Anyone remember the 1999 Reds? The team had a heartbreaking end to the season by losing the wild card to my beloved Mets in game 163. That team was littered with "future stars" such as: Sean Casey, Pokey Reese, Danny Graves, Scott Williamson, Scott Sullivan, and Aaron Boone; names that make you realize why Ken Griffey Jr. was not successful with the Reds. However, if you had told me in 1998 that the Reds were going to be this bad over the next ten years, I would have smacked you. The organization appears to have no solid direction, their manager is terrible, and they play in a smaller ballpark than I did during little league. The Reds have some of the best fans in baseball, but the organization has messed up this organization pretty bad.
Surprisingly, this has not been the Reds' problem area. There are only two signings that make me scratch my head. The first is the horrific contract that the Reds gave Francisco Cordero this off season (4 years/$46 mil). Cordero is simply not a good enough closer to warrant that kind of money and the Reds are simply not close enough to Championship to warrant spending that money. Cordero has not been that bad this season, but the Reds still sit in the cellar of the NL Central, so obviously Cordero's impact has been minimal.
Secondly, what the hell was GM Wayne Krivsky thinking giving Corey Patterson a $3 mil contract? I mean, c'mon, there had to have been better options around. Patterson seems to be allergic to walks and for whatever reason Dusty Baker decided that he would be a good lead off hitter despite his abysmal OBP. A .195 BA and .229 OBP later, this deal obviously failed, but in Patterson's defense, I could have predicted his failure back in March.
This is another area where I simply cannot kill the Reds. They made a great trade this season by acquiring ace Edinson Volquez from the Rangers even though they had to give up MVP candidate Josh Hamilton. Finding quality pitching is hard enough, but the Reds have never had success finding a stud like Volquez. He's going to be a great one even in the Reds' little league ballpark. The Reds also picked up 2B Brandon Phillips for nothing in a classic "buy low" deal that has been a major coup for the Reds. Quality young second baseman are nearly impossible to find especially one like Phillips who bats cleanup and hits 30+ HR every year. Great move by former GM Wayne Krivsky.
The Reds have also picked up pitchers Bill Bray, Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo via the trade route and all of them have provided some value to the team at some point. However, Harang and Arroyo appear to be showing signs of decline based on their heavy workloads over the past few seasons. Both are signed until 2010 and both currently have ERAs that are above 5. Hopefully the Reds haven't worked these two past their prime because they both are quality starting pitchers.
However, the trade that every Reds fan will point back to is the acquisition of Ken Griffey Jr. from the Seattle Mariners in 2000. The Reds did not give up boatloads of talent (Mike Cameron and Brett Tomko), but once the Reds got Griffey, every Reds fan began thinking championship, but the reality was that the Reds were severely lacking on the pitching front. To make matters worse, Griffey was hurt during his entire tenure with the Reds (100+ RBI only once) and the Reds failed to build a suitable supporting cast around him that could carry the load in his absence (especially on the pitching side).
The Reds recently traded away both Dunn and Griffey as both guys are set to become free agents at the end of the season. However, trading these two was long overdue because any Reds fan will be able to tell you that these two took up too much payroll for a small market team (the two combined to make $25 mil while the Reds payroll is only between $60-70 mil), especially a team that has performed so badly. The Reds failed to get max value for either player, which would have jump started the rebuilding process.
If you take a look at some previous Reds drafts, the results have not been pretty. Their first round picks in 2000, 2002, and 2003 have all been busts (David Espinosa, Chris Gruler, Ryan Wagner), while the Reds failed to sign 2001 first rounder Jeremy Sowers. Their failure to draft well in the early Griffey years definitely diluted their talent and diminished their opportunity to succeed. Furthermore, 2004 first round pick Homer Bailey, who was at one point one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, has been mediocre at AAA this season and has stunk up the joint in his brief time in the majors. The Reds inability to draft quality young arms has prevented the team from succeeding and achieving long term success. The Reds have hit on a few picks including OF Jay Bruce and 1B Joey Votto, but you can see that neither one of them pitches. Memo to new GM Walt Jocketty: the Reds need pitching in the worst way. Organizational success is based on the performance of the pitching depth. You guys have not taken a pitcher in the first round since Homer Bailey in 2004. Draft pitchers.
*Reds will struggle again next year with Dusty at the helm, fire him, and then compete in 2010. Playoffs by 2011 not out of the question.*
I love Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto, both of whom should have phenomenal careers in the majors. However, I worry that Dusty will burn them out just like Kerry Wood and Mark Prior before them. Simply put, the Reds will go nowhere with Baker at the helm. He's a terrible manager and cannot control a pitching staff. The health of those two studs will determine the success of the Reds in the next few years.
With that said, the Reds have a lot of talent for a team that has performed so badly over the past few years. I look for them to be aggressive in the free agent market, but the real change should be with the draft as pitching needs to be the focal point.