LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s play a simple game: pairing two tradeable Reds and picking a team that would be the best destination for the set of players. (After all, the Reds best chance at a big return is for the club to package players.) Since Todd Frazier is not on the trading block, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll keep the list to Jay Bruce, Marlon Byrd, Aroldis Chapman, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Manny Parra, Brayan Pena, and Brandon Phillips.
There are some Ã¢â‚¬Å“contendersÃ¢â‚¬Â I left out of this list for a variety of reasons. The Reds wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be doing anything to help out the Pittsburgh Pirates or the St. Louis Cardinals — though IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m certainly not opposed to it — and in any case, both clubs are poor trade fits with the Reds. I think the Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, and Tampa Bay Rays and will eventually fall out of the playoff race, and more importantly, would probably prefer to hoard their assets for more serious playoff runs in 2016. The Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants are poor fits for package deals. Lastly, the Boston Red Sox reportedly want to acquire younger, more controllable pitchers.
Note: Prospect rankings via MLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Baltimore Orioles: Bruce and Cueto
A list of Orioles slated to become free agents at seasonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s end (per CotÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s contracts & Baseball Reference): 1B/OF Chris Davis, SP/RP Bud Norris, C Matt Wieters, SP Wei-Yin Chen, RP Darren OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Day, and INF/OF Steve Pearce.
Also, SP Miguel Gonzalez, SP Chris Tillman, RP Brian Matusz, RP Zach Britton, 3B Manny Machado, INF/OF Ryan Flaherty, and OF Travis Snider are arbitration-eligible. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a heck of a lot of uncertainty monetarily for a club with a payroll of nearly $119 million this season.
My strategy would be to go for it in 2015 — only six and a half games separate the first-place Yankees and last-place Red Sox in the American League East. Bringing in a package of Bruce and Cueto would electrify the Orioles and change the scope of the division race. (Remember, teams rightly want to avoid the Wild Card play-in at all cost.) And with many aforementioned pieces of the team due for free agency or big raises, the Orioles could look radically different next season. Time to go for it.
BaltimoreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s outfield is producing at a below-average level offensively — and most of that production is coming from stud center fielder Adam Jones. The Orioles have to keep these things in mind: Nelson Cruz ainÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t walking through that door this year. Two,Ã‚Â J.J. Hardy isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hitting at all. Three, in the 1B/corner OF/DH spots, are you really going to count on Flaherty, Pearce, Snider, Chris Parmelee, and Jimmy Paredes to supplement Davis, Jones, Machado, and Wieters in the lineup? CÃ¢â‚¬â„¢mon, now — go get Jay Bruce.
On the pitching side of things, the OriolesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ starting pitchers rank 11th out of 15 AL teams in xFIP and boast mediocre strikeout numbers. With Chen and Ubaldo Jimenez being the only Baltimore starters with xFIPs under four, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time for an upgrade. A big upgrade. The Orioles have been scouting Cueto. They should go get him.
The main roadblock to this is prospect fit. Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, the Orioles top two pitching prospects — both are ranked in the top 34 of MLB.comÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rankings — have major injury red flags. Christian Walker, the organizationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top hitting prospect, has made all of his 318 minor league starts at first base, a position on the Reds that stands to be occupied by Joey Votto for the rest of the decade. BaltimoreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s next best position prospect is 20-year-old High-A catcher Chance Sisco, whose bat is reportedly way, way ahead of his defense. Sisco also profiles as a below-average runner, so a position change to first base or DH for Sisco wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be of any benefit to the Reds.
If IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m the Reds, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d go a different route and ask for starter Kevin Gausman, the flame-throwing fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft