Here are some facts about the 2018 Cincinnati Reds.
- They have the worst record in baseball at 3–15 and are already nine games out of first place in the NL Central.
- They have allowed the most runs in the majors (100) and scored the third-fewest (54), and have its worst run differential (-46).
- As you can imagine based on those numbers, they have the second-worst team ERA in the game (5.42, ahead of only the White Sox) and the second-worst team OPS (.619, beating only the Marlins). Their team OPS+ and ERA+ figures are about even; 73 for the former, 75 for the latter, or roughly the equivalent of a lineup full of Desi Relafords and a pitching staff comprised of Kevin Jarvises.
- Because of all that, they’ve made Bryan Price the first managerial casualty of the season.
That’s both fair and unfair to Price. On the one hand, almost no manager alive could survive that kind of brutal start—one devoid of anything resembling competitive baseball. Cincinnati has lost 10 of its last 11 games, including back-to-back shutouts at the hands of the Brewers. Those are the third and fourth shutouts already on the season for the Reds, who have also given up 13 or more runs in a game three times and have yet to win a series. It’s easy to see why a manager in charge of that kind of outfit is now out of a job.
Then again, what exactly did the Reds expect Price to do? The team’s front office gave him nothing to work with at any level. The team has one good starter in Homer Bailey and one good reliever in Raisel Iglesias. The lineup has superstar Joey Votto, currently slumping but always dangerous, and a bunch of guys who can’t muster even a .310 OBP. Simply put, the Reds are bereft of talent. Not even the ghost of Connie Mack could’ve made this team look anywhere near competent, to say nothing of competitive.
But that’s by design. The Reds are bad because they’re supposed to be bad—because their front office thrashed full-bore into the swamp of rebuilding but now has no idea how to get out. After the 2014 season, when Cincinnati fell from 90 wins and a wild-card berth to 86 losses and fourth place in the division, the team’s braintrust—then led by ex-Cardinals boss Walt Jocketty—decided it was time to blow it all up. Within a year, all the franchise mainstays were gone: Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Todd Frazier, and Aroldis Chapman were all dealt in an extended firesale, with Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips also traded not long after. In their place, the Reds went with … well, no one. The team stopped making major free-agent signings after the 2014 season, instead cycling through an endless pile of cheap minor league arms or bargain bin hitters. In the parlance of our times, they tanked.
The result was easy to see coming. The Reds lost 98 games in 2015 and finished last in the NL Central, and there they’ve stayed ever since, losing 94 games in both ’16 and ’17. Aside from Votto, the only other constant has been Price, whose first season was that fateful 2014 campaign and who has since overseen a roster that never gets better because the front office refuses to improve it. Worse, that front office has botched more or less every one of those crucial rebuilding trades. Three of the four prospects acquired for Chapman from the Yankees in December 2015, for example, are already out of the organization; the fourth, pitcher Rookie Davis, has a torn hip labrum. The Frazier trade netted infielder Jose Peraza, who can run and field but can’t hit, and Scott Schebler, a 1980s-era slugger who hit 30 home runs last year but was barely a league-average hitter despite that. Dealing away Cueto brought back three top pitching prospects from the Royals; fast forward four years, and only two remain, both of them perpetually hurt and perpetually bad.
There have been some successes scattered amid the catastrophes. The Reds nabbed Eugenio Suarez, who has turned into an All-Star-caliber third baseman in Cincinnati, for the disappointing Alfredo Simon. The team also robbed the Marlins of righty Luis Castillo and his electric arm in exchange for the middling Dan Straily last year. But more often than not, the moves haven’t worked. Neither has the draft, with the Reds whiffing on pick after pick after pick over the last five years. As such, Cincinnati has sunk further and further into an endless rebuild, armed with neither the productive veteran pieces needed to acquire impact prospects nor the impact prospects needed to get out of the hole. After burning everything down, all the Reds have to show for it are the blueprints to a new house that increasingly looks like it’ll never be built.
It’s Price, then, who takes the fall for all those failures, as well as pitching coach Mack Jenkins, who is probably relieved that this Three Mile Island of a pitching staff isn’t his problem any more. It’s unclear why, exactly, the Reds bothered bringing Price back for this season after four years and nearly 400 losses. It’s not like Price ever looked like he’d be the solution in Cincinnati: His most notable moment in four-plus seasons at the helm was an expletive-laden rant at the media three years ago, in which he dropped enough f-bombs to make Lenny Bruce blush.
It’s hard to see, though, just who on earth is capable of fixing this. For the interim, that will be bench coach Jim Riggleman’s problem. For the future, that’ll be up to general manager Dick Williams and Jocketty, who created this mess and haven’t shown any sign that they know how to clean it up. They can point to some players who could be part of the next great Reds team—Votto, Castillo, outfielder Jesse Winker, top prospect Nick Senzel, 2017 first-rounder Hunter Greene, the top-five draft pick they have this summer and the top-five pick they’ll assuredly have next year—and claim better days are ahead. But to see that bright future, you have to look past the still-flaming wreckage of the last four years, and the most indisputable fact about the 2018 Reds: This is an awful team that has completely lost its way.