With the Reds potentially in need of payroll relief for 2010, there have been several rumors swirling around the availability of Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo. Trade partners are rumored to want money in a deal with one of the starting pitchers, and so far, the Reds are unwilling to pony up.

Is trading one of the team’s starting pitchers the right answer? Last week, Eddie Schmid of mlbtraderumors.com looked at the highest priced closers in baseball and how they fit on teams of different payroll size:

Signing a high-priced closer long-term is likely to be an unwise move for a small-market team, as the risk of injury or sudden ineffectiveness is high. A closer isn’t likely to be the piece to make a middling team a great one, and money would be well-spent on other resources.

Francisco Cordero would be the 2nd highest paid Reds next year at $12 million compared to Aaron Harang’s $12.5 million. Are Cordero’s 70 innings a season as valuable as Harang’s 200 innings? Is Cordero that much more valuable than the rest of the bullpen? The other six members of the 2009 opening day bullpen made $8.5 million this year.

One could argue that adding Cordero made the rest of the bullpen that much better. Everyone else slid back a spot when Cordero arrived, pushing Weathers to the 8th inning spot, and making the bullpen better than the shambles it was before Cordero arrived. To be fair to David Weathers, the 2007 closer, he didn’t have David Weathers setting up for him in the 7th and 8th innings. He had Mike Stanton (5.93 ERA, 1.613 WHIP) and Todd Coffey (5.82 ERA, 1.745 WHIP) both of whom had poor rate stats leading up to the 2007 season. That bullpen was not put in a position to succeed.

As a closer in 2007, Weathers saved 33 games in 39 save opportunities for a 72-win team. Cordero saved 34 games in 40 chances last year on a 74-win team. This year, Cordero is on pace for 34 saves on a projected 69-win team.

It seems that a team with a limited payroll of $75 million or less would be in a better position to win if they allocated large portions of their finite resources to players who appear in more than 70 innings a season.

Should the Reds move payroll, and if so, how much could they improve other aspects of their game by trading Francisco Cordero?

Without making any free agent moves and retaining all players that are currently under contract for next year, the team payroll is sitting at about $70-$71 million. That leaves about $5 million to add via trade or free agency in the offseason.

Cordero appears to be a great sell high opportunity. He only has two years remaining on his contract. He’s had only 1 blown save all year. His ERA and save conversion rate coming into the Giants series was the best of his career. These are the type of stats that gave Brad Lidge his $37.5 million payday in the offseason. However, Cordero’s strikeout rate has dropped in each season with the Reds to the point that he has struck out less than a batter per inning for the first time since 2002.

The following table gives just one example of how the Reds could reallocate their 2010 budget if they were able to trade Cordero and spend all their available budget on position players.

Position Player 2010 Salary
SP Aaron Harang $12,500,000
SP Bronson Arroyo $11,000,000
SP Johnny Cueto $400,000
SP Homer Bailey $400,000
SP Justin Lehr $400,000
C Ryan Hanigan $400,000
C Gregg Zaun $1,500,000
1B Joey Votto $400,000
2b Orlando Hudson $7,500,000
SS Brandon Phillips $6,750,000
3B Scott Rolen $11,800,000
IF Drew Sutton $400,000
IF Adam Rosales $400,000
LF Jermaine Dye $10,000,000
CF Drew Stubbs $400,000
RF Jay Bruce $400,000
OF Chris Dickerson $400,000
OF Jonny Gomes $750,000
RP Arthur Rhodes $2,000,000
RP Nick Masset $400,000
RP Jarod Burton $400,000
RP Daniel Ray Herrera $400,000
RP Bill Bray $400,000
RP Carlos Fisher $400,000
RP Ramon Ramirez $400,000
Subtotal $70,200,000
Contract/option buyout
Alex Gonzalez $500,000
Ramon Hernandez $1,000,000
Scott Rolen ($2,800,000)
Willy Taveras $4,000,000
Edison Volquez $400,000
Mike Lincoln $2,500,000
Total $75,800,000

As you can see, this hypothetical situation assumes that the Reds eat the contracts of Taveras and Lincoln, move Phillips to shortstop, and add free agents at left field, second base, and the catcher position. What could the offense look like with this roster? I used baseballmusing’s lineup tool to project expected run production for the following lineup:

Player Stats Used OBP SLG OPS
Stubbs/Dickerson Dickerson’s 2009 0.365 0.374 0.739
Hudson Hudson’s 2009 0.361 0.433 0.794
Votto Career 0.379 0.523 0.902
Dye Last 3 yrs 0.337 0.512 0.849
Rolen Tor career 0.358 0.452 0.810
Phillips Cin career 0.323 0.453 0.776
Bruce Career 0.301 0.448 0.749
Hanigan Career 0.368 0.352 0.720
Pitcher #9 split 2009 0.237 0.312 0.549

That 2010 Reds lineup could score an estimated 4.98 runs per game or 806 runs over the course of the season. That would rank as the third best offense this season behind only Phildelphia and Colorado, and would have ranked as the second best offense in 2008.

Giving the Reds offense the potential for that kind of boost would be a much better allocation of limited financial resources.