To me, 2003 and 2004 are two of the most critical years in the history of the franchise. Why? Because right now we are at a big fork in the road. On one side there are franchises like the Mariners, Indians 95-01, and Giants, who used new stadiums to turn their franchises into wildly successful, popular, and money making enterprises. They went from being bottom of the barrel to the cream of the crop. Unfortunately, on the other side are the Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Detroit Tigers, who thought that the concept of a new stadium would be a panacea that would mask all of the tremendous deficiencies in their team. One year later, all of their stadiums have empty seats.
If the status quo for the Reds is largely maintained, i.e. we make a few fringe moves, I can't see us winning anything (and that hurts to say that). One word: pitching. We do not have a Roy Oswalt. A Mark Prior. A Matt Morris. A Woody Williams. A Kerry Wood. A Wade Miller. A Carlos Zambrano. Our best ERA pitcher (that we still have), is an unproven starter and only made the transition 3 months ago. Haynes and Dempster both posted WHIP's close to 1.5, meaning they allow quite a few baserunners, and given the uncertain infield defense, those may score.
The problem with the pitching doesn't only exist at the big league club, it has permeated into all levels of the team, meaning no help is in sight. Our highest rated prospect came out of nowhere (Basham). Pitchers are rushed through the organization with seemingly no regard for their health.
And that doesn't even get to the main problem in my opinion, which is the complete lack of flexibility with payroll. Lets say in 2003 we are where we were circa trading deadline 2002. We had opportunities for and the farm system to get Bartolo Colon, who would have instantly elevated our rotation dramatically. Chuck Finley, Rolen, etc. The list goes on and on. We passed up deals that would have significantly improved our club for minimal financial obligation. As long as Lindner is owner, I don't see this changing. Which means that as long as he is in charge we will see success a firm second to the bottom line.
Honestly, I see below .500 as a total bust in 2003, because if the ship starts to sink people are going to get mad because they essentially funded the stadium and were given promises of grandeur about how we would be in the thick of things. That would be a very depressing thing to watch, because it would mean we were in the fast-lane to Milwaukee-ville and that any night below 40 degrees half the seats would be empty.
Given the state of the franchise right now (barring any additional big time moves -- i.e. Colon, Vazquez, Penny), my heart says maybe we can compete, but my head says no.