Are the Cincinnati Reds America’s Team?

By Akiva Wienerkur   July 28, 2023 

Are the Cincinnati Reds America’s Team?

After their 7-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals on June 14th the Cincinnati Reds’ infielders Jonathan India and Matt McLain had quite the memorable interview. The two had hit back-to-back home runs and combined for 5 runs batted in to lead the Reds to victory. I’d like to focus specifically on one remark made by India during the interview: “It’s blatant, we’re America’s Team.” The Reds’ second baseman might not have realized what a bold statement that was. 

 The nickname “America’s Team” originally referred to the Dallas Cowboys. The nickname originated in 1978 when John Facenda was narrating a Cowboys highlights film. Facenda mentioned that the Dallas Cowboys appeared on TV so much that they are as recognizable as famous actors and US presidents. Thus, they are “America’s Team”.  A large part of the narrative was around the Cowboys quarterback at the time, Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, who was nicknamed “Captain America”. The Cowboys were a great team at the time and had made the divisional round of the playoffs in consecutive years. America’s Team then went on to win NFC championships in both of the following two seasons, including a 27 to 10 win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII.

The Cowboys’ roster was stacked top to bottom with great and exciting players, such as Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett, Drew Pearson, and of course, Captain America himself, Roger Staubach. In addition, at the time the team was owned by Clint Murchison Jr. who had deep pockets and the financial ability to go out and acquire any star player he desired. Their dominance continued in the 90’s as they won Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII, and XXX in the span of three years. The Cowboys’ 90’s dynasty was powered by more great and exciting players, such as Hall of Famers Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, and of course, their legendary quarterback, Troy Aikman.

The team don a star on their helmet and represented The Lone Star State. (The Dallas Cowboys was the only professional football team in the state of Texas until the Houston Texans were established in 1999). With the classic look, deep pockets, exciting players, and a great tradition of winning and success the Dallas Cowboys were the perfect franchise to be called the “America’s Team”.  

While on the contrary, I cannot say the same about the Cincinnati Reds. Unlike the Cowboys, the Reds do not have that classic American branding. Even though the Reds are named after the high red socks and stockings the players wore. The Cincinnati Reds do have a rich history consisting of five World Series championships and 34 Hall of Famers who have played in Cincinnati, such as Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, and of course, “The Kid”-Ken Griffey Jr.

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Despite the franchise’s once-impressive history, the modern Reds have been a disaster and have made the playoffs only once in the last ten years. Even their lone playoff appearance in 2020 was a fluke. The Reds made it in as the fourth wildcard team due to the MLB letting extra teams into the playoffs to make up for the shortened season caused by COVID-19. Even that sliver of success was stingy since they were carried by Cy Young-winning pitcher, Trevor Bauer, who they got for pennies on the dollar from the Cleveland Indians (Now Cleveland Guardians). Cleveland was desperate to get rid of Bauer due to his character issues, so Cincinnati really did not have to give up much. The Cincinnati Reds reached a new low in 2022 when they posted a laughable 100 losses. It didn’t even seem like they were trying to improve their roster since in 2022 they had the 6th lowest payroll in the MLB and stayed in that same spot going into the 2023 season. They refuse to spend large amounts of money on star players. However, this year something is different. Something about the 2023 Reds is simply unique. Maybe Jonathan India wasn’t so wrong after all. 

Money doesn’t buy championships:  

“How can you not be romantic about baseball?” is the most famous quote from the movie Moneyball starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. The movie tells the story of how the 2002 Oakland Athletics used a different approach to statistics to build a playoff team with the lowest payroll in the MLB. The Athletics did make the playoffs but failed to win a playoff series. However, a few years later the Boston Red Sox used the same method to win the 2004 World Series and break the Curse of the Bambino. Today, teams aren’t using the same method, yet the Athletics still changed the landscape of baseball by showing the world that teams can have success without breaking the bank. Teams now build their rosters by developing prospects and using statistics to find players who will complement each other. In fact, during the 2022 season, two teams with bottom five payrolls won 92 games and made the playoffs.  

