This was not how the Cincinnati Reds' home opener week was supposed to go.
Like, at all.
Thanks to a delayed start due to the 99-day, MLB-induced lockout and the Cincinnati Reds getting rid of productive players during the offseason, the 2022 baseball season already was going to be bumpy. But after splitting the season's opening series in Atlanta last week, the Reds were swept at home by the Cleveland Guardians during the team's Great American Ball Park debut on April 12 and 13. Moreover, Reds president and chief operating officer Phil Castellini suggested that fans frustrated with the team's constant payroll slashes and trades should just deal with it because "Where are you going to go?"
And now, a fan-favorite former Red is adding even more fuel to the fire.
In an April 12 ESPN piece about the lockout and new collective bargaining agreement, former Cincinnati outfielder Nick Castellanos, who signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in March, had some pointed words about the Reds' front office.
"It's just a classic example of ownership using organizations as profit," ESPN writer Jesse Rogers reports Castellanos as saying. "When ... there are no consequences for losing, you're not held accountable for your performance."
Some fans are trying to elicit some accountability from the Reds' front office by renting a billboard on I-75 urging team owner Bob Castellini — Phil's father — to sell the team. The billboard, which features the popular social media hashtag #SellTheTeamBob, cost about $4,000 and went up just days before the April 12 home opener at Great American Ball Park.
With the Reds losing big contributors and team owner Bob Castellini saying he wants to concentrate on younger players, fans are anxious about 2022 being another "rebuilding season" rather than a legitimate push for playoff glory. During the COVID-shortened 2020 season, the Reds made it to the Wild Card playoffs but lost the first round to the Atlanta Braves without scoring at all; before that, Cincinnati hadn't been to the postseason since 2013. The Reds have had just five winning seasons out of the last 15.
That I-75 billboard and fans' growing lack of trust in the team elicited a sharp response from Phil Castellini, who told 700 AM WLW radio on April 12 that Cincinnatians basically have no recourse when the team repeatedly refuses to buck up for productive veteran players.
"Where are you going to go? Let’s start there," Castellini said. "Sell the team to who? If you want to look at what would you do with this team to have it be more profitable, make more money and compete more in the current economic system that this game exists, it would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else. And, so, be careful what you ask for."
Castellini later walked back his comments, telling WLW a few hours later, "I apologize to Reds fans and regret the comments that I made earlier today. We love this city, we love this team and we love our fans. I understand how our fans feel and I am sorry."
Scott Sloan and Mo Egger with Phil Castellini -- Opening Day 2022 https://t.co/73zWIrCCl2— 700WLW (@700wlw) April 12, 2022
But it's not just fans who have been frustrated with the Reds' front office seemingly tank season on purpose to nab draft picks and cut payroll.
In the ESPN piece, Castellanos likely spoke from the sting of not being kept or appropriately paid by the team he had loved. The outfielder was considered one of the 2022 season's best free agents, after an outstanding 2021 outing for the Reds in which he batted .309, slugged .576, had 34 home runs and knocked in 73 extra-base hits. Castellanos also won the Silver Slugger award and was a starter for the National League during last summer's MLB All-Star Game.
In November, Castellanos opted out of the final two years of his Reds contract, which was worth $16 million per year to try to increase his pay. Castellanos then rejected the Reds' Nov. 7 qualifying offer (the QO is set across Major League Baseball at $18.4 million for the 2022 season). He later said he'd consider another offer from the Cincinnati Reds, saying, "Why wouldn't I? I feel like there's still a lot of very valuable pieces that are very good to win with."
But talks between the Reds and Castellanos died down in December when MLB team owners initiated a player lockout that froze all free agency moves — along with workouts, spring training and the start of the 2022 season — because of a contract dispute. That lockout ended March 10, when MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association revealed that they had finally come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement.
Still, the Reds ignored Castellanos and reportedly had no interest in re-signing the slugger. "We have not been engaged with his representatives," Reds general manager Nick Krall reportedly said in March. In addition to losing Castellanos to free agency, the Reds traded away All-Star outfielder Jesse Winker, third baseman Eugenio Suárez and pitcher Sonny Gray, among others.
Castellanos ended up nabbing a five-year, $100 million deal with the Phillies, and he's already got seven hits, four RBI, a homer and an OBP of .360 in 23 at bats as of 11 a.m. April 14.
Just days after he signed with the Phillies, Castellanos praised Phillies owner John Middleton for fronting the money needed to win.
"When you hear that John Middleton said 'We can go over the luxury tax because you're the right player' and the only player that they would have done this for, how much does that mean to you?" NBC Sports Philadelphia reporter John Clark asked Castellanos on March 21.
"I mean, that's a lot of respect. At the end of the day, baseball comes down to ownership. The owner either wants to invest and cares about winning or doesn't," Castellanos replied. "So it speaks a lot to who he is. So Philadelphia should be pumped that that guy is behind the Phillies."
Current Reds players also have shown frustration over the front office's moves. After the Reds went 83-79 in 2021, longtime first baseman (and new social media darling) Joey Votto voiced his concern.
"I have higher expectations to be part of other large Major League moments," Votto said in an interview. "That’s without question concerning to me. I’ve been in the same uniform my entire career. We haven’t done enough winning."
Despite all evidence to the contrary, owner Bob Castellini recently insisted that winning still was the goal for 2022.
"It is simply untrue that our resolve to win has waned in any way. I really want our fans to hear that directly from me," Castellini said on March 24.
But that's an increasingly hollow statement for both fans and players.
"What sucks is in a great city like Cincinnati where the fan base is impeccable, it's suffocating because of ownership. I'm not saying that they are bad people. The system is bad," Castellanos told ESPN.
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