Plenty of attention has focused on what trades, if any, the Reds should pursue at the upcoming trade deadline. But a more defining moment for Walt Jocketty’s career with the Reds will likely come in the next twelve months when the organization confronts the issue of what to do with their starting pitchers.

Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Mat Latos are all available for free agency in 2016 and no one thinks the Reds will sign all three to an extension. The Reds have several courses of action they could choose:

  1. Keep all three through the 2015 season, sign who they can, make the other(s) a qualifying offer and receive compensation draft picks;
  2. Trade one or more of them for prospects; or
  3. Trade one or more of them for established major league players in positions the Reds need.

There are plenty of past deals where teams have traded quality starting pitching for prospects. In looking at past trades, a few conclusions stand out: the return on prospects is highly uncertain and trading away more years of team control doesn’t seem to necessarily return better prospects.

First, a brief description of the trade-worthiness of the Reds’ pitchers:

Johnny Cueto will be 30 going into the 2016 season. Ever since 2011, when he put up a 171 ERA+ and a 2.31 ERA, he has performed like a bona fide ace. As a short-term rental in 2015, he would be extremely attractive because of his low salary (10M, but if he is moved at the all-star break, this would be prorated), but he would probably be looking for a 5-6 year, 20-25M/year deal in the offseason.

Mike Leake will be 28 heading heading into the 2016 season. This year he is having his best season to date, posting a 3.67 FIP and on pace to eclipse 200 innings for the first time in his career. His 3.42 ERA(107 ERA+) and 3.96 K/BB rate are both a career-best. He is the cheapest option for any team because his 2015 season will be his final arbitration year. His value comes down to where you believe he is in his career development arc.

Mat Latos will be 28 heading into the 2016 season. His second year in the league, he finished eighth in the NL Cy Young voting. The last two years he has compiled over 200 innings for the Reds with a 3.48 ERA (3.85 FIP) in 2012 and a 3.16 ERA (3.10 FIP) in 2013. His injury this year complicates his trade value, but the early returns look good. Due to his age and past record of success, he will command serious market value, perhaps even being more expensive to sign than Johnny Cueto.

Given that teams have more flexibility and trading partners during the winter meetings than they do at the trade deadline, that’s the most likely time the Reds will make a deal. That doesn’t rule out the possibility they make a deadline deal (next year, most likely) or decline to make a deal altogether.

The Deal that Almost Killed Joe Posnanski

The Rays deal James Shields (2 years of team control) and Wade Davis for Kansas City’s Wil Myers and others. Kansas City is a small market team that cannot afford to keep their hometown superstars (Carlos Beltran, Jonny Damon, etc.). Yet, Wil Myers had not set foot on a major league diamond when his time as a Royal came to an end. Yes, the Royals traded away six cheap(er) years of the number one prospect in baseball for a thirty year old “Big Game James”.

Make no mistake, James Shields is a really good pitcher. At the time of the trade, he was a solid 4.0 fWAR (somewhere between 3.0 and 5.0 bbRef WAR). He had anchored the Ray’s rotation for multiple years. But he was on the wrong side of thirty and Wil Myers looked awfully special.

For the Royals, James Shields has been very good. Last year he posted a 4.5 fWAR/4.1bbRef although he has regressed a bit this year. With Shields, the Royals look like a team with hope, and the Royals have been testing that whole “hope springs eternal” thing for a while now.

For the Rays, Wil Myers has been pretty good. He posted a 2.4 WAR in 2013, but due to injury, has not had a significant impact this year.

Its too early to judge this trade because Myers is young. Yet, keep this in mind: even if the Reds traded for the number one prospect in baseball, the immediate impact might not be very meaningful.

Renting CC

The Brewers Acquire C.C. Sabathia (3 month rental) from Cleveland for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson, and Rob Bryson. Cleveland knew they would not be able to afford C.C. Sabathia, so they made a move at the trade deadline to try to salvage as much value as they could out of his remaining contract. Milwakuee was in the midst of a playoff run but had suffered a series of injuries that might have derailed their playoff chances.

Minor league baseball aficionados loathed this trade – those are four good pieces the Brewers gave up for half a year of Sabathia. Matt LaPorta was the Brewer’s #1 prospect and ranked the 23rd best minor league player by Baseball America. So, did the Brewers get fleeced as they emptied their coffers for half a year of an ace?