  • Cleveland Guardians – 91.3-million-dollar payroll – 92 wins and an AL Central title. 
  • Tampa Bay Rays – 76.6-million-dollar payroll – 92 wins and a wildcard appearance. 
  • League Average – 161.5-million-dollar payroll – 81 wins. 

The key to this low-cost success is trading away players at the right time. Once the team realizes that they do not have a good enough roster to make a run that season they trade away their veteran established players that are nearing the end of their contracts. They trade them to teams that are trying to stack their roster for a playoff run this season in exchange for prospects who can help their team win in the future. Since the veterans are proven players and the prospects are not, the prospects will always be cheaper. This gives the team a couple of low-cost years from the newly imported youngsters, and they might as well let a different team pay the veterans if they’re not going to accomplish anything with them anyways. 

The most pivotal trade by the Tampa Bay Rays came in July of 2018. The Rays traded away one of their best pitchers, Chris Archer, to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for three prospects. Archer’s salary was 6.4 million dollars that year while the three prospects’ combined salary was 1.6 million dollars per year. Those three prospects were outfielder Austin Meadows, and pitchers Tyler Glasnow, and Shane Baz. We’ll use a stat called WAR to compare each player’s most recent full season with the team to which they were traded. (WAR stands for “wins above replacement”. WAR attempts to calculate a player’s total value to his team by estimating how many wins he is worth compared to a replacement-level player.) 

Pirates Rays WAR 
Chris Archer – 2019  0.7 WAR 
 Austin Meadows – 2021 1.9 WAR (20 MVP votes) 
 Tyler Glasnow – 2021 2.4 WAR 
 Shane Baz – 2022 0.1 WAR 

Despite giving up a multi-time all-star for unproven players I think it’s clear that the Rays won that trade by a landslide. The icing on the cake is that after playing out the remainder of his contract Chris Archer came back to Tampa Bay in 2021 via free agency. The Rays got three great players for practically nothing.  

The Cleveland Guardians do not have as great of an example but did make a big trade to cut costs prior to the 2021 season. The Guardians traded superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor along with pitcher Carlos Carrasco to the Mets. In exchange the Guardians received the young bats of second baseman Andrés Giménez, shortstop Amed Rosario, outfielder Isaiah Greene, along with pitcher Josh Wolf. Unlike Chris Archer, Lindor and Carrasco did not fall off the face of the earth, but since their combined salary in 2021 was 34.3 million dollars, the WAR comparison is mind-boggling. Again, we’ll look at each player’s last full season with the teams to which they were traded. 

Mets Guardians WAR 
Francisco Lindor – 2022  5.5 WAR (9 MVP votes) 
Carlos Carrasco – 2022  1.2 WAR 
 Andrés Giménez – 2022 7.4 WAR (6 MVP votes) 
 Amed Rosario – 2022 4.2 WAR 

*Josh Wolf and Isaiah Greene have not yet debuted in the MLB 

Despite giving up perhaps the greatest player to ever wear the Cleveland uniform, I think it’s clear that Cleveland won that trade by a landslide. Now that we’ve explained the art of trading away good players at the right time, let’s look at some trades the Cincinnati Reds have made over the past couple of years–their attempt to win at a low cost.  

Sold out of Cincinnati: 

Over the past couple of years, the Reds have desperately tried to take advantage of the method I previously mentioned, attempting to build strong rosters without spending a large amount of money. One of the most recent trades was a deal with the Seattle Mariners in which the Reds gave away outfielder Jesse Winker and third baseman Eugenio Suárez in exchange for young pitchers Justin Dunn and Brandon Williams, along with outfielder Jake Fraley. The duo’s combined salary in 2022 was 8.5 million dollars but lowering their payroll was Cincinnati’s only accomplishment. The trade showed that the trick doesn’t exactly work every time. Again, we’ll look at each player’s last full season with the teams to which they were traded. 

