This is not fine

It was January 2013.

Walt Jocketty was agreeing to a two-year contract with Logan Ondrusek and an artist named KC Green published a six-panel comic strip that showed a dog sitting in a chair calmly drinking a cup of coffee while fire spread all around him. As the dog melts to death, it says “This is fine.”

The comic fared better than the Ondrusek contract. The first two panels of that strip have become a popular meme. Its message pokes deadly fun at denial, shorthand for a situation becoming so awful our brains refuse or are unable to grasp it.

A giant asteroid is heading right at the earth. This is fine.

Anyone who can read a FanGraphs chart knew what was headed right at the Reds.

The splits pages showed Reds left-handed batters couldn’t hit left-handed pitchers. The ‘games played’ column told you not to count on Nick Senzel to stay on the field. Aristides Aquino’s game log showed that other than one anomalous month in 2019 he’s not been close to a major league player. Anyone who could read a roster, count to eleven and subtract one understood the ominous handedness skew of the Reds bullpen.

With that information present, Nick Krall and the Reds front office did as little as possible. Sure, they had a plan. The bare minimum. As Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. When you’re the GM of a major league team, that uppercut comes in the form of an inevitable wave of early-season injuries. Half-assed effort doesn’t survive it. Neither, of course, has Krall’s plan.

The Reds GM does have a built-in excuse. The Castellini family has insisted on another round of wallet-fattening payroll cuts – the now-infamous alignment of payroll with resources. Of course, good major league teams can and have been built on $111 million. It takes smarts, luck, nerve and patience. It takes owners who don’t meddle with the baseball experts. But thanks to the poor judgment of the Castellini family and Krall, that so-called alignment was done in the most clumsy, ineffective way possible.

[Unless, you’re one of the Reds wealthy owners. In that case, it was … uh… fine.]

If you’re trying to decide where the blame lies, keep in mind that just because the primary villains inhabit the owner’s box it doesn’t mean the general manager is good at his job. Nick Krall shows every day he isn’t.

The Reds offseason started with two early moves that saved a bunch of money. Unable to find a trade suitor for Wade Miley and his $10 million option, the front office released him. It ushered in the Tyler Stephenson catching era by arranging a full-paying landing spot for Tucker Barnhart. I defended the baseball and payroll realities of both those moves, though they were mainly budget cuts, plan and simple.

But the Castellini family and Krall weren’t finished. They stripped the team of Jesse Winker, Sonny Gray and Eugenio Suarez. They didn’t make a real effort to keep or replace what Nick Castellanos provided the Reds. Krall didn’t even bother to go through the motion of bringing in a couple washed-up lefties for the bullpen.

Instead, we fans got a pile of gibberish as rationale. One special aspect of the colossal mismanagement of the Reds since Dick Williams left has been the inability of anyone speaking for the organization to put together a coherent, convincing sentence in public. Sure, that’s just PR. But if ownership and the front office is so inept with softball interviews and nearly scripted public comments, imagine how poorly they handle the important, pressure-filled decisions we don’t see.

We fans were subjected to the nonsense and insult that this new Reds strategy would eliminate “peaks and valleys” and move to a system of “sustainable success.”

I don’t know about you, but I kind of like peaks and the banners awarded for them.

And when were these peaks? Please tell me the 31-29 record in 2020 wasn’t the post-2013 peak.

Translation: What “no peaks and valleys” meant was we can’t be pressuring our wealthy ownership to spend more money every once in a while, when it looks like the Reds can contend.

Despite Phil Castellini’s misleading and offensive statements in recent weeks, there’s nothing new and innovative about the path the organization is following now. It’s the same “build through our pipeline of players” plan that produced the 2015-2018 debacle.

Remember the off-seasons of #GetThePitching and #GetTheHitting? Those were necessary because “draft and develop” was insufficient.

Avoiding peaks and valleys sounds like perpetual mediocrity. But even that would feel great compared to the current nosedive.

Compared to being engulfed in flames.

Better times are ahead. Probably.

Roster The Reds have been without Luis Castillo and Lucas Sims. Their returns are imminent. Jonathan India and Nick Senzel, two important right-handed bats, should be back on the field soon. When Jose Barrero and Donovan Solano return, someone other than Mike Moustakas will be playing 3B. Hunter Greene looks like the real damned thing. Stephenson appears to be improving both at the plate and behind it. He’s already one of the top catchers in the majors.

Schedule Starting with Atlanta, Cleveland and four games with the Dodgers is a rough way to begin. It doesn’t get better in the short term, as the Reds stay on the coast and play the Padres who will throw two lefty starters. Then the Reds come home to face the first-place Cardinals and then the Padres again. But soon enough the woeful Nationals and D-Backs, the Pirates and Cubs will inhabit the opposing dugout. The Reds stand a good chance to win games against those teams.

