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A fun thing about the Cincinnati Reds is that they finished the 2021 season with a record of 83-79, third in the National League Central. They had Nick Castellanos and his 34 homers, they had the Rookie of the Year, second baseman Jonathan India, a rotation where every regular starter was between league-average and legit great, and they had some intriguing prospects like Hunter Greene on the way as reinforcements. They missed the postseason, but there was the start of something here, if only the team would build on it — especially since the expectation was that the postseason would be permanently expanded for 2022, which did, in fact, come to pass.
Before the lockout began, they started to blow that all up. They let Castellanos walk, and he signed with the Phillies. Wade Miley, a key piece of their strong rotation from 2021, was put on waivers, and claimed by fellow NL Central club the Cubs, who then picked up his option and are paying him all of $10 million to see if he has one more year like his last few strong ones in his 35-year-old arm. Then, after the lockout, Sonny Gray (114 ERA+) and Jesse Winker (.305/.394/.556 in 110 games) were shipped out, creating another hole in the rotation and a hole in left they’d fill with the hope that Tommy Pham has something left to give.
The Reds’ salary situation isn’t quite as bad as that of some of their peers: their Opening Day payroll was $113 million, more than twice what the Pirates, A’s, Orioles, or Guardians are spending, but at the same time, it’s not like $113 million is much at all. Cincinnati claims they were hit particularly hard by the pandemic and the drop in local revenue it created, and I’m sure that’s true to a degree, but, like has been said regarding the Pirates and the A’s of late, there is more money to spend than the Reds are letting on. Especially now, in 2022, when we know that teams are getting, at minimum, $100 million in revenue from their national and local television deals. Even if you buy that the Reds had no operating income in 2021, like Forbes recently reported from what I must always remind you is incomplete data, 2022 was going to be better.
Like the A’s and Pirates, the Reds also receive revenue-sharing dollars. If their gate is worse, it’s because they show no real commitment to fielding a competitive team, and the fans just aren’t going to come out in droves to see yet another disappointing club. They finished fourth in 2014 after losing in the Wild Card round in 2013, then fifth from 2015 through 2018, then fourth again in 2019. In 2020, they finished just over .500 in the pandemic-shortened season and made the expanded postseason, losing once again in the Wild Card round, and while the 2021 squad looked like a better team they could build on, that’s not how the offseason went. The pandemic might have hurt revenue briefly, but there was something here, if only the owner, Bob Castellini, had put aside temporary losses in order to capitalize on a team that could go somewhere with the right additions.
So, all of this is to set you up for Bob’s son, Phil, and his time in the spotlight on Tuesday. Phil Castellini went on local radio in Cincinnati, and told fans — who have been demanding the Reds be sold to someone who would spend on them — that they needed to be patient with the team. When the radio host asked why the team was entitled to that patience, Castellini responded by saying, “Well, where are you gonna go? Let’s start there. Sell the team to who? That’s the other thing: You want to have this debate? If you want to look at what would you do with this team to have it be more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists (in), it would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else. Be careful what you ask for.”
A bit shocking to have the quiet part said out loud like that, as C. Trent Rosecrans wrote on Wednesday morning, but don’t worry, Castellini would double down on his comments later in the day when given the chance to recant or clarify. “Are you going to abandon being a Reds’ fan? Are you going to abandon following this team? We haven’t abandoned it. We haven’t abandoned investing in the team and the community, so the point is, how about everyone just settle down and celebrate, and cheer for the team? You can hate on us all you want, we’re not going anywhere.”
— Mark Slaughter (@MarkVSlaughter) April 12, 2022
When a team supposedly requires a strong gate to live, maybe its owners should be a little more careful about being openly antagonistic to fans and challenging them to stop paying attention to the club if they don’t like what they see. Fans have reason to be impatient! They also have no reason to believe that there is a plan to actually invest in a winner here. Instead of simply acknowledging that times are tough and the effects of the pandemic are still lingering in the payroll but better days should be ahead, and laying out steps that are going to be taken to bring a winner here, Castellini did two different media spots where he basically said “deal with it,” and in the second of those we could even see he was dressed like a wealthy villain about to bulldoze a community center in an 80s teen movie. For all that the wealthy dads of MLB’s ownership group drive me up the wall, their kids are uniformly worse.
Anyway, it should be no surprise that Castellini eventually had to apologize through a public relations statement issued by the team, because he had infuriated fans that already wanted to see his head on a pike atop the Great American Ballpark’s walls. Here’s the thing: the team should be sold if the Castellinis can no longer afford to operate it in a way that’s conducive to winning. Bob Castellini has the smallest personal fortune of any of MLB’s owners, and the club was, again, possibly hit hard by the lack of a gate in 2020. If they can’t operate the club in the way that’s needed, then sell. And if they can operate with the resources they have, in conjunction with revenue-sharing and the television dollars and all of that? Then what was this offseason about, again?
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