Mariners Reds WAR 
Jesse Winker – 2022  -0.3 WAR 
Eugenio Suárez – 2022  3.9 WAR 
 Justin Dunn – 2022 -0.1 WAR 
 Jake Fraley – 2022 0.6 WAR 

*Brandon Williams is yet to play a full season in the MLB 

However, this year something is different. Something about the 2023 Reds is simply unique. This season, despite having played only 70 games Jake Fraley already has a 1.2 WAR and is on track to set a new career high. In addition, Brandon Williams is having a very respectable rookie season with a 0.9 WAR in only 12 appearances.  

That was not the only time the Reds made a bad trade with the Seattle Mariners. Preceding the 2022 trade deadline the Reds sent pitcher Luis Castillo to the Mariners in exchange for pitching prospects Levi Stoudt and Andrew More along with infield prospects Noelvi Marte and Edwin Arroyo. It is difficult to judge the Reds’ haul since all four players are yet to make their MLB debut. On Seattle’s side, Luis Castillo was a big part of the Mariners’ success in 2022 and pitched extremely well in the playoffs. In the postseason Castillo posted a 1.88 ERA over 12 innings while striking out a batter per inning. Since the Reds’ biggest weakness at the moment is their pitching as their ERA stands at 4.72 ranking 26th in the MLB, they can most definitely use Luis Castillo right now. 

Sold to Cincinnati: 

After reviewing some trades that did not go the Reds’ way, let’s look at some trades that did. The most recent one was just last year prior to the 2022 trade deadline. The Reds sent pitcher Tyler Mahle to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for young infielders Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand along with pitcher Steven Hajjar. Since the trade was so recent, we’ll look at the players’ WAR from this season despite the season not being complete.  

Mariners Reds WAR 
Tyler Mahle – 2023  0.4 WAR 
 Spencer Steer – 2023 1.6 WAR 
 Christian Encarnacion-Strand – 2023 0.0 WAR 

*Steven Hajjar has not yet debuted in the MLB 

In 2022 the Twins only won 78 games and missed the playoffs. In addition, Tyler Mahle is having a down year in 2023. In contrast to the Twins’ situation, the trade is looking solid so far for Cincinnati. Spencer Steer has become an everyday player for the Reds and, in fact, is leading the team with an OPS of 820.  

Another example of a Reds’ trade that worked out was sending Adam Duvall to the Atlanta Braves in 2018. Coming off a 31-homerun season in 2017 the Reds sent the outfielder to Atlanta in exchange for young pitchers Matt Wisler and Lucas Sims, along with outfielder Preston Tucker. Both Wisler and Tucker were off the Reds’ roster less than a year later. Again, we’ll look at each player’s last full season with the teams to which they were traded. 

Braves Reds WAR 
Adam Duvall – 2020  0.9 WAR 
 Lucas Sims – 2021 0.7 WAR 
 Preston Tucker – 2018 -0.3 WAR 
 Matt Wisler – 2018 0.3 WAR 

Duvall fell off a cliff after being traded to Atlanta as his OPS dropped by 1.8. The Reds were also able to unload his large 7-million-dollar salary. In addition, Lucas Sims is having a major breakout 2023 season. Despite only having thrown 40 innings, Sims has already posted a career-high 1.4 WAR. 

All The Winning: 

The Cincinnati Reds’ 2023 season started out no different than any of their recent seasons, as they dropped 20 of their first 34 games, capped off by a 17-4 embarrassment against the Chicago White Sox. The tough loss did spark some motivation and they won 4 of their next 5 but it was put out by a frustrating 3-1 loss to the Miami Marlins. Even though it was still very early in the season, the front office knew they had to make a move. So, before the Reds’ matchup against the Colorado Rockies on August 15th they called up one of their top prospects, infielder Matt McLain, despite many experts saying he was not ready.

