Big Red Regime

"If you want to put the blame somewhere, I think the blame goes to the general manager for not having enough starting pitching."

-Ex-Cincinnati Reds General Manager, Jim Bowden

Apparently Jim, you are not the only person who shares this sentiment. It is official, the Cincinnati Reds have declared the Bowden/Boone era, if you can call it that, officially over. On Monday, July 28, 2003, shortly before the 12:35 start with the Philadelphia Phillies, the Reds; 10 games out of first place with a 47-58 record-announced the firings of General Manager Jim Bowden and Manager Bob Boone. The 2003 season was supposed to be the culmination of years worth of building, when the Reds would take the field of their brand new stadium as contenders. So, a) What went wrong? And are b) Bowden, and c) Boone really to blame?

The answers to those questions are: a) a lot, b) yes, and c) yes. This season was doomed from the beginning, when it became painfully obvious over the course of the first few weeks that the Reds did not have the starting pitching to compete at a major league level. They currently stand with an earned run average of 6.34, the worst in the National League by a full run, and a league worst-118 run differential. To top off the lack of pitching, they also have the worst defense in the National League. The only person who can take the blame for this mess of a team is Jim Bowden.

The first sign that this season was not going to turn out well occurred during last year's off-season. Despite the hoopla and praise he received at the time, Bowden was starting to realize that the Ken Griffey, Jr. trade he arranged in 2000 was, in his own words, a flop. It came out that Bowden had a verbal agreement with the San Diego Padres on a trade of Griffey for All-Star third baseman Phil Nevin. While it was a good idea to attempt to remove the bad karma of Griffey and his $10 million dollar contract, the idea that Bowden was going to trade the Reds most marketable player and receive no pitching in return was absolutely ridiculous. What good is another bat going to do for the Reds when they cannot get anyone out?

Boone has not been a favorite of the fans in Cincinnati since about five minutes after he was named manager. He followed Jack McKeon as manager: a man let go because of his age. McKeon had won 181 games in his final two years as manager, while Boone has won 190 in over two and a half seasons. Boone's overall record of 190-238 is not that impressive and his propensity to micromanage games has not been successful in either of his two stops as a Major League manager. McKeon, the man fired because he was too old, is now currently managing the Florida Marlins, a team with a 57-49 record and one game out of the National League Wild Card spot.

So, what happens now? The regime change is going to happen, but for the Reds to compete in 2004 and beyond, there have to be a few major moves. Beyond the hiring of a new general manager, which will happen after the season, and a new manager, who will probably be hired after the general manager, here is a 5-point plan to help turnaround the oldest franchise in the Major Leagues.

Trade Jose Guillen. Now!-The Reds have missed the boat on trading players such as Boone for prospects, moves that cannot be made until there is a clear person in charge. Guillen, however, is no Boone. He is the Reds' best player in 2003 and is a free agent who has expressed little to no interest in resigning. Trade him now and take whatever you can get.

Trade Griffey, later-Wait until a new general manager is hired before making any major moves, but this is one that has to happen. Griffey is the Reds highest paid player at over $10 million per year and the homecoming has not worked out for anyone. At this point, a clean break is the way to go. However, do not make the same mistake Bowden made, and demand you receive pitching in return. Young pitching.

Resign Larkin, but-Being a Barry Larkin fan for a long time, and it is one of the greater stories in sports that this local kid has played his whole career in Cincinnati. Let's keep it that way, but something needs to be clear. He will have to take a pay cut from his $9 million dollar salary, and his days as a starting shortstop are over. In fact, his days as a regular starter may be over, but leave that for the new manager. Larkin should retire a Red and take his place alongside other former Cincinnati greats. Hopefully, that will happen.

Pitching, pitching, pitching-You cannot win at the Major League level without quality pitching. How bad is the Reds pitching? Ryan Wagner, their 2003 first round draft pick, is already at the Major League level, and just may be the best pitcher in the bullpen. Sign it, draft it, trade for it, do whatever you have to do to get it.

Except trade Austin Kearns-Maybe it is just because he is from Lexington, but Kearns is untouchable. Before his injury, he was putting up great numbers and appears to be someone who can hit for power and average. The star on his fellow top prospect Adam Dunn may be fading, but since he only makes $400,000, it may be too soon to give up just yet.

Cincinnati is a smart baseball town. They know when they are getting jerked around, and this year they were/are getting jerked around. The Reds have been on a collision course for 2003 for the past couple of years, telling the city, "Build it and we will win," when they were campaigning for a new stadium. Well, they built it, but the Reds are not winning. Excuses can be made for their failure to field anything resembling a Major League rotation, chief among them salary restraints, but 7 of the 14 teams the Reds rank ahead of on payroll have winning records. The Reds problem has not been money, but a history of overlooking the importance of quality pitching. It finally caught up with Bowden and Boone. The Reds fans are left only with the saddest refrain in sports, "Wait until next year."