For Milwaukee, Sabathia was incredible. He went 11-2, threw 130.2 innings and posted a Cy Young-possible ERA of 1.65. In just three months, CC racked up 4.6 fWAR (4.9 BBref).

For Cleveland: Matt LaPorta: 0.2 WAR (2009), -0.7 (2010), -0.8 (2011), -0.1 (2012) [Out of the league in 2013). Total WAR: -1.4; Rob Bryson has not made it to the major leagues yet; Zach Johnson has appeared in three major league appetences since 2008 and has spent the rest of the time between AA and AAA, and Michael Brantley: -0.5 (2009), -0.6 (2010), 1.3 (2011), 2.7 (2012), 1.7 (2013), 2.6 (2014).

Cleveland made a deal in 2009 where they don’t even break even until 2014 (in terms of WAR). Now, Brantley looks like a legitimately good player in 2014, but, for Cleveland, this can’t be the way they thought the deal would go down.

Does trading more years of team control necessarily result in better prospects?

Above, the Brewers sent their #1 prospect, Matt LaPorta (and others), to Cleveland for three months of C.C. Sabathia. Despite his #1 status, LaPorta was not able to make a major difference at the MLB level. Yet other rentals have netted major returns:

Three months for three all-stars

In 2001, Cleveland trades: Bartolo Colon (3 months) and Tim Drew to Montreal for: Brandon Phillips (2B) (thank you, btw), Grady Sizemore (OF), and Cliff Lee (P).

Despite their fast start, winning 11 of their first 12, Cleveland had fallen out of the playoff race by mid-season. Montreal unexpectedly found itself in the midst of a playoff push. What made this even more surprising is the fact Montreal had spent most of the offseason trying to prevent MLB from contracting the team. It is unclear how much influence this had on the deal the followed. Bartolo Colon posted a 10-4 / 3.31 ERA for the Expos. He played well for Montreal, but the Expos were unable to make the playoffs. The Expos were unable to resign him the following year. Tim Drew was a career Minor Leaguer.

For Cleveland: At the time, Brandon Phillips was the key to this deal. He was the top prospect in the Cleveland organization and ranked the #22 prospect in baseball. Many thought he had the talent to be a really good ballplayer. They were right. Cleveland gave up too early on BP and another team in Ohio has benefited greatly from their mistake.

Grady Sizemore: in his first four full seasons with the Tribe, Sizemore put up 6.6 WAR (2005), 6.6 (2007), 5.5 (2008), and 5.5 (2009). After 2009, a series of injuries prevented us from seeing a potentially great career. Cliff Lee: he had a great career, but the one detail that says it all: he won the Cy Young award for Cleveland by going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA in 2008.

…Yes, Montreal gave up a Cy Young winner (Lee), a kid that put up over 24 WAR in 4 seasons (Sizemore), and a four-time gold glove winning second baseman (BP) for 3 months of Bartolo Colon.

But what about longer contracts? Does trading away multiple years of team control result in better trade results? Here is one of the longest exchanges of team control:

Thank You, San Diego

San Diego trades Mat Latos (4 years) to Cincinnati for Brad Boxberger (P), Yonder Alonso (1B), Yasmani Grandal (C) and Edinson Volquez (P). Going into the trade, Mat Latos has established himself as a legitimate front-line starting pitcher. Although he had never been recognized on Baseball America’s top 100 list, in only his second season he finished 8th in Cy Young voting. He was young, cost controlled pitching. He has been around a 4.0 WAR pitcher for the Reds, going 14-4 in his first year for the Reds and 14-7 in his second year.

This was a big deal for the Padres and Reds. The Reds knew they needed help in the rotation to help them make the playoffs. The Friers thought that quartet would be the core of a future playoff team. Alonso was the #33 prospect in all of baseball and Grandal was ranked #53 on that list. Edinson Volquez would help fill the game in their rotation, but had shown flashes of brilliance in the past.

In San Diego, things went awry.

Brad Boxberger pitched well for San Diego out of the bullpen (ERA+ 140 in 2012 and 123 in 2013) but only compiled 49.2 total innings for the team. This translated to only 0.2 WAR over those two years. He was later traded to the Rays.