It took McLain a few games to get going but once he did, he led the Reds on an exciting 5-game win streak. But McLain couldn’t do it by himself and after the streak Cincinnati lost four of their next five games. Again, even though it was still very early in the season, the front office knew they had to make a move. So, before the Reds’ matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 6th they called up one of their top prospects, infielder Elly De La Cruz, despite many experts saying he was not ready. Only a few games later, the Reds got red hot. They won two games against the St. Louis Cardinals and then swept the Royals on the road. 

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After their 7-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals on June 14th the Cincinnati Reds’ infielders Jonathan India and Matt McLain had quite the memorable interview. The two had hit back-to-back home runs and combined for 5 runs batted in to lead the Reds to victory. I’d like to focus specifically on one quote said by India during the interview: “It’s blatant, we’re America’s Team.” The Reds’ second baseman might not have realized what a bold statement that was. Moreover, he had no idea what was to come next. The win over the Royals completed a 3-game sweep of Kansas City and put the Reds on a 5-game win streak heading into a challenging series in Houston. The Reds won the first game in Houston 2-1, then blew out the Astros the next night 10-3, and then outscored them in a slugfest 9-7 to complete back-to-back sweeps. Suddenly, the Reds had won 8 games in a row. The Reds stayed hot with yet another sweep, taking all three games against the Colorado Rockies. Cincinnati squeezed out their 12th consecutive win over the Atlanta Braves at the final score of 11-10 before the Braves ended the streak the next night. Even though the streak was over, things were still looking bright in Cincy. The Reds found themselves 5 games over .500 and in the midst of the playoff race for the first time in years. Led by more youngsters such as the 23-year-old pitcher Hunter Greene and breakout star closer Alexis Díaz, the Reds have played pretty good ball since.

As of July 25th, the Reds are 55-47 and holding onto the top wildcard spot in the NL. They are also only 1.5 games out of first place in the NL Central.  

The average age of the players in their starting lineup is only 25.6 and since calling up De La Cruz, the Reds have scored 5.4 runs per game while the MLB average is 4.5. During the Reds’ matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 21st, rookie Matt McLain stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 6th inning of a tight game with the bases loaded. The 23-year-old proceeded to send Great American Ball Park into a frenzy by hitting the first grand slam of his career. Cincinnati went on to win the game by a final score of 9-6. The very next night, the Reds’ young outfielder, TJ Friedl stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 6th inning with his team down by one. TJ turned on one to right field and hit his 7th home run of the season.

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The very next at-bat Matt McLain did the same thing. Then, Jake Fraley proceeded to send Great American Ball Park into a frenzy by hitting his 14th bomb of the season, making it three in a row. The Reds had gone back-to-back-to-back. Cincinnati went on to win the game by a final score of 4-2. The Cincinnati Reds are the most exciting team in the MLB and maybe they truly are America’s team. This year something is different. Something about the 2023 Reds is simply unique. Maybe Jonathan India wasn’t so wrong after all. 

Conclusion: 

The Cincinnati Reds are a good, fun, young, up-and-coming team, and will no doubt be fun to watch for the next few years. However, don’t get too excited too soon. The Reds rank 26th in the MLB in team ERA with an ERA above 4.7 and only one of their three most-used pitchers has an ERA under 5.6. The Reds might have an electrifying lineup but it’s pitching that wins playoff series and the Reds simply do not have good enough pitching to go far this October. The team is young and their “win now” window is only beginning.  They will have plenty of time to fix up their rotation and bullpen. Yet until we see some major pitching changes, do not expect much playoff success from the Cincinnati Reds, whose futures odds currently stand at +5500.

Therefore, my final conclusion is that although they are fun, they are not yet as good as the 78’ Cowboys of old and are not yet baseball’s version of America’s Team. The Reds however do have two great pitching prospects in AAA who will soon be ready for the pros, in Connor Phillips and Levi Stoudt. If when they are called up, Phillips and Stoudt live up to the hype, the Reds might just have to change their name to the Red, White, and Blues! 

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