After 10 years below .500, and 15 years without a playoff berth, the Cincinnati Reds surged to 91 wins, won the NL Central, and earned an MVP award for their homegrown (and Canadian!) star first baseman.
Present Talent – 83.33 (T-8th)
Future Talent – 85.00 (T-5th)
Financial Resources – 77.31 (16th)
Baseball Operations – 82.50 (10th)
Overall Rating – 81.56 (11th)
Nearly everything that could have gone right for the 2010 Reds, did. Joey Votto blossomed into the league’s most valuable player. Jay Bruce showed why he’s been viewed as a premium talent on both sides of the ball. Drew Stubbs posted a 3-win season in his first full big league season. On the pitching side, Johnny Cueto recorded a 3.97 FIP and the best season of his young career, rookie Travis Wood flashed a K/BB rate of better than 3-to-1, and Aroldis Chapman showed the world he can throw 104 miles-per-hour.
There are few teams in baseball who can match the Reds in quality and quantity of young talent. They have the roster of a contender, and yet most of the significant pieces in place are in their primes or still headed toward it. This is not a team that’s going to suffer much regression due to age-related decline – they’re a good team that should still be on their way up.
That said, the Reds land in the ninth spot on this list because of what they already have in house – the writing crew here is a bit more cautious about their ability to add talent going forward. The team is operating on a $75 million payroll that hasn’t changed at all in four years, and while that’s enough to pay a lot of these kids in the early stages of their careers, it will take a significant boost in spending to keep this core together long term. Cincinnati is one of the smaller markets in baseball with Forbes recently estimating that they earn “only” $179 million in revenues – there is some room for payroll growth if the team continues to win and drive attendance upward, but the Reds are never going to be Daddy Warbucks.
With a lower tier payroll, that means Cincinnati’s front office is going to have to get significant bang for their buck. On one hand, Walt Jocketty and his crew have to be given a good amount of credit for the work they’ve done in developing talent in house as well as picking out which underappreciated players they can pick up from other organizations and get value from. On the other hand, the two highest paid players on the team are Bronson Arroyo and Francisco Cordero, and neither contract speaks well of the franchise’s ability to discern what kind of pitchers deserve big money.
Jocketty’s track record across several organizations is pretty strong, however, and despite a few missteps along the way, he’s shown an ability to assemble talented teams without needing large payroll subsidies in order to do it. While the Reds might not be the most statistically-minded organization out there, they’re pretty good at the scouting side of things, and understand the need to develop from within to contend with the resources that they have.
While their market and revenue streams are the organization’s weakness, it’s not a crippling issue, and the Reds grade out pretty well in the other three areas. With a good young core of talent already in place, Jocketty and his staff will simply need to focus on keeping the right guys as their salaries escalate and surrounding them with quality role players to keep the team near the top of the National League Central. This is an easier task than needing to replace or add talent to fill a void, which is the main reason why the Reds find themselves in the top 10 of these rankings. Most of the heavy lifting has already been done – now they just need to not screw it up.
Jonah Keri is the author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First -- now a National Bestseller! Follow Jonah on Twitter @JonahKeri, and check out his awesome podcast.