Friday, July 10, 2015

Divorce Joey Votto: Why the 2015 Reds Can Be Fixed

Danville, Kentucky – Folks, I’ll be up front. Throwing a no-hitter has its benefits. After my no-no clinched the state championship semi-finals for the Danville Admirals back in ’72, I had my pick of the finest dolls Northern Kentucky had to offer. My fastball was hot, but to these girls, I was even hotter. They couldn’t get enough of me. One young woman in particular put a stranglehold on my heart tighter than my fastball grip. I was head over heels. The advanced metrics would’ve said two High School juniors weren’t financially or emotionally ready for a commitment as solemn as marriage, but I’ve never been one to listen to the nay-sayers. At the age of 17, I began my first and most passionate marriage. It was a flame hotter than an Aroldis Chapman four-seamer.

But like everything else in this world besides endless appetizers at TGI Friday’s, it couldn’t last. Three years into the relationship that would come to define my adult life, my marriage took a downturn more precipitous than America’s decline following the election of Lyndon B. Johnson. I grew restless. I was haunted by dreams of the baseball diamond and the unfinished work that remained after we failed to bring home the state championship to Danville High. I couldn’t settle down now, not with my heater still touching 87 miles per hour, and my future still full of unfulfilled potential and unaccomplished exploits.

The Cincinnati Reds are reaching a similar turning point. They can settle down and get comfortable with a flickering flame that the inevitable passage of time has all but extinguished, or keep reaching for more. Lots of folks are saying the Reds should sell. Sell Johnny Cueto, sell Todd Frazier, sell Aroldis Chapman, sell their soul. Throw in the towel, they say, and declare 2015 a cause more lost than the WTO protests in Seattle back in the ‘90s. I’m not ready to do that. I see a team with potential, with people who have won in the past and can still win in the future. Nerds are correct that parts of this team must be revamped and retooled. But not for the reasons Jonah Keri would tell you. This team is primed for a second half resurgence if the right moves are made. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to turn the Reds into contenders for the dog days of summer:

1)      Divorce Joey Votto. 

Like 17 year old Will Hart back in ’72, the Reds made a long-term promise that doesn’t look good retrospectively. Back in 2012, my Redlegs signed Votto to a deal that won’t expire until the end of President Trump’s 2nd term. We’re on the hook for him until 2024. It was hard to dislike the deal at the time. I remember the Glory Days. I watched every game of his MVP campaign from the smoking section of Chili’s. But like my first marriage, there comes a time to cut your losses. 2015 Joey Votto is a shell of his former self. Nerds might tell you he’s earned 3 WAR already, but I see a shell-shocked guy too afraid to take the bat off of his shoulder, a Carlos Santana type-player prematurely extended and handcuffed to the team for all eternity.

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching Joey Votto dingers. But baseball is a business. We’re paying Albert Pujols money for a guy who is allergic to RBIs lately. I’m tired of seeing these boys come up short with runners in scoring position. We need someone who isn’t scared to drive in runs. We need Evan Gattis. If the Reds front office has any brains, they’ll pick up the phone and call Billy Beane and Jeff Luhnow. Whatever you do, don't email either of them unless you are comfortable with the Cardinals finding out our secrets as well.

A three team deal: Joey Votto goes to the Oakland Athletics – the type of irrelevant nerd team that appreciates guys who care about their OBP and WRC+ but not winning ball games or driving in runs. Billy Butler to the Houston Astro’s, a young team that needs veteran leadership to guide them to October. Evan Gattis and prospects to the Reds. Evan Gattis doesn’t care about taking pitches. He cares about crushing them. He walks 3.7% of the time and has 53 RBIs compared to Votto’s measly 42. If landing Gattis costs us Jumbo Diaz, so be it. That’s the cost of doing business if you’re serious about contending and not pulling a Sam Hinkie.

This trade would unload an albatross contract and ensure Reds fans don’t have to watch scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity be squandered by a man frightened of swinging. The elephant in the room is that Joey Votto is Canadian. A maple-syrup slurper like him isn’t worthy of playing in the Great American Ballpark.

