CHICAGO — Sam Moll strode out to the mound before the bottom of the sixth inning Tuesday to make his first appearance for the Cincinnati Reds to face Jeimer Candelario, who, like Moll, was appearing in his first game with his new team after being traded this week.
Reds general manager Nick Krall added Moll in a trade with the Oakland A’s on Monday, the same day his team extended its lead in the National League Central to 1.5 games.
The Chicago Cubs, meanwhile, had been seen as sellers before an eight-game winning streak leading up to the deadline. Chicago bolstered its playoff hopes, not only adding Candelario but also simply by keeping Cody Bellinger and Marcus Stroman.
So there it was — a matchup of two big trade-deadline acquisitions. After getting behind 0-2, Candelario fisted Moll’s fastball over shortstop Matt McLain into left field for a single, his fourth hit of the day.
For all of that narrative buildup, there was neither any real drama to that moment nor impact on the game’s outcome — just like the Reds’ trade deadline moves.
The Reds lost on the field Tuesday, falling 20-9 to the Cubs, and off the field, failing to add another player beyond Moll as the day’s trade deadline arrived a little more than two hours before first pitch.
“It was a tough game,” Reds manager David Bell said. “But right from as soon as the 5 p.m. hour came, I felt — and I’m trying to keep a real close pulse on our team — a sense of relief and excitement that we were all able to stay together and keep doing this.”
Tonight’s game has concluded. pic.twitter.com/QaxXKKnEeh
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) August 2, 2023
Entering the team’s 109th game of the season, the Reds were in first place in the National League Central and owned a better record than any of the non-divisional leaders. Still, the team had clear needs in the rotation and bullpen at the deadline.
That assessment didn’t look any different one inning into Tuesday’s game, as the Cubs scored five in the first frame against Ben Lively.
Lively had been one of the Reds’ surprises this season, joining the team from Triple-A Louisville in May. He entered Tuesday with a 3.76 ERA in 13 games (and 11 starts) and had a 3.23 ERA over his last six starts.
He’s been invaluable as a replacement for a rotation that is down to one of its five original starters and remains weeks away from welcoming back injured Opening Day starter Hunter Greene.
Although the Reds rotation has, at times, looked like it was being held together with duct tape, it had put up a 2.92 ERA with 10 quality starts in the 17 games since the All-Star break heading into Tuesday. That ERA ballooned by more than a run to 4.02 in 18 post-break starts thanks to Tuesday’s debacle.
After giving up five in the first inning, Lively allowed two more in the second, three in the third and came back for a fourth inning, not because he’d been effective or it gave the Reds the best chance to win the game, but because it could help limit bullpen use. Three Reds relievers are tied for the most appearances in the National League and another is one behind them.
Lively allowed three more runs in the fourth, as the Reds trailed 13-2 at that point. Lively’s 13 runs allowed were the most by a Red since Charles “King” Lear allowed 13 over eight innings in 1915.
Afterward, Lively was succinct in his summary of the night’s proceedings: “Yeah, definitely, that one sucks.”
He had little more to say because, really, there wasn’t much more to say about the game.
Just minutes before the start of the debacle, Krall addressed his team’s quiet deadline, noting that he was talking to teams about various deals but never found one that he felt was worth taking.
“We had players that we didn’t want to give up that we felt that need to be in the organization for the long haul to be a sustainable winning club,” Krall said.
Sacrificing short-term gains for sustainability has been a hallmark of Krall’s tenure, learning from the organization’s ill-fated 2018 deal to send Homer Bailey’s contract to the Los Angeles Dodgers for an aging star, a mercurial talent, a starter with an injury history and a utility player who would end up having more success in a Reds uniform than the other three combined. To do that, the Reds traded away two of their top prospects: Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray.
In 2020, the Dodgers used shortstop Downs as part of a trade package at the deadline for Mookie Betts. Betts led the Dodgers to their first World Series title in 32 years.
In 2021, the Dodgers centered a trade package around pitcher Gray to acquire Max Scherzer for a playoff run. Despite helping the Dodgers reach the NLCS in 2021, Scherzer’s time in Los Angeles isn’t fondly remembered because of his shortcomings in that NLCS against the Braves. With the Nationals, Gray was an All-Star this season.
A year ago, the Reds were lauded as one of the big trade deadline winners and those results have directly led to this year’s success.
In another example of the dangers of trade-deadline deals, last year the Mariners sent prized prospects to the Reds in exchange for Luis Castillo, who helped lead the franchise to its first playoff appearance in 21 years. Krall also sent Tyler Mahle to the Twins at the deadline, for what was a less-heralded deal at the time. Not only did the Twins miss the playoffs and finish with a losing record, Mahle finished the season on the IL and then made just five starts this season before undergoing season-ending elbow surgery. In return, the Reds received Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand, as well as a pitcher who was part of a package to receive Will Benson. That’s three big-league regulars who are now with the Reds in exchange for just nine starts by Mahle.
The 2023 Reds had the money and prospects to make deals, but not the will to take the risk that either the Mariners or Twins did a year ago.
It’s easy to categorize teams as winners or losers at the deadline; it’s all an opinion until more games are played. So instead of a Castillo trade that neither team regrets, or a Mahle trade that one side wouldn’t like to discuss, the Reds instead did nothing.
Inside the clubhouse, there was some relief, as Bell suggested. The Reds have won 59 games and could eclipse last season’s win total this weekend. That means they’re a pretty good team. But are they good enough to be more than that? That’s to be seen. For now, they’re basically the same team they were before the trade deadline.
With no outside reinforcements on the way, the Reds will have to lean on the players they already have, whether they’re currently on the 26-man roster or if they’re working back from injury or in the minor leagues.
Starter Greene threw two innings in Arizona on Tuesday night in his first rehab start, allowing a hit and striking out three. He’s on track to return to the rotation on Aug. 20. Lefty Nick Lodolo is also in Arizona and currently about a week or so behind Greene’s timetable to return. Reliever Tejay Antone reported to Triple-A Louisville and is expected to pitch there Wednesday, while reliever Casey Legumina pitched a scoreless inning in his rehab appearance for the Bats.
The club could also reinforce its ranks with two more pitching prospects, right-handers Connor Phillips and Lyon Richardson, both of whom are in Triple A and could see the big leagues this year.
About 20 minutes before the deadline, Krall said he began to realize there was just nothing that was going to get done in time for a deal to bolster the team’s roster. Was it the right decision? It didn’t seem like it Tuesday night, that’s for sure. But the season didn’t end Tuesday.
“We’ve got a good mix of veterans, we’ve got guys that started their rehab assignments that are coming back and can really help this club out,” Krall said. “I just didn’t feel there was a deal to be made with what we had to give up.”
(Top photo of the Cubs celebrating behind Lively: AP Photo / Charles Rex Arbogast)