inactivity at the deadline shouldn’t be cause for pessimism, but optimism.
Yes, this isn’t a popular take. Yes, the Reds have done nothing in the last 30 years to earn your trust. But holding this team and this front office accountable for the mistakes and missed opportunities of the past is missing the point. The Reds aren’t building a team to just be good in 2023; they want to compete for the next decade, and with the young players they have like Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain and the aforementioned Abbott, the team is in its best state since arguably the formation of the Big Red Machine.
Sure, the Reds looked pitiful against Chicago, but using that series as a referendum on the Reds deadline approach is egregious confirmation bias. If you haven’t noticed, the Reds have been winning in spite of their starting pitching all year. And while the Reds starters certainly got blasted against the Cubs, they’ve still had plenty of positive moments. The Reds are 3 - 10 versus the Milwaukee Brewers this year, and it’s definitely not because of the starting pitching.
Besides, the Reds didn’t get to this point by making rash decisions in pursuit of short-term success. For all of the handwringing from fans about nothing being guaranteed in the future, that logic works both ways. You can argue that this season might be the best chance for the Reds to win a World Series because the future is uncertain, but I can argue that next year the Reds might be the best team in baseball history because the future is uncertain. And given the talent level of the prospects on this roster, I like my bet a hell of a lot more than yours.
The other issue was the trade market itself. Despite weeks of speculation and intrigue, there really wasn't that much action. Lucas Giolito was sent to a Los Angeles Angels team that’s making a desperate pitch to keep Shohei Ohtani (who also wasn’t traded after months of speculation), Michael Lorenzen was sent to a rising Philadelphia Phillies team, and Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander both waived their no-trade clauses to escape the dumpster fire that is the New York Mets for greener pastures. And that’s… about it.
Yeah, you can argue that the Reds should have made a push for one of those four, but realistically, Scherzer and Verlander were never on the table for the Reds. Maybe they could have blown the Chicago White Sox or Detroit Tigers away with a monster trade package for Giolito or Lorenzen, respectively, but neither is the ace the Reds wanted to acquire – and both are set to hit free agency at the end of the year. But making a trade for an expiring contract like that is a bet that your team has the goods to reach, and win, the World Series, and that feels like an enormous mountain to climb for this Reds team right now.
It’s not that the Reds aren’t talented, because they are, it’s that the mighty Atlanta Braves are standing in the way of any team with World Series aspirations. The Braves are by far the best team in baseball and runaway favorites to go the distance this year. Even the biggest Reds homer would have to admit that defeating the Braves in the NLCS is a tremendous challenge, and one the Reds aren’t likely to overcome, especially in a seven-game series. Adding Giolito or Lorenzen might have helped them win a single playoff game, but it doesn’t guarantee them squat.
That’s why Giolito, Lorenzen, or any other high-profile starting pitcher on an expiring contract didn’t make sense for the Reds. Sacrificing prospects who are years away from the big leagues might not seem like a big deal, but it completely goes against the philosophy that got the Reds to this spot. General Manager Nick Krall wants to keep making trades like Tyler Mahle for Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand and not be on the other end. The Reds haven’t had a full MLB pipeline in ages, and that’s not something that should be discarded so impulsively.
Would it be a bummer if the Reds missed out on the postseason this year after leading the division at the All-Star Break? Of course, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The Reds have to build a contender, not buy one. They aren’t the Yankees or the Mets or the Dodgers. They can’t afford mistakes, because those mistakes can’t be fixed so easily. It might mean that the trade deadline is a little less exciting for Reds fans than for fans of big-market teams, but drafting and developing is a more tried and true method anyway.
Take the Houston Astros, for example. When they won the World Series back in 2017, they did it with a cast of homegrown players. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. were all either drafted or signed by the Astros as international free agents. Their only major deadline addition was reliever Tyler Clippard (though technically, they added Verlander at the waiver deadline, which no longer exists). They trusted the talent on the roster, and they were rewarded. Why shouldn’t the Reds trust their talent?
So, if you’re one of those Reds fans who’s losing their minds over their inactivity at the deadline, take a page out of Aaron Rodgers’ book and R-E-L-A-X. This is a young, developing team that’s going to experience the ups-and-downs that all young teams face. Just because they’re going through a rough patch is no reason to panic. They’re going to roll with the guys they’ve got, and while yes, I’m not looking forward to Weavers next start as much as you aren't, keep in mind that the prospect you would have shipped off for that starter might be the guy that helps the Reds win the World Series in a year or two.