The Cincinnati Bengals last played in the Super Bowl in 1989. The Cincinnati Reds played in their most recent World Series the following year. The two decade interim produced some of the least competitive sports teams the city has ever seen. The cause of this drought was a mentality from both the Bengals' Mike Brown and the collection of Reds' owners during that span that "small market teams couldn't compete." Instead of vying for championships both teams monitored their bottom lines with an inward focus that made Ebenezer Scrooge wince.
As the Reds embark upon their 136th professional season today, there are hopeful signs from both clubs that they are moving away from that mentality which essentially made them developmental organizations for their rivals.
Bengals' owner Mike Brown has been the face of frugality throughout his tenure as the Bengals top man. From his infamous skimping on locker room towels to his reticence to build a new practice facility, Brown has been roundly criticized for his tight-fisted ways.
Brown seemed to have turned a corner last off season, however. With a young team set to take the field absent high-priced superstars like Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco, Brown authorized spending. The team went out and spent money in the free agent market, signing cornerback Nate Clements and linebackers Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard. Moreover, Brown opened up his checkbook and gave long-term deals to team leaders like Andrew Whitworth and Leon Hall. This off season, that trend has continued with the team spending on free agents like Travelle Wharton and BenJarvus Green-Ellis as well as re-signing many of their key players like Reggie Nelson.
Brown hasn't spent haphazardly like the Redskins' Daniel Snyder, nor should he. Regardless of the team's relative means, wasting money like Snyder has on players like Albert Haynesworth is bad business.
And Brown still has a ways to go. Investing in an indoor practice facility is still a major need for the franchise to be more appealing to future free agents. Brown has shown a willingness, however to invest in the quality of his team that has been missing in the past. With a significant amount of money still left under the cap and the mandate to spend up to a 90 per cent "ceiling" in 2013, Brown will now be looking to lock up some more of his young stars as soon as they are eligible. Players like Carlos Dunlap can be expecting a raise this season while Andy Dalton and AJ Green should get extensions the following year.
Similarly, Reds' owner Bob Castellini changed expectations with his extension of first baseman Joey Votto through 2023. It was a seemingly foregone conclusion that Votto would walk after next season when his contract expired, especially given the monster deals signed by Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
Castellini was quick to point out that his commitment to Votto isn't an isolated move. He also plans to negotiate an extension with second baseman Brandon Phillips and will look to lock up other young players like Johnny Cueto in the near future.
Castellini's willingness to invest market price in Votto is more than just a baseball move. Like with Brown inking his veteran leaders, it sends a sign to the rest of the players and to potential free agents in the future that Cincinnati is more than just a pit stop on the way to markets like New York and Los Angeles.
Cincinnati sports fans have endured two decades worth of mediocrity under the excuse of "small market" economics. It would certainly appear that the owners of the Cincinnati pro franchises are moving beyond that model and returning their teams to viable championship contention.
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