To trade or not to trade? That’s the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous run production, or to take (pitching) arms against the sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.

Not to Trade

Keep in mind, the Reds don’t have to trade anyone this offseason, comfortable with the heartache of low on-base percentage and the thousand natural outs that flesh is heir to.

They could instead choose to take their limited payroll room, sign an inexpensive, low-impact free agent, like Nori Aoki, to play left field and fix-up the bullpen. Sweat out another weary run with basically the same team.

It would amount to an all-in strategy that relies on immaculate health, elite defense, first-class starting pitching and Aroldis Chapman to close out games — peak status quo — the most passive version of 2013 + 2014 = 2015.

Meanwhile, the Reds could negotiate with all three of the pitchers and use leverage of the triple-track against each of them. Sign Mike Leake, say to a $56 million/4-year extension and retain Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos, at least until the trade deadline. If a sufficient number of body parts have held up, keep them all and go for it.

Rumors of CEO Bob Castellini’s love for current players and reluctance to make moves that smack of rebuilding reinforce the likelihood of this reactionary play. Modern-day insolence of office.

To Trade

Last offseason, Reds fans held out hope for trades that shook up the clubhouse and all we got was a new guy filling out the lineup card with a worse roster. But financial realities point to action this winter.

C. Trent Rosecrans reports an obvious but important perspective from said new guy, manager Bryan Price, “As much as I think we’d like to be able to keep every single guy and pay them what they deserve, it’s impossible to do it here. … Some of them may be able to command a six, six-plus year top-level salary and maybe are more in what you’d consider the affordable range. It doesn’t look good when you’re not trying to sign your best players, and you can’t sign them all. It’s impossible to keep them all.”

Further, there’s hope that the whips and scorn of the past two seasons will force the front office to the realization that hitting is now more scarce (and valuable) than pitching, leading the Reds to cash in on their surplus of quality hurlers. Enough teams are desperate for pitching, like the Yankees and Red Sox, or others that remain prisoners of obsolete “can’t-have-too-much-pitching” thinking, that the Reds should receive a lucrative and enticing return.

Of the two rationales for trading a starting pitcher — (1) exchange for current major league hitting, presumably a left fielder; or (2) exchange for top prospects, restocking with less expensive players and creating salary space to sign free agent hitting — either way, the Reds end up with needed bats.

Should the Reds be concerned about who fills in for departed starters? Of course, but only so much. Tony Cingrani replaced Cueto in 2013. Simon covered for Bronson Arroyo, Latos and Cingrani in 2014. And even Dylan Axelrod and David Holmberg stepped in capably for Homer Bailey at the end of the season. The large mitigating factor is defense. Whoever takes the mound in a Cincinnati uniform benefits greatly from Gold Glove defense, especially up the middle.

Steven Goldman wrote in Baseball Between the Numbers that defense is the invisible hand (in glove) that affects much of what we perceive as pitching. Reds starters enjoyed the largest benefit of any rotation from their defense. The Reds starting pitcher ERA was 3.37 (3rd best in the majors) while their fielding-independent score was 4.03 (25th best). The Reds can’t throw just any pitcher out there, but Billy Hamilton, Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier and Brandon Phillips will help keep ERAs down.

Trading pitching away means taking a chance. And here’s where last season’s injuries continue to hamper the Reds in the offseason. If Tony Cingrani, Homer Bailey and Mat Latos were healthy, trading away pitching would be easier. But not acting boldly is taking a chance as well, one that haunted the Reds in 2013 and 2014.

Ay, there’s the rub!

To sleep Mr. Jocketty, perchance to dream. Calamity of so long life these past two years. For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come? With the Reds much the same, as their fate once again shuffles off their mortal quad muscles and flexor masses, what games not won? Conscience (and fear of the unknown) does make cowards of us all.

The Reds head into 2015 an enterprise of great pith and moment. Be concerned if their currents turn awry and lose the name of action.


Tomorrow: The Reds’ Trading Chips