The predominant trend of the last two offseasons has been teams refusing to invest in their own product and showing little demonstrable interest in getting better. The reasons for this are probably manifold and not entirely easy to pin down ...
- Teams have become much more analytically inclined and thus have come to view most aging free agents as bad investments.
- The trend of players' selling out one or more free agent years in exchange for long-term guarantees during the arbitration or pre-arbitration has hurt the depth of free agent classes.
- The highly lucrative local and national television contracts mean that teams are less reliant on ticket, concession, and merch sales for their revenues. Thus, they have less incentive to improve the team on the field.
- Teams that receive revenue-sharing dollars do so without any firm requirement to invest them back into the team.
- Likely in an effort to suppress salaries at the top end, teams are conveniently pretending that crossing the "luxury tax" threshold carries with it a prohibitive penalty (note: it doesn't).
That's not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. Teams like the Dodgers, Rays, Cubs, Giants, Marlins, Tigers, Diamondbacks, Pirates, Orioles, Royals, and Blue Jays have yet to make any kind of an effort this winter, and, again, that's not an exhaustive list. In some cases, it's understandable -- a few teams badly in need of a rebuild after years of operating in win-now fashion are making the proper decision. Teams like the Cubs, Dodgers, Rays, and even Pirates, however, are sitting out the offseason despite having legitimate designs on the postseason. That's a dereliction of duties, especially when you have the resources of the Dodgers and Cubs.
On the other, more respectable end of the continuum we have the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds last season lost 95 games, toiled in a division with four winning teams, and finished 28 1/2 games out of first place. Given their small market, the Reds would've been largely justified in joining those other teams in lurking behind the potted palm of the offseason and doing nothing much at all. Instead, here's what president of baseball operations Dick Williams and his staff have done since the last out of the 2018 World Series ...
- Traded for right-hander Tanner Roark.
- Traded for outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig and lefty Alex Wood.
- Traded for Sonny Gray, .
As a consequence, the Reds have remade their chronically troublesome rotation, added right-handed pop, and pushed current payroll north of $100 million. Last year, the Reds hinted that they'd be willing to run a record payroll in 2019, something along the lines of $130 million. They still have to hand out near-minimum salaries to a number of rostered players, and they're likely headed to arbitration with Wood. All of that will bump that payroll up even more, but it still may leave enough room to, say, fulfill those prior rumors of a Dallas Keuchel pursuit or maybe swing a deal for Marcus Stroman (another reasonably steady Reds rumor). The main takeaway is that Cincy still probably has another notable addition in the chamber even after turning over 60 percent of the rotation and two-thirds of the outfield.
A number of these are commitments for 2019 and 2019 alone, which means this could be a one-year lunge at relevance. That, however, is a matter for next winter. As for the here and now, let's recall that the Reds return Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, and darkhorse NL MVP candidate Eugenio Suarez. The bullpen figures to be a strength, and top prospect Nick Senzel will be ready for the highest level. All of that in tandem with what figures to be an improved rotation could yield relevance for Cincinnati.
The SportsLine Projection Model (@SportsLine on Twitter) isn't particularly bearish, as it tabs the Reds for 70 wins and just a 1.5 percent chance of making the postseason (these numbers were before the addition of Gray). This scribe, however, will take the over on that. They'll top 750, maybe 800 runs scored this season; the rotation that put up a 5.02 ERA last season has been gut-rehabbed; and rookie manager David Bell promises a fresh approach in the dugout. It's not likely they nudge their way into the postseason, not playing an unbalanced schedule in the tough NL Central, but the Reds are at least interesting again thanks to a good-faith offseason. Pathetically, that's a rare quality in MLB right now.