The speculation here at RLN that the Reds should move Joey Votto to LF to make room for Yonder Alonso may have been a bit premature, to say the least. In his first two years with the Padres, Alonso posted 1.5 and 1.3 WAR, respectively. His OPS+ in these two years was uninspiring (110, 105). It got worse in 2014; this year, Alonso is one of the worst everyday regular player in major league baseball. He never developed any ability to drive the ball, and thats a bona fide occupational requirement if you are playing first base.

Yasmani Grandal (C): Due to being implicated in the Biogenesis investigation, Grandal was suspended fifty games in 2013. Before his suspension, in 2012, he showed serious potential, slashing .297/.349/469. This year, Grandal has become their everyday catcher, but has considerably lower numbers, including a staggering drop off in power: .208/.298/.372

Edinson Volquez played poorly for San Diego, posting a 9-10 record with a 6.01 ERA (57 ERA+).

Tony, who you might remember from the “Let’s go Streaking” article here at RLN, pointed out that this trade was even more disastrous for the Padres than the direct results indicate. Due to landing Alonso, the Padres felt they could deal Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs. Every year, Rizzo has put up at least a 2.0 WAR season, and this year is on pace to eclipse 5.0 WAR.

2.5 years of Team Control

Colorado sends Ubaldo Jimenez (2.5 years of team control) to Cleveland for Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Joe Gardner, and Matt McBride. Jimenez had finished third in the NL Cy Young voting the year before but was holding a 6-9 record and 4.20 ERA in 2011. Yet Cleveland was two games behind the Tigers and desperately needed pitching. They sent Pomeranz and White, two first round picks, to Colorado in the hopes Jimenez would put them over the top.

For two years, Jimenez literally anchored the Indians rotation. Jimenez finished 2011 with a 10-13 record 4.68 ERA. The following year, he posted a 9-17 record and a 5.40 ERA. Even fangraphs, which loved his high strikeout potential, gave him 0.1 WAR in 176.2 innings. Yikes. Finally, in 2013 Jimenez had a good campaign, going 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA and 3.2 fWAR. In 2014, Jimenez left Cleveland as a free agent and signed with the Orioles.

For Colorado: Drew Pomeranz (P): In 2011, he went 2-1 with the Rockies but posted a 5.40 ERA. He followed this up with a 2-9/ 4.93 ERA 2012 and an 0-4/6.23 ERA 2014. Alex White (P): In 2011 he went 3-4 with a 7.01 ERA. 2012 he went 2-9 with a 5.51 ERA. He did not play professional baseball in 2013 and is now with Huston’s AAA team. Joe Gardner (P): No major league appearences. He is currently pitching for the Chicago Cubs AA affiliate. Matt McBride (1B): He had 78 at bats in 2012 and has not been back to the major leagues since.

The Bedard Bust

Here is a shorter deal than Latos or Jimenez that netted (many) better prospects: Seattle acquires Erik Bedard (P, 2 years) from Baltimore for Adam Jones (OF), Chris Tillman (P), George Sherrill (P), Kam Mickolio (P), and Tony Butler (P).

At the time, Seattle believed they would become a contender with Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard co-leading their rotation. After posting a 61-101 record the following year, that assessment appears to have been slightly ambitious. When Bedard left Baltimore, he was openly critical of the origination, saying it was going backwards and was unable to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox. When asked if he was Seattle’s top pitcher, his response was, “No, I don’t care whether it’s No. 1, No. 2 or No. 5, as long as I don’t get skipped,” (link).

It was almost as if karma was listening. Bedard could not stay on the field for the Mariners, completing only 164 innings in his first two years with the M’s. During that time he went 6-4 and 5-3 respectively. His advanced stats reveal that he may have been the best in Baltimore, but only stood out by comparison. His FIP was always in the mid-3s while pitching for the O’s, and that number remained fairly stable throughout his tenure with the Mariners. In 2013, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox.

