It’sÃ‚Â rare when you’re anxious in a good way for the next shoe to drop.
The Reds front office has assured fans that the trades of Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon and Chris Heisey were just the first move in a two-step solution to the Reds problems this offseason. Presumably, that next shoe will be worn by the team’s new left fielder.
Those concerned that the trades signaled financial retrenchment by CEO Bob Castellini, receivedÃ‚Â a bit of assuranceÃ‚Â (C Trent Rosecrans) from general manager Walt Jocketty yesterday, who indicated the team’s payroll will continue to increase in 2015.Ã‚Â “Our payroll has increased every year, despite what some people are writing or thinking, our payroll is increasing again this year,” Jocketty said. “It’s not increasing to the level it would need to have been able to keep the guys we traded. It’s still increasing quite a bit over last year, but everyone’s salaries are jumping up. We knew that going into last year.”
That’s consistent with what we’ve projected since September (The Almighty Dollar, The Reds Payroll Situation, Keep Your Eye on the Payroll). The Reds’ payroll in 2014 was $114 million. Structural increases triggered by contracts and arbitration status would have driven total payroll well north of $130 million, without adding a single player. Castellini gave Jocketty a magic number greater than $114 million but less than $135 million. The guess here is $125 million when all is said and spent, another generous increase. $130 million wouldn’t be surprising, if the right player is available.
Step One was eliminating current obligations. Scratch Latos ($8.4 million), Simon ($5.1 million) Logan Ondrusek ($2.3 million) and Heisey ($2.2 million).
Step Two is acquiring a left fielder who can have a positive impact on the Reds offense.
That’s the part requiring patience. Every day, other teams are finding solutions in the outfield, through trade or free agent signings. Yesterday, the Padres tapped into Tampa Bay’s surplus of outfielders by trading for Wil Myers, AL Rookie of the Year in 2013. The list of OF who have already found new teams is long: Melky Cabrera (White Sox), Nick Markakis (Braves), Yeonis Cespedes (Tigers), Jason Heyward (Cardinals), Matt Kemp (Padres), Michael Morse (Marlins), Alex Rios (Royals), Matt Joyce (Angels), Yasmany Thomas (Diamondbacks), Nelson Cruz (Mariners), Michael Cuddyer (Mets) Torii Hunter (Twins), Justin Ruggiano (Mariners) and Kyle Blanks (Rangers).
The cream of the free agent market for OF has dwindled to Nori Aoki (questionable defense, no power, terrible base-runner) and Colby Rasmus (sub .300 OBP). Trade candidates are out there. Commonly mentioned are Justin Upton and Dexter Fowler.
Speculation appearedÃ‚Â yesterday that the Padres will look to move an OF or two. They have Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, Will Venable and Seth Smith to add to their newly minted corners Myers and Kemp. Quentin comes with a one-year $11 million price tag and an ÃƒÂ¼ber-fragile body. Maybin and Venable wouldn’t help the Reds offense. That leaves Seth Smith.
Smith (32) has two years left on an easy-to-handle contract. He’s owed a total of $13 million for 2015 and 2016, with a $7 million team option in 2017. The time is right for the Padres to shop Smith, since he’s coming off a career year where he hit .266/.367/.440, playing half his games at pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Yes, he’s a candidate for regression. But even at a lower projection (Steamer) of .248/.336/.407, he would still help the Reds offense. And have I mentioned he’s affordable. Smith’s contract would make him easy to unload if and when Jesse Winker knocks down the door.
A possible match for Smith could involve Zack Cozart and a pitching prospect. San Diego is looking for a shortstop who isn’t 36 years old (Clint Barmes) or one who has Cozart’s bat without his glove (Alexi Amarista). The Reds could dip into their surplus of starting pitcher prospects (not talking top tier) to make the deal.
Walt Jocketty pleaded to Reds fans for patience. Yes, it’s worth repeating that trophies aren’t given for teams that act first or early. But it’s also the case that the market may get tighter, not easier, over time. Scarcity has a way of raising the price. The ever-inevitable Nori Aoki is a questionable signing at market value. Overpaying would heap pain and insult on top.