Staring at a 13-game deficit in the division, the Reds should be considering “sell mode” as the next logical step for this season. Certainly, the players, writers, and fans are all aware of it. It’ll be a tricky tightrope to walk, both in terms of accomplishing a rapid rebuild and maintaining a certain trust with the fanbase (particularly with the All Star Game taking place in our neck of the woods).

Certainly, Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake are two of the most likely and intriguing trade assets, but as Jeremy Conley demonstrated in his trade value rankings, Aroldis Chapman and his extra year of team control could fetch a better haul of prospects than either of them. A Chapman trade could net a Top 50 prospect with the right partner; the question, then, is who Walt Jocketty and company could target and from whom.

There aren’t many recent precedents for a mid-season trade involving an elite closer with one more year of control. Last season, Boston flipped lefty bullpen stud Andrew Miller (whose contract was expiring) for an advanced prospect (Eduardo Rodriguez, who made a sterling MLB debut at the end of May). Before that, there was a trade involving Francsico Rodriguez in July 2011 (for 21 year-old righty Adrian Rosario and an old friend of the Reds, Daniel Ray Herrera) and the 2010 deadline deal where Washington sent 1.5 years of Matt Capps for their future catcher, Wilson Ramos, and a non-prospect minor leaguer.

None of the above are great comparables, partially because of Chapman’s extra year but mostly because he’s just so much better than all the names above. But those reference points at least serve to back up Jeremy’s expected return.

There’s plenty of time for the fringe contenders to determine if they’re buyers or sellers in earnest, but a few teams in the hunt right now need some help in their respective bullpens. Of course, Chapman would be an upgrade for any team (except, perhaps, Kansas City and the absolute back end of the Yankees’ bullpen), but the cache of the title of closer likely eliminates most contenders with an entrenched and effective last man in the bullpen (Angels, Padres, Dodgers, Twins) and an intradivision trade is certainly not going to happen.

That leaves us a few teams that are both in contention and desperate for a bullpen upgrade: Texas (second-worst bullpen in terms of FIP, eight blown saves, no true closer), Tampa Bay (fourth-worst, five blown saves), Seattle (ninth-worst, eight blown saves, the arrow-firing rollercoaster that is Fernando Rodney), Toronto (not a bad bullpen in terms of FIP—tenth-best—but 10 blown saves, most in baseball), and San Francisco (also not a bad bullpen overall, but Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo would both be better served by filling a setup role). Boston could potentially be in this conversation, but they are more likely to address their rotation if they can climb back to .500 and serious contention. Since the Giants may stick with Casilla or try out youngster Hunter Strickland in the closer role (and since they have a pretty barren farm system), let’s take them out of the running.

Now, let me insert a caveat here: I don’t know the intricacies of other teams’ farm systems as comprehensively as some out there. I owe a lot here to our own minor league expert Doug Gray, who gave me his thoughts on the names that will follow. So, big thanks to him for making this column more authoritative. Make sure to check out his site Reds Minor Leagues this week with the MLB Draft happening and Devin Mesoraco heading to Louisville for his rehab assignment.

Now, let’s look at the possible suitors and returns. Top 100 prospects are noted in parentheses with their Baseball Prospectus (BP) and Baseball America (BA) rankings.


Willy Adames

Chapman to Tampa Bay for SS Willy Adames (BP #94, BA #84) and LHP Blake Snell

The Rays have a less impressive stable of prospects than they’ve had in some time (considering the slew of effective pitchers they’ve developed in the last several years), but have a system with a good deal of talent up the middle of the field. Headlined by three shortstops—Adames, Daniel Robertson, and Adrian Rondon—and catcher Justin O’Conner, Tampa has some talent coming up through the ranks to help mitigate the setback that was their 2011 draft class with more to come starting this week.

