The last two seasons have left plenty of Reds fan disappointed and exasperated.
Facing the reality of financial constraint and not liking the status-quo feel ofÃ‚Â roster conservatism, many instead are calling for Walt Jocketty to blow up the team.
But what would such a Big Bang theory mean, exactly, and is it the right move?
For some fans, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the equivalent of opening up a window, sticking their head out and shouting, Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m mad as hell and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not going to watch all those strikeouts and base running mistakes any more.Ã¢â‚¬Â Channel Howard Beale, feel better and figure out the details later.
Others see the Reds as having now missed the opportunity to win with this core group of players. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re ready to trade the headliners for prospects and start rebuilding.
A final segment of Cincinnati fans says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“If the Reds think all they need to do is get healthy, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re mistaken.Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â This group believes their perspective is more nuanced than howling out the window or pushing the detonator. But in fact, that point of view is stuffed full of straw.
No one, not even Walt Jocketty, believes that all the Reds need to do is get healthy. No one. The Cincinnati Reds need a new left fielder, at a minimum. Everyone gets that. There is certainly reasonable disagreement about what the Reds can and should give up to acquire one. But those whose argument is that the front office is simply waiting for distal quads and flexor masses to heal are as full of straw as Ray Bolger.
But letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s get back to the notion Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a drastic one Ã¢â‚¬â€œ of blowing up the team.
First, trading a starting pitcher or Aroldis Chapman for a new left fielder isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t radical. That isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t blowing up the team. In fact, some variation of that is Walt JockettyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most likely offseason move. There are certainly degrees here. Trading Aroldis Chapman and Johnny Cueto is a bigger step than trading Mike Leake. But if the goal is to acquire 2015 hitting, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not a Big Bang detonation. It’s just trading major league pitching for major league hitting.
Second, trading the Reds’ best players for prospects Ã¢â‚¬â€œ straight rebuilding Ã¢â‚¬â€œ is impractical and not guaranteed to work. Franchises that sell off their premier players for prospects fail more often than they succeed. And in the few examples where rebuilding worked the process took several years. Bob Castellini isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t going to concede the 2015 season. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not in his DNA and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not going to happen in the same season heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hosting the All-Star game.
Trading a star player for a handful of prospects is no sure pathway to the postseason. The Reds have experienced that first hand on the receiving end with Mat Latos. Ask the Padres how they feel about the haul of top young players they received for their stud RHP. In July, Mike Maffie wrote a 4,000-word post detailing the hit-and-miss outcome of trading for prospects.
The Reds need hitting. But they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t become a better hitting team in 2015 by trading Jay Bruce or Joey Votto. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s understandable to be frustrated with the two left-handed sluggers’ 2014 seasons. But it’s a huge leap to conclude the Reds should trade either one of them. Successful teams don’t act impulsively in reaction to fan emotions.
A close and realistic look shows the Reds don’t have many encouraging options for trading position players. “Let’s trade our bad players for their good ones” rarely works in fantasy baseball. Try it with Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman.
Joey Votto can’t be moved this offseason for two reasons. Votto didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get an opportunity to demonstrate that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s healthy and he wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a chance to do that in time to pull off any blockbuster deal. And even if he could it’s doubtful the Reds could find a trading partner willing to take on the first-basemanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s massive contract.
Face-saving protestations notwithstanding, the Reds tried to trade Brandon Phillips last offseason and couldn’t. With BP a year older and a longer record of injuries and declining performance, Dat contract is even more upside down now. Phillips has also acquired 10/5 veteran rights, which means he can block a trade.
Even if the Reds were simply looking to unload those contracts, it’s unlikely either Votto or DatDude could be shipped off as a salary dump now.
The player who generated the most frustration this summer was Jay Bruce. If you believe the 2014 Bruce is the one who will suit up for the Reds going forward AND if you can find a trading partner who values the 2015 Bruce, at age 28, as the 2012 and 2013 Silver Slugger winner, you might find an opportunity to win a hitting-for-hitting exchange. More likely though, if the Reds shop Bruce, theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be selling low.
Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier could be traded, but the Reds don’t have obvious in-house replacements that would be improvements, taking defense into account. The league markets for shortstops and third basemen with bats are skimpy. Because of his poor performance at the plate, Cozart wouldn’t bring much in return. It’s hard to think of a third baseman theÃ‚Â Reds could realistically acquire to replace Frazier who wouldn’t be a downgrade.
Devin Mesoraco has become the most valuable position player on the team. Trading him is a non-starter. If “untouchable” describes any player on the roster it would be Hot Mes, especially since the Reds would be looking for hitting in return.
Billy Hamilton is simultaneously too amazing and too awful to trade right now. HamiltonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defense obviously provides substantial value, but his complete collapse at the plate after the All-Star break limits his return. The other team would have to believe his bat ends up somewhere between the extremes of his 2014 season. The SB donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t provide much value given the accompanying CS. On the other hand, he did start to walk more at the end of the season. He could easily improve. And heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cheap, with two more pre-arbitration years.
That leaves the pitchers. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll tackle their value later.
Like shouting out the window, the Big Bang theory for the Reds offseason may feel good in the moment, but it’s hard to see much in the way of real, reliable dividends. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worth remembering that Howard Beale was eventually killed because of lousy ratings.
Getting the Offseason Right – Next: The relative value of hitting vs. pitching