There comes a point in every club owner's tenure when he makes himself truly responsible for the fate of his franchise. Bob Castellini brought that on himself last week when he fired Wayne Krivsky, as if to say the Reds need to change direction.
Castellini conceded that he's "impatient" and "tired of losing" barely more than two years after buying an operation with no chance of winning for at least three years. It's a bad sign indicating that this ownership utterly lacks a reality principle.
If Castellini expected a serious competitor so soon after buying a ball club, he bought the wrong ball club. In a market where quick fixes are too expensive, the Reds need to take a long view. A small-town franchise doesn't shift from hitting to pitching and defense in short order.
As it turns out, their owner has a short view. If Castellini thought the acquisitions of reliever Francisco Cordero and manager Dusty Baker were going to make the Reds 20 games better this year, he should have given it more than 21 games to find out. Bad news.
Krivsky wasn't perfect and certainly made errors in pursuit of pitching, but he moved the Reds in the right direction. The Reds over whom Castellini fired Krivsky truly were two years better than the organization Krivsky inherited two years earlier. And if Castellini believes Walt Jocketty is going to bail him out, then he's putting demands on himself as an owner that he probably will not meet.
Mature baseball people understand that it is utterly destructive to make metaphysical decisions based on three weeks. At the moment when Castellini pushed Krivsky out of the general manager's office, the Reds were 9-12, which is no cause for alarm. Castellini flat-out over-reacted, and Jocketty's track record indicates that if the owner isn't willing to pay the price for major league talent going forward then he'll pay another kind of price.
This ball club's prospects now are off Krivsky's shoulders and on Castellini's.
Few people have ever gone on the record with anything bad to say about Jocketty, which isn't to clinch that everything good to be said about a baseball man can be said about him. For example, it can't be said about Jocketty that he's a quick fixer. If, indeed, Castellini is so set on winning now, there's little in Jocketty's history to indicate he's the man for the job.
Every four-paragraph biography about Jocketty will tell you he won six playoff berths, five divisions, two pennants and a World Series as the general manager in St.
Louis from 2000 through 2006. Unquestionably, the Cardinals were the National League's best franchise, especially during that 2004-06 period.
But a longer biography will tell you that Jocketty took the St. Louis job in 1995 and produced lackluster ball clubs for his first five years, though the 1996 outfit won a weak NL Central with 88 victories. Three of those clubs turned in losing records.
Likewise, Jocketty's association with winning clubs in Oakland soaked up a bit of lead time, which is the nature of his roles there as player development director and director of baseball administration. Jocketty started with Oakland in 1980, and the Athletics didn't produce winning records from 1981 through 1987.
Jocketty's efforts in Oakland helped to produce Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Walt Weiss, Terry Steinbach, Mike Gallego and Curt Young, who combined with astute acquisitions at the big league level to win three straight American League pennants from 1988 through 1990. Later, Jocketty's Oakland system generated daily major leaguers Darren Lewis, Kevin Tapani and Jason Giambi.
The Cardinals produced a few stars under Jocketty, but his farm system there didn't draw rave reviews. Unlike many organizations, the Cardinals could draft Rick Ankeil and J.D. Drew because they could meet the contract demands. Matt Morris came through the organization as a reliable starting pitcher. Of course, there's also Albert Pujols, who came from a 13th-round nowhere, almost a fluke.
The true Jocketty genius, as everyone knows, consisted in picking up proven talent from motivated sellers at the trade deadline in exchange for marginal producers with little left. He could always find a bargain if some player in his walk year needed a change of scenery.
That's how Jocketty brought the likes of McGwire, Fernando Vina, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds to St. Louis. But those players didn't come as cheaply as the talent-for-talent exchanges would have us believe.
Again, the fiduciary commitment from ownership went a long way toward making those deals work. The Cardinals didn't rent any of those players for a couple months. Instead, they ponied up for expensive, multi-year contract extensions and built those better clubs on that basis.
One doesn't at all blame Jocketty for working within the parameters opened by his St. Louis ownership, but it remains that those parameters were too rich for the Reds' blood, and who knows if Jocketty could have built that kind of club without them? Herewith, we note Castellini's increased responsibility, for if he isn't that owner then Jocketty isn't that general manager.
In retrospect, given accounts that Castellini expected to win immediately on buying the Reds in early 2006, one wonders who made the bigger mistake: Castellini for hiring Krivsky or Krivsky for taking the job.
Krivsky came from the Minnesota Twins organization, which has succeeded in a shaky market with a very sound philosophy of building from within, emphasizing pitching and defense. His arrival in Cincinnati indicated that the Reds were willing to undertake a substantial re-tooling away from the big-hitting approach under former GM Jim Bowden.
When Castellini said he wanted to win right away, well, that's what the fans wanted to hear. If he really thought he could win right away, he should have opened his bank vault and bought pitching. Most of us knew it wasn't going to happen, figuring Castellini had that much sense, and some of us supported Krivsky's approach.
Inevitably, Krivsky ran into conflict with holdovers in the organization, so people went their own way. Inevitably, Krivsky keeps young, highly touted prospects like 20-year-old center fielder Jay Bruce and 21-year-old pitcher Homer Bailey in the minor leagues for seasoning.
It makes perfectly good sense. Just because a kid is good enough to get his brains bashed in at the major league level doesn't mean he's ready to get his brains bashed in at the major league level, and the Reds weren't set to win this year anyway. They might have contended in a slow division, but not otherwise.
Some worry that the Reds are eating about $5 million worth of contracts, which is an utterly myopic complaint. There's dead money laying around all over baseball. No one likes swallowing contracts, but it's part of the business and $5 million is nickels in the big leagues.
Then Corey Patterson runs into an oh-for-19 slump and pundits start complaining that the Reds are wasting his $3 million when they could bring up Bruce so major league pitchers can turn his head into cheese. That's nuts. You can't go Chicken Little in this game and expect to succeed.
On taking over as general manager, Jocketty told reporters that he and Baker each has a "vendetta" and a "chip on our shoulder." No doubt, Jocketty feels wronged by the Cardinals and Baker feels wronged by his last club, the Chicago Cubs.
Trying to understand Castellini, one guesses at his thought process. Maybe Jocketty, as his "special advisor," whispers into his ear about how badly he wants to beat the Cardinals. Maybe Jocketty is especially upset because the Cards are off to such a good start.
Maybe Castellini starts thinking Jocketty and Baker, carrying chips on their shoulders, want to win more than Krivsky. So Castellini ditches his two-year investment in the Krivsky approach for the Jocketty-Baker method, and we don't even know if he can bankroll it.
The Reds already were about a year away from starting to produce a sustainable winner on the major league level. Now they're even further away.
Impatience is not a virtue in baseball, unless you have the money to go with it. Castellini is an impatient man running a ball club in a low-dollar market. We just saw that for the first time, and it's not a promising development.
Contact Bill Peterson: firstname.lastname@example.org