Futures Watch: Bengals, Reds Approach Their Futures Very Differently

CINCINNATI – Two teams. Two very different realities.

That’s what a Cincinnati fan has to keep in mind this week as the Bengals are re-tooling through free agency to tune up a roster – primarily the offensive line – and finish the job next season in Arizona and win their first Super Bowl.

Since Sunday, the Reds have traded away three key pieces of their very modest success in the last two seasons, one ending with a 31-29 record and a playoff berth in 2020. Last year, the Reds were on the path to the playoffs again before collapsing in September and finishing 83-79.

The Bengals are shooting for the top and looking to stay there with a loaded roster full of young, promising NFL stars. The Reds are looking to stay financially afloat as ownership tries desperately to compete by trading away proven veterans with experience for talented young pitching prospects with no major league experience.

Both teams are doing what they feel is right for the future. Both franchises are dealing with reality as it faces them. Former General Electric executive Jack Welch once famously said, “Face reality as it is, not as it was, or you wish it to be.”

The Bengals went out and spent $26 million on the first day of free agency, signing two players that immediately upgrade the quality of their offensive line and bringing back a 28-year-old defensive tackle who blossomed this past season alongside D.J. Reader and Larry Ogunjobi.

The Bengals are investing and spending cash, despite the silly criticism of some online folks who call their ways outdated.

How effective will guard Alex Cappa and guard/center Ted Karras be? We’ll see when the bullets start flying for real in September. But the point here is the Bengals clearly recognized that Joe Burrow can’t be sacked 51 times in the regular season again.

Cappa is a former third round pick out of Division II Humboldt State who is regarded as a 27-year-old people-mover in the run game and drastically improved in pass protection. The Bengals signed him at four years, $40 million, counting on him continuing the upward path of progress in his career. He won a Super Bowl with Tom Brady in 2020.

Karras is a 29-year-old veteran with two Super Bowl rings playing for Brady and the Patriots in 2016 and 2018. The Bengals added him for $18 million over three years. That’s very smart money.

The Bengals did lose a key piece of their offense and locker room chemistry Monday when the Jets stole away tight end C.J. Uzomah for $24 million over three years. Larry Ogunjobi left for Chicago, earning $40.5 million over three years.

But there’s no panic. The Bengals have positioned themselves to adequately address needs through free agency and the draft. If they are fortunate enough to land Boston College guard Zion Johnson or Central Michigan tackle Bernhard Raimann, their offensive line rebuild will look even better.

The Bengals barometer of expectations following the Super Bowl loss continues to rise. The fan base is rightly convinced that an ownership and management that has been oft-criticized is fully committed to protecting its franchise quarterback and doing whatever is responsible and possible to win a Super Bowl.

The gauge is shooting in the opposition direction for the team right down Pete Rose Way.

The Reds dealt right-handed starter Sonny Gray on Sunday to the Twins for right-handed flame-thrower Chase Petty, an 18-year-old prospect that will need development in the Reds’ system.

On Monday, the Reds waved goodbye to All-Star Jesse Winker and third baseman Eugenio Suarez in a six-player swap with the Mariners that netted starter Justin Dunn, outfielder Jake Fraley, a player to be named and the key to the deal, 6-foot-6 lefty Brandon Williamson.

Before the 99-day lockout, the Reds already parted ways with Michael Lorenzen (free agent to Angels), Tucker Barnhart (traded to Detroit) and Wade Miley (free agent to Cubs). And general manager Nick Krall says there’s been no talks to bring free agent Nick Castellanos back in 2022.

Castellanos made $14 million in 2021, Suarez $10.5 million, Gray $10 million, Miley $8 million, Lorenzen $4.4 million and Barnhart $3.75 million. That’s roughly $50 million shaved off coming into 2022. With some of the added players included, the Reds 40-man payroll is now at $81 million, down from $126.4 million in 2021.

The three highest paid players on the payroll are now Votto ($25 million), Mike Moustakas ($16 million) and Shogo Akiyama ($8 million).

And C. Trent Rosecrans suggests more paring of the roster – and payroll – might be coming. Krall said following the Sonny Gray trade on Sunday that these are simply necessary measures to ensure the Reds are meeting the demands of keeping a major league roster within their resources.

Reds fans far and wide have vowed through Twitter rage not to step foot in Great American Ball Park, and that certainly is their prerogative.

But the Reds, in keeping with that Jack Welch principle, are facing reality as it is, not as if they were the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers or Angels.

The Reds cupboard is not bare. They still have a young core of Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson, Luis Castillo (for now) and Jose Barrero. They have the likes of Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo in the wings. They have added a pair of young arms this week.

This team, on paper, is not close to a pennant or division contender. No one in their right mind would claim that. But it’s not nearly as close to the tank as many would think.

Owner Bob Castellini has directed Krall and his front office to be responsible and that’s what Krall has been trying to do.

Joey Votto is 38 and he’s seen it all: the highs, the lows, the investment, the fire sales and the rebuilds. He told’s Mark Sheldon Monday that he would not demand a trade, instead leaving that decision to ownership.

“I’ve been loyal to this uniform, to this city, to the contract that I signed,” Votto told Sheldon. “On my side of things, it’s never been something I’ve ever really prompted. I have a responsibility to the person that signs my checks. That’s not my question.”

The Bengals have chosen their path and are pursuing it accordingly. The Reds have been forced by economics to choose theirs. It will be fascinating to watch both of them in the future for very different reasons.

Mike Petraglia

Joined CLNS Media in 2017. Covered Boston sports as a radio broadcaster, reporter, columnist and TV and video talent since 1993. Covered Boston Red Sox for from 2000-2007 and the New England Patriots for ESPN Radio, WBZ-AM, SiriusXM, WEEI, and CLNS since 1993. Featured columnist for the Boston Celtics on CelticsBlog.

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