2)      Don’t have a firesale

Being 7 games out of a Wild Card spot is not equivalent of being eliminated. Letting playoff probabilities dictate roster-building strategy would be a disaster – why even bother to play the games on the field if some computer says we’re doomed? According to this logic the Reds should have been sellers back in April after fangraphs projected their Pythagorean win total to be lower than St. Louis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. 7 games can be made up in the span of a couple of weeks if these boys get a good hot streak. When that hot streak hits, the Reds will need Cueto to help make a second-half push at a playoff spot. If I have to pick between a half-season of Cueto that might make or break our playoff hopes and the lottery ticket prospects a Cueto rental trade will bring back, it’s an easy choice.

3)      Bring back Dusty Baker

I admire Bryan Price’s honesty, candor, and foul-mouth, but it’s time to cut ties. It’s clear he isn’t getting the most out of this roster, or motivating them to perform. Price has a 114-131 win/loss record to his name since coming to Cincinnati. When Dusty left this team, they were still playoff relevant and contending. Since Dusty’s departure the Cincinnati clubhouse is now a circus, thanks to Price’s antics. In an interview with Ken Rosenthal, Mat Latos confirmed my worst fears about Price’s stewardship of the clubhouse:
You look at the Reds after we lost Bronson (Arroyo, after the 2013 season). Everything went to s---. You look at it after we lost Scott Rolen (after 2012). Everything went to s---. When Scott was there, we had guys doing exactly what they were supposed to do. After Scott left, we had guys with two years in the big leagues, in the clubhouse, on their phones, laying down in the video room, just hanging out during games, not in the dugout, not cheering their teammates on. Our dugout looked like a ghost town.
 After Bronson, the same exact thing. We had starters in there roping our (clubhouse attendants), like, cattle-roping our clubbies. Guys on their computers, buying stuff, hanging out in the clubhouse. We had a guy with a year-and-a-half in the big leagues wandering around the clubhouse, hanging out. We had a closer in there sleeping until the seventh inning. We lose that veteran leadership, that’s what happens. You can’t have that ... it turns into a circus.
For the love of cheese fries, please bring back Dusty, I beg of you, Castellini and Jocketty.

4)      Move Billy Hamilton up in the order

There’s no reason to squander one of our most talented players by not letting him bat leadoff. How is Billy supposed to restore his confidence batting next to the pitcher? The coaching staff needs to move him to the top of the lineup and fix his mechanics so that he hits the ball on the ground, allowing him to take advantage of his greatest asset: his speed.

5)      Put Brandon Phillips back in the 2 spot

Without Votto clogging up the bases by drawing meaningless walks while subsequently refusing to drive runners in, Phillips should be able to thrive in a role that he once held down so well. Dusty once had the wisdom to bat Phillips 2nd, a move which paid off when Brandon drove in 100+ runs in 2013. The manager needs to stop creating lineups like he’s a nerd beat-writer and start trying to create runs. Divorcing Votto and hooking up with Phillips would not only create runs, it would allow Phillips to reclaim his rightful spot as clubhouse leader and improve team chemistry. It’s time to turn the club over to Brandon.

6)      Free Pete Rose

If I’m Castellini and Jocketty, I’m not sleeping until Rose is rightfully reinstated, and allowed to have a hands-on, in-the-dugout role with Reds, mentoring the next generation of hitters.


If the front office can’t pull the trigger on these moves, the GM deserves to be fired. I refuse to give up on this team, and I have a feeling that deep down the front office knows a fire-sale is not the correct strategy, or they would’ve already pulled the trigger on one of the many offers they have undoubtedly heard for Cueto. Men from Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky don’t give up. They don’t settle down, not with their first wife and not with Joey Votto. They keep chasing their dreams, if it breaks their souls and their bodies in the process. The fans of the Cincinnati Reds deserve a front office willing to go all-in. So do players like Brayan Pena who hustle day in and day out.

My first divorce back in ’75 didn’t turn my life around or help me reach my potential. I’ve been divorced three times since then. But I couldn’t live with myself if I gave up, got complacent and settled down with my first no-hitter groupie wife instead of chasing my dreams. Having a fire sale and hoping for the best next year would be the easy way out. But Danville men don’t take the easy way out.