Major League Baseball’s winter meetings begin this morning and last until Thursday. San Diego hosts for the first time since 1985.
Baseball executives have been doing this for 113 years. What started as an industry practice for inter-team dialogue is now largely a tradition. The annual convention creates a convenient opportunity for team and player representatives to meet face-to-face in a short period of time. Yet, with cell phones, Skype, email and text messages, general managers have no difficulty communicating 24/7/365. Trades, free agent signings and contract extensions have already taken place this offseason. The Cardinals wasted no time inÃ‚Â adding Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden.
Clubs have arrived to the meetings with holes to fill. Most every one looking for offense. According toÃ‚Â Bob Martingale of USA Today, “Talk to every front office in baseball, listen to every manager in the game, and they’ll tell you how they’re desperately searching for hitters.” Can’t have too much pitching, pitching is baseball’s currency, blah, blah, blah — they’re out-of-date clichÃƒÂ©s.
The Reds are no exception, they’re in southern California in search of a starting left fielderÃ‚Â that can hit and get on base.
The exact strategy the Reds will take remains uncertain. Early rumors by national reporters suggested the Reds might use this offseason for a fire sale. That never made much sense, with the 2015 All-Star game set for GABP and the organization reasonably wanting to use the opportunity to build season ticket sales and display a successful team to network audiences. Plus owner Bob Castellini doesn’t seem like he’s ready to sign off on rebuilding. He’s more of an “add one piece and we can win again” kind of guy. And why would Walt Jocketty, at age 63, agree to a 2-year extension with the task dismantling his current team? Jocketty himself threw cold water on the rebuilding theory this week at Redsfest.
Rather, the Reds’ strategy will come from a range of options between doing little and doing a lot, but invariably building in the short term. With last week’s trade of Chris Heisey and the release of Ryan Ludwick, the absolute least the Reds can do is sign an inexpensive left field free agent like Nori Aoki (no to Nori) or trade for a low-cost outfielder like Matt Joyce who would man the left-field corner for a year until Jesse Winker arrives.
But Castellini’s Reds might choose to do more than just the bare minimum. Hosting the All-Star game doesn’t generate enough excitement on its own to jump start ticket sales. The only things more boring than drying paint are healing quad and flexor mass muscles.
As someone who let his season ticket offer expire on Friday, I can attest that a bold move or two would be welcome to fans. The Reds’ front office is about to celebrate a dubious two-year anniversary of the last time it made a meaningful move. The Reds traded for Shin-Soo Choo on December 11, 2012. It’s been crickets, gritty Skip and ‘we got Jack’ since then.
Clever organizations rebuild without scorching the earth. I’veÃ‚Â outlinedÃ‚Â and detailedÃ‚Â howÃ‚Â the Reds could trade Johnny Cueto for a young outfielder, trade Jay Bruce for a young pitcher and use the money they save from those two steps to take on the salary of a significant upgrade in the batting order, like Matt Kemp, whom LA will move. Kemp (30) hit .287/.346/.506 last year and .309/.365/.606 with 17 home runs in a fully healthy final 64 games. That’s just one example of how an aggressive front office can get younger without surrendering. Another would be capped off by a three-team trade for Justin Upton.
The Reds could at last summon the nerve to turn Aroldis Chapman into Madison Bumgarner, or failing that, to trade him. We’re all head-over-heels with the Cuban Missile’s strikeout rate. But in save conversions, the bottom line metric for pitchers who specialize in the ninth inning, Chapman is just one or two games better than league average. His once-a-generation arm would be many times moreÃ‚Â valuable to the Reds as a starter or in the trade market.
The specificsÃ‚Â ofÃ‚Â Walt Jocketty’s plan might become clear in San Diego. But they might not. Jocketty’s M.O. with the Reds has been to make major moves after the winter meetings, not during. And they often appear as bolt-from-the-blue surprises.
Either way, news out of San Diego should provide kindling for the Reds’ cold stove.
Even if the club doesn’t do anything this week, actions taken by other teams may expedite Jocketty’s plans. As starting pitchers, led by free agent Jon Lester, begin to find homes, it will clarify where the Reds stand with their own players and accelerate discussions with other teams. Clubs that lose the Lester competition may turn to Cueto or Mat Latos. After the ‘t’ in Lester becomes crossed and the contract’s AAV and length apparent, teams will look for pitchers with shorter, less risky contract horizons. The Reds, ahem, have four of those.
Don’t forget that another vital part of building a winning roster is signing current players to extensions. Mike Leake, Latos and Devin Mesoraco strike me as the best candidates this offseason. And the Reds need to avoid the temptation to ink a then-30-year-old Johnny Cueto to a too-long, too-costly, sentiment-driven extension. There’s plenty for the club to get right or not in upcoming weeks.
The Reds’ offseason is just getting started. There’s no trophy for acting first or fast. Only for acting smart. And for that, it’s an awfully nice award.