Earlier this week in Goodyear, Ariz., I had the opportunity to talk with Reds CEO Bob Castellini. Below are some excerpts from our candid conversation.
Tommy Thrall: Let’s start out with the question that seems to be on the minds of all Reds fans after the trades made by the organization since last season: Are the Reds committed to winning?
Bob Castellini: Absolutely. That commitment has never wavered. It is simply untrue that our resolve to win has waned in any way. I really want our fans to hear that directly from me. Our fans fell in love with these players, as did I, and it hurts to see them go. Players like Jesse Winker, who came up in our organization – and we watched grow from prospect to All-Star. These were very tough decisions made against the realities of today’s game, where money must be invested at every level of our baseball operation. Our success lies in making smart decisions regarding Major League payroll as well as our player development pipeline.
Tommy: After being so close to the playoffs in 2021, what was the organizational mindset heading into this season?
Bob: We’ve seen that our focus on sustainability through acquiring and developing talent is working. In 2021, we had 18 players on the regular-season roster come through the Reds' Minor League system. A large part of the core is homegrown – [Jonathan] India, [Tyler] Stephenson, [Tyler] Mahle, [Vladimir] Gutierrez, [Nick] Senzel and others. And we had three players receive Rookie of the Year votes, with Jonathan India winning the award. We know that the investments in scouting and player development that we’ve made since 2019 are paying off.
Tommy: Was the primary motivation behind the recent trades about payroll or performance?
Bob: The motivation is and has been about winning. And establishing sustainability. We traded three All-Stars, which felt very personal to all of us. But winning in the playoffs has got to be our primary focus – short term and long term. The trades were about moving players to maximize return, aiming for the best talent and highest upside possible. I am confident that Nick [Krall] and his staff are making the right baseball moves to build a championship-caliber roster using these principles.
Tommy: And what about free agency? Obviously a lot has happened since 2020. How has that affected the team’s spending in the free-agent market from then to now?
Bob: We’ve been active in free agency – look at the offseason going into 2020. The Reds’ Major League payroll was the highest in team history. Unfortunately, like every individual, family and business, 2020 was an economically difficult year for the Reds. Rather than pull back in 2021, we kept spending against a second year of substantial financial losses because we felt we could put a playoff contending team on the field. We only reduced payroll by 10%, making it the first time we had reduced payroll in five years. And we produced an 83-win team, with much of its core coming from the Reds Minor League system, including Rookie of the Year Jonathan India. This is indicative of the talent we are developing. Our farm system is now ranked in the Top 10 in MLB, up from being 28th going into 2020. In terms of free agency, we will sign the players needed to bolster our roster alongside talent from our own player development pipeline now in the Major Leagues.
Tommy: How does the Reds spending compare to other teams? What would need to change to allow the Reds to spend more money on players?
Bob: Since 2006, our payroll has averaged 19th, so we are outspending our market size of 29th. And the investments in our farm system are providing payroll flexibility by producing the talent we need without having to overextend on Major League payroll. This is a strategy being deployed across many clubs – particularly with small market franchises. In 2022, MLB’s projected lowest-to-highest payroll differential may reach nearly five times, making this disparity insurmountable unless talent is produced within an organization. Baseball is so important to this city, to this region. And that is why our ownership group consists only of people with strong ties to the City of Cincinnati. My partners and I are proud stewards of this franchise. We will continue to return all of the financial support we receive from our fans, business partners and MLB back into the Reds.
Tommy: With that being said, can you re-assure Reds fans that this team has a plan moving forward? And what about the continuity of having David Bell and Nick Krall at the helm?
Bob: There is no doubt in my mind that Nick Krall is the right person to lead this organization and execute our strategy. He has built a winning team the last two seasons while at the same time significantly increasing the young talent in our farm system. Nick has been an integral part of our baseball operations for nearly two decades and since he took over as general manager, our farm system has thrived. Nick is hands on and leads his staff in making our ballplayers the best they can be. And David is a leader. He is conscientious and diligent, with a thoughtful baseball mind. Having them in lockstep is an important advantage for the club. No question having both Nick and David signed with us for the next few years highlights our resolve to win.
Tommy: And how about the organization as a whole? Have you accomplished all that you have set out to do?
Bob: No! We have more to do. We need to pursue postseason play in this expanded format that is starting in 2022. And we need to rekindle the trust we have lost with some of the fanbase. Typically, we share our baseball plans every year at Redsfest and on the Caravan. During these important Reds traditions, our baseball personnel give a detailed accounting of what’s to come. Fans hear directly from us, they challenge our decisions, we answer their questions, we hear their suggestions. And, for two years we have missed that face-to-face conversation with the fans. It is my sincere hope that we can restore the fans’ confidence. I have read their emails, texts and social posts. This has been difficult for every member of our organization because we have not turned our back on them. Ours is a stewardship we take very seriously, and I am asking fans to continue the journey with us. The future is bright, and I have so much confidence in what we are building in the short and long term. We appreciate our fans and cannot wait to see them back at the ballpark.