Remember last Monday, one week ago today?

It seems like an eternity, but the Reds had split a four-game series with the defending World Series champions. It’s hard to believe now but that series did happen, albeit with India and Senzel on the field. Any fair analysis concluded that was a positive outcome for David Bell’s crew.

That said, it’s been those seven long days since the Reds have had as much as a lead. They’ve lost 6 straight games by a combined score of 43-15. As Bobby Nightengale at the Enquirer reported, over that six-game streak the Reds have scored just one run before the 6th inning. Read that last sentence again.

The offense has been the worst in the league. With India and Senzel out and the club handicapped by Krall’s roster malpractice, Bell has to start several left-handed hitters against left-handed starters and that has had dismal, foreseeable results. On top of that, Aristides Aquino and Tommy Pham have been awful. And, yes I’ll say it, Joey Votto has looked horrible at the plate. He’s batting .118 and has one extra-base hit (a double) in 40 plate appearances. Most alarming, Votto’s chase rate has exploded. He’s looked every bit of 38.

Front office roster management has been so bad that Saturday night the only bench players were the backup catcher Aramis Garcia and Colin Moran. Moran is yet another lefty who can’t hit southpaw pitching or play in the field aside from 1B. That was it. The entire bench. Nary a backup SS, 2B, LF, CF or RF. The Reds had to use a left-handed DH against a left-handed starting pitcher – twice. When Senzel was sent to the COVID list, Krall promoted — not kidding — another reliever instead of a right-handed position player.

I won’t rehash the gory details from yesterday. Tyler Mahle pitched brilliantly for three innings. Then the relentless (best ever?) Dodgers bats struck for seven runs in the fourth, ending the game. The Reds offense continued their predictable impotence against left-handed pitching.

The Cincinnati Reds have the worst record in baseball at 2-8.

Phil and Nick, enjoy your coffee, but this is not fine.

Steve Mancuso

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.

5 Responses

  1. Big Ed says:

    When I need a reality check, or a bridge over troubled water, I will listen to the great Lee Elia rant of about 1983, unfiltered.

    It teaches that no matter how your day (or April, as in “Okay, so we’re 5 and 14…”) is going, somebody is having a worse one.

    This is a watch-the-minors year. Unlike the 2015-2018 development debacle, there are a ton of good stories this year. McLean may even be ready later this summer. The one constant of all the mysterious deals this off-season is that they haven’t traded a single prospect; in fact, they have accumulated a few promising young arms (and some unpromising old ones).

    • Steve Mancuso says:

      Yes. There are even great stories on the Reds. Hunter Greene. Nick Lodolo. Tyler Stephenson. Jonathan India. Lucas Sims. Tony Santillan. And more.

  2. Creigh Deeds says:

    You nail it, and make those of us who have admired Joey Votto’s play for so long, face reality.

  3. Sandman says:

    Very good article I just now got around to reading.

    I particularly liked what you said about the Peaks and Valleys comment made by the Bob’s and/or Phil’s of the Reds front office several years ago bcuz I hadn’t thought about how that does sound like perpetual mediocrity. But, if I may play devil’s advocate for a split second, I know that what they meant was staying at the peaks (for what they hoped would be every season)….or, at least, staying at the peaks longer than the stays in the valleys.

    Now, their track record of how to go about this looks like a convoluted highway with seemingly endless loop de loops or KYB (Kiss Your Butt) curves which has all led them right back to the all too familiar Reds organizational strategy of developing players and then trading them away after so long should they be any kind of successful at the big league level for more so called prospects.

    They said that they tried some things that didn’t quite work (but almost did) and instead of doubling down on those strategies they abandon them for the new/old direction which is gonna probably set us back by god knows how many years. Anyway, I’m always gonna hope for the best as always.

    Btw I realize that, even if their previous strategies had worked, that developing minor league talent was always gonna be part of the plan and it was refreshing and exciting that developing minor league talent wasn’t going to be the sole or primary plan of building a contender/championship ballclub. But, alas, that’s where we’re at…again, and it’s ok bcuz we should be used to this plan….back to business as usual, I guess.

  4. Sandman says:

    “But soon enough the woeful Nationals and D-Backs, the Pirates and Cubs will inhabit the opposing dugout. The Reds stand a good chance to win games against those teams.”

    I guess I understand what you mean by this but getting wins by beating other bad ballclubs feels cheap but, getting any kind of win will feel good I guess.

    But, I have to wonder if this team can even beat the other bad teams at this point.