In Baltimore: Adam Jones quickly took over the center field role in Baltimore and has become a fixture of their outfield ever since. Ever since 2009 he has put at at least a 2.0 WAR season, topping out at 4.1 WAR in 2013. He is a four-time all star. Chris Tillman has been a starter in the O’s rotation since he came over from Seattle, but had his breakout year in 2013. He went 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA and was selected named to the all-star team. This year he has regressed a bit, his ERA+ falling from 110 last year to 97. George Sherrill(P) pitched 1.5 years for the O’s as a reliever. He was selected to the all-star team in his fist year, but only managed a 4.73 ERA (4.33 FIP). The next year he was traded to the LA Dodgers. Kam Mickolio (P) spent most of his time in AAA before being traded as part of the deal that brought Mark Reynolds to the O’s. Tony Butler (P) never made a major league appearance.

There is one huge difference between a rental and trading for multiple years. That is, you can re-trade a pitcher if it appears they are going to be too expensive to resign.

The Zack Greinke Saga

The Brew Crew made a serious play for the playoffs when they sent Alcides Escobar (SS), Lorenzo Cain (OF), and Jake Ordorizzi (P) to Kansas City for Zack Greinke (2 years), Yuniesky Betancourt and some cash. Zack Greinke had put together several strong seasons for the Royals, including winning the 2009 AL Cy Young award. Yet the Royals knew they would not be able to resign him, so they sent him to the highest bidder. The Brewers also felt the clock ticking: Prince Fielder would soon become a free agent and the city had not been to the World Series in almost thirty years. In December, the Brewers made a landed Greinke at the winter meetings.

Greinke in Milwaukee: 2011: 16-6 / 3.83 ERA / 1.5 BBref WAR (3.6 FanGraphs); 2012: 9-3 / 3.44 ERA / 2.2 BBref. Greinke did help Milwaukee make the playoffs in 2011, but after Greinke turned down an 5 year 100M extension, Milwaukee knew they needed to deal Greinke in 2012.

In Kansas City: Alcides Escobar (SS): was not a prospect at the time of the deal, having already completed a full year of MLB service at the time of the deal. He has been an everyday player for the Royals for the past three and a half seasons. Most of his value is derived from his defense (his career OPS+ is 76), but he has nearly hit 100 OPS+ in two seasons. In all, his WAR over the past few seasons is: 2010 (0.5); 2011 (2.7); 2012 (3.4); 2013 (-0.1).

Lorenzo Cain (OF) also relies one defense for most of his value (career 96 OPS+) but is having a career year this year (117 OPS+). During his few years in KC, he has accumulated a total of 7.9 WAR. He has yet to play an entire season, but is showing promise in 2014. Jake Ordorizzi (P): He was the number one prospect in the Brewers organization at the time of the deal. The Royals ended up trading him to Tampa Bay as part of the Shields deal. Up until this year, he had only pitched in 9 games for the Royals, but now finds himself as one of KC’s starting five. He has a4-8 record with mixed metrics 4.10 ERA (3.29 FIP). He is still only 24 years old, so there is plenty of time for him to develop.

Flipping Grienke

When the Brewers were unable to re-sign Greinke, they sent him (3 months) to the Los Angeles Angels for Jean Segura, Ariel Pena, and Johnny Hellweg. The Angels’ motivation for sending a trio of prospects to MIL for a rental on Greinke was described by the blog halos daily as:

At the time, I liked the trade a lot. The club had a long-term option at shortstop in Erick Aybar, so trading Jean Segura wasn’t a major issue. The rotation would be excellent with Greinke, and so trading Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg didn’t seem to hurt so bad, especially given the concerns about both prospects. Three good prospects for two months of a borderline #1 starter might not make sense in a vacuum, but the Angels’ circumstances made the move justifiable, at least in my opinion at the time.

At the time of the deal, the Halos were atop the wild card standings and only four back of the division leading Rangers. Yet the Angels bid for the playoffs crashed in the second half of the season. Greinke did not pitch poorly for the Angels, going 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA (3.89 FIP) through 89.1 innings, but the Angels were unable to make the playoffs. Greinke took his talents to the Los Angeles Dodgers the next season, signing a six year 147M contract.

At the sausage races: Jean Segura was the number one prospect in the Angels organization and the player Milwaukee wanted back for Greinke. He played in 44 games for the Brew Crew in 2012, posting an unimpressive 75 OPS+. The next year, however, he posted a 3.5 WAR season and OPS+’d at 106. Many thought this was his breakout year. In 2014, however, he has taken a serious regression and is having the worst year of his short major league career, posting -0.1 WAR through the first half. Ariel Pena (P) and Johnny Hellweg (P) have yet to make the major league roster. They are projected as back of the rotation starters.