Adames is both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus’ top prospect in the Tampa system, a 2012 international signing of the Tigers shipped to Tampa Bay in the David Price trade. He’s only 19, yet he’s performing very well in high-A ball (.299/.366/.428 slash line in 194 ABs), showing a feel for hitting beyond his age and great bat speed. His arm and hands are good enough for him to eventually slide to third base, though that would mitigate the value of his power (which would be slightly above average at shortstop, but far less so at the hot corner). His overall hit tool (which is rated anywhere from 50-60 on the 20-80 scale) may develop well enough to allow him to stick there in the end, but at his age Adames has a few more years to see if he can improve his feel for playing shortstop, where his value would certainly be higher.

Doug’s Take: “Still very young, but at an advanced level for his age and he’s performing well. He’s had some strikeout issues, and he’s got a high rate this season with 55 in 216 plate appearances. With his age and the level he’s playing at, it’s not a huge concern, but is something you’d want to keep an eye on. There’s 15-20 home run pop in his bat in the future and he’s got the arm to move to third base if he does outgrow the shortstop position in the future. The bat would obviously play much better at shortstop, but could be average at third in the current environment if things don’t change.”

Snell is a nice enough complimentary piece. He’s ranked ninth in the Rays’ system by Baseball America and tenth by Baseball Prospectus. A lefty starter with a likely future in the bullpen, Snell’s fastball is a decent low-90s offering, but his slider has plus potential. He’s performed nicely so far in his first stint at AA (1.48 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in 42.2 IP), but the one thing he needs to continue developing as a starter is better command. Doug and all the major outlets agree, his control as it is currently is better suited for the bullpen than starting. That being said, an adequate lefty reliever is a commodity the Reds could use.

alex jackson

Alex Jackson

Chapman to Seattle for OF Alex Jackson (BP #68, BA #20), LHP Luiz Gohara, and C Tyler Marlette

The Mariners’ farm system is one of the weakest in baseball (23rd overall in BPro’s Organizational Rankings), a top-heavy collection of high-risk, high-reward talent in the top ten with not much behind them (and further drained by last week’s Mark Trumbo trade). That being said, Seattle feels a certain pressure to make the playoffs and might be willing to part with a little more in terms of quantity to land Chapman.

Jackson and fellow top prospect D.J. Peterson are the only two talents in Mariners organization receive consideration for the Top 100 lists. As Peterson’s future seems to be at first base, Jackson and his wealth of potential is the best centerpiece for this deal. A 2014 high school draftee, he’s starting slow at class A Clinton after last season’s 24-game debut (in which he slashed .280/.344/.476). Athleticism is the buzzword surrounding him—his physical build and age indicate future plus (or better) power and his above-average arm could make him a first-division right fielder in the majors.

Doug’s Take: “[A] buyer beware candidate… He’s an elite level athlete who was drafted 6th overall in the 2014 draft with big tools, but he’s currently sitting in the Midwest League hitting .157 with just six walks and 35 strikeouts. It’s tough to put tools to use with an approach like that, and while he is young, plate discipline is the toughest hurdle to overcome because it’s generally not something you can teach. He’s a lottery ticket with a huge jackpot, but he’s also a bit of a longshot at this point.”

Gohara is a very young but electric lefty with no full-season pro experience yet (as he signed as a 16 year-old in 2012). His fastball, which can get into the upper 90s from time to time, is already bordering on a plus pitch. To compliment that, Gohara has a changeup which isn’t too far behind his fastball and a developing breaking ball that he will have plenty of time to refine. He’s big, young, and far from the majors—a high-risk but worthwhile asset for a Cincinnati farm system light on projectable lefties.

Marlette is a bat-first catcher who has been bouncing between high-A and AA ball both this season and last. His value will become clearer with more time at AA—as Doug and many other outlets mention, Marlette has potential 15+ home run power in his bat, but his feel for catching is under-developed. He’s improving (and we all know that it takes some more time for catchers to develop because of the intricacies of their position) and his best-case scenario for his MLB future looks something like Ryan Hanigan.

