One of the main storylines this past offseason was the extent to which the Reds would cut spending. GM Nick Krall’s November quote about ‘aligning our payroll with our resources’ was often repeated as Cincinnati parted ways with notable players like Sonny Gray, Wade Miley and jesse winker in money-saving moves while making next to no effort to keep the free agent slugger Nick Castellanos.
The Reds have reinvested some of the funds saved in modest one-year deals with free agents Tommy Pham, Donovan Solano, Strickland Hunterand Colin Moranand supported more than $7 million in payroll expenses in Amir Garrett–Mike Miner trade with the Royals. These current-minded moves, coupled with a Cincinnati farming system that has seen its stock rise in recent years, were reflected in Reds chairman and COO Phil Castellini’s March executive order for fans to “have a little faith in what we’re doing with your Cincinnati Reds.”
Fans weren’t too happy with Castellini’s comments, as the on-paper unit the Reds are rolling out in 2022 houses considerably less star power than the 2021 squad. The team also entered the new season with a payroll $9 million lower than the previous year (according to Cot’s baseball contracts). With several young pitchers making their way onto the team’s roster at eminently affordable rates, an argument can be made for retaining at least one of the team’s deceased stars.
Early on Tuesday, Phil Castellini joined WLW 700’s Scott Sloan and Mo Egger and was asked why fans should maintain their faith in the Reds’ leadership. Responding to this question, as well as calls from some fans to sell the team, Castellini replied:
“Well, where are you going? Let’s start there. I mean, sell the team to who? That’s the other thing – you want to have this debate? If you want to see what you would do with this team to make it more profitable, make more money, be more competitive in the current economic system where this game exists, that would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else. And so be careful what you ask for […] we do our best with the resources we have.
It’s bizarre to see an owner take such a defensive stance in the face of criticism and threaten fans, especially on opening day when the Reds sold over 43,000 tickets. (Presence of Wednesday, by Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer, was 10,976 – although the weather surely had an impact on that total.)
Castellini’s comments also follow a second consecutive offseason punctuated by deals more geared towards reducing the wage bill than improving the product on the pitch. Asking Reds fans for patience is particularly brazen given that the team’s latest rebuilding effort is still fresh in fans’ minds. The Reds, from 2015 to 2016, exchanged players like Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto and Mike Leak – usually coming empty on the vast majority of these offers.
What followed was a streak of last three consecutive National League Central spots from 2016 to 2018, followed by a fourth-place finish in 2019. The Reds averaged a $95 million payroll during that streak. of last places, ranking 25th. , 25th and 22nd in league payroll along the way. Cincinnati came out of that rebuild/retooling process and spent aggressively in the 2019-20 offseason, signing mike mustakas, Nick Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama and Wade Miley. The stage looked set for the Reds, backed by a strong rotation and collection of impressive batting, to return to an extended winning mindset now.
Instead, the Reds went 31-29 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, were swept through the playoffs scoreless and immediately began to take another step back. Raisel Iglesias was traded to the Angels in a pure wage dump, and the Reds did not present their two main acquisitions at the trade deadline: Archie Bradley and Brian Goodwin. Krall talked about reallocating those resources to other areas of need. Months later, on opening day, Sean Doolittle turned out to be the Reds’ only Major League signing – at one year and $1.5 million. The 2021-22 offseason then began with Krall’s aforementioned “aligning payroll to resources” comments that preceded yet another payroll cut.
Despite this frustrating streak, Castellini preached further patience and loyalty from fans throughout the day yesterday, drawing comparisons to the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals who surprisingly emerged from a string of lost seasons en route to a Super Bowl appearance (and a fiery fanbase) two months ago. Regarding the team’s wage bill, Castellini also added that he “is still much more than the revenue we generate to produce it. […] For 16 years [we’ve] invested beyond the size of our market every year.”
The comments caused a stir among Reds fans who haven’t seen their team win a playoff series since 1995, and Castellini has since brought them back. They also come in conjunction with Castellanos’ comments to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, in which he lambastes Reds ownership for “stifling” baseball in a “big city like Cincinnati.” Castellanos made the comments for an article that aired before Castellini made his comments on Tuesday, but while it’s not a direct reaction, the timing is nonetheless impeccable.
Beyond the turmoil from the fan base, the club president’s comments could shed light on the team’s plans moving forward. If the team is indeed operating with a deficit in Cincinnati, the payroll is unlikely to increase anytime soon. Of course, there’s no way to verify the veracity of Castellini’s claims, as the teams choose not to open their books to the public. But it’s worth noting that as a result of MLB’s offseason streaming deals with Apple and Peacock, each club is now expected to receive around $65 million in domestic TV/streaming revenue alone. This does not take into account gate revenue, local broadcast deals and the myriad other sources of revenue for Major League clubs.
Perhaps further signaling the organization’s future direction, Castellini checked the club’s name back to the “Big Red Machine” era of the 1970s, indicating that the best way to emulate that successful era of baseball from the Reds was to invest in the team’s talent pool and grow from within. Focusing on internal development is certainly a practical approach, but it’s sure to draw skepticism from the fan base against the backdrop of the Reds’ wage bill being cut at a time when they had already graduated a number importance of young talent in the majors. Cincinnati is only $44.5 million on the books in 2023 and has no guaranteed contract for the 2024 season.