The Deal that sent the Phillies to the big dance

In 2009, Cliff Lee was one year removed from accepting the AL Cy Young Award. Cleveland sent Lee (1.5 years of team control) and Ben Fransisco to Philadelphia for Jason Donald (IF), Carlos Carrasco (P), Lou Marson (C), and Jason Knapp (P).

In 2009, the Phillies and Lee went to the World Series, where Lee threw a one run complete game. Overall, he had a 7-4 record with a 3.39 ERA. The following year, Lee was involved a three team trade which sent Lee to Seattle and Roy Halladay to Philadelphia.

In Cleveland: Jason Donald (IF): In four seasons with Cleveland, Donald appeared in 170 games and posted a combined 0.6 WAR. Carlos Carrasco (P): At the time of the deal, he was one of Philadelphia’s top pitching prospects. Over the past five years, Carrasco has split time between the majors and the minors. His best year was 2011, going 8-9 with a 6.14 ERA over 124.2 IP. His overall record is not that rosy, though: 12-22 with a 5.08 ERA. Lou Marson (C): He has played 253 games for Cleveland, amassing 1.4 WAR over five seasons. He is not currently in the league. Jason Knapp (P): A-Level prospect that never made it to the majors.


Prospects are just that. As fans, we love prospects. They are hope for a better future. In almost every one of these deals, a team’s top prospect was traded. Even top prospects do not always hack it at the major league level. Perhaps the best example of this is Matt LaPorta, who was hailed as break-the-league style player back when he was dealt to Cleveland. Jean Segura, the top prospect for the Angels, has had mixed results so far with Milwaukee. Even Wil Myers, the number one freaking prospect in all of baseball, has yet to become the next Albert Pujols. You never know when, if ever, a prospect will fulfill their promise.

When reflecting on the Zack Greinke trade, Joe Posnanski wrote:

A few years ago, Bill James told me something I had never thought about before but now think about all the time, especially after trades like this one: Every single baseball team has prospects. Every one. The best teams. The worst teams. The smartest teams. The dumbest teams. They all have prospects. Not only that — every team has enough prospects to fill out a Top10 list. You never see a team’s “Top 7 Prospects” list because the team did not not have enough to fill out 10. No. They all have 10.

Most of these deals did not trade one star for a future star. This makes sense: why would a team send 6 years of a future star for 1 year (or 6 month) of a current ace. Given the uncertainty of prospects, if you think you’ve got something special, you don’t give it up for a rental. The major exception to this is the Wil Myers trade, but that’s a trade I still don’t understand.

Sometimes the haul can be significant. The Colon trade gave Cleveland three great players, while the CC Sabathia deal netted them very little. In both deals were the other team’s number one prospect.

Trading multiple years of control may not matter. The longest exchange of team control, Latos (4 years) did not gain an appreciably greater return than the other trades on this list (in fact, this is one of the worst deals on the list). Even the mid-legth deals (Greinke, Lee, Shields, Jimenez, Bedard) don’t seem to create greater certainty that the prospects a team receives will have a significant impact on the major league team.

For Walt Jocketty, this means the return a team will get at the trade deadline is probably not more reliable than what you get a year or a year and a half out. Given there are two more wild card slots, there will be more buyers than in these deal, so the return should be higher. If the Reds wait till the 2015 deadline, we won’t lose any value by only trading away a rental.

Set your expectations low. Sadly, for the Reds, this means that we should set our expectations low for what we will get back. Yes, we will all be excited for a top prospect or two, but the odds are against these players making a major impact at the major league level.

The pitchers might be too good to trade. The Reds might come to the conclusion that they should just let one of these pitchers walk during free agency. This is what we did with Choo last year. Sometimes players are too good to trade when the team is in the race or expects to contend. Given the uncertainty surrounding prospects, the Reds might want to try to win the World Series with their current pitching staff. Another team’s top prospect would be the opportunity cost of trying to bring home the commissioner’s trophy. And that’s a deal I would make every time.