Nick Williams

Nick Williams

Chapman to Texas for RHP Jake Thompson (BP #47, BA #43) and OF Nick Williams (BP #71)

I like the possibilities with the Rangers because of the strength of their farm system (BPro’s #4 organization) and GM Jon Daniels’ occasional willingness to overpay (see: the Matt Garza trade with the Cubs). They may be better as a trade partner for Cueto (or a package of Cueto/Leake or Cueto/Chapman), which could net the Reds either outfielder Nomar Mazara or catcher Jorge Alfaro in addition to the above names or some combination involving one of them and reliever Keone Kela (who has the potential to be an MLB closer).

Thompson already has a solid fastball/slider combo, the former coming in both a four-seamer (mid 90s) and two-seamer (89-92) variety. His changeup lags a bit behind the other three offerings, but his feel for it is already pretty good as a 21 year-old with just a couple years of pro ball under his belt. His ceiling seems to be that of a number two starter in an average rotation, especially if he can maintain the K/BB rate he’s shown last season and thus far this year. His build bodes well for his development, as he stands at 6’ 4”, 235 pounds.

Williams is yet another high-risk, high-reward outfielder. His athleticism and ability to make contact at the plate make his potential sky high, with scouts highly regarding his contact, power, and run tools. He’s also another 2012 high school draftee and the risks that come with Williams are what you might expect from a toolsy high school bat—he’s too aggressive at the plate and lacks good instincts in the field and on the basepaths. Much like Doug said about Alex Jackson, he’s a lottery ticket with the potential for a huge payoff.

Doug’s Take: “He’s one of these buyer beware guys as well. He’s a human toolshed, who has hit well in his career, but he’s been an overly aggressive hitter with huge strikeout numbers and very few walks. 2015 has been a bit different though, already with a career high 22 walks and he’s really cut down on his strikeout rate. If the scouts believe that he’s truly made the adjustment and his approach isn’t going to be a detriment, he’s got a chance to be a future all-star who can provide quality defense in the corners, hit for average and 20+ home runs.”

Max Pentecost

Max Pentecost

Chapman to Toronto for C Max Pentecost and RHP Sean Reid-Foley

Pentecost likely could have been in the Top 100 if not for so many other member of the Jays’ farm system being ranked ahead of him and health concerns. The 11th overall pick in 2014, he’s coming back from a shoulder injury that started to affect him towards the end of 2014. His recovery from that is crucial to his value, as the injury occurred in his throwing arm’s shoulder and his bat doesn’t play well enough for him to be a major contributor at the corner infield positions.

Prior to his injury, though, Pentecost has put up great numbers and shown good agility and feet behind the plate. His gap-to-gap power implies he’ll be a solid doubles hitter but not much of a home run threat. Scouts like his baseball IQ quite a bit, he could develop into an awfully nice game-caller if he can maintain a clean bill of health in the coming seasons.

Doug’s Take: “He’s yet to play in 2015 after having shoulder surgery in the offseason. He then had a second shoulder surgery in the offseason and he has yet to play in 2015. As a catcher, he has to rely on his arm strength and two shoulder surgeries isn’t a good sign. His bat doesn’t project well outside of the catcher position either, as he doesn’t have much power to tap into and his plate discipline in his pro debut in 2014 was rather poor – granted it was in a small sample size.”

Reid-Foley isn’t as highly-touted a pitcher as some of the others in the Toronto system, but as a 2014 draft pick out of high school with an explosive fastball, he has loads of potential. So far, Reid-Foley only has a fastball and a slider he can use reliably—his changeup is far less effective at present, but with the natural velocity gap between it and his mid-90s fastball it could improve exponentially as his feel for his primary offerings improves. His mechanics are the most pressing concern, but as a recent prep arm all it will take is the right coaching staff to straighten them out and groom him into either a solid mid-rotation starter or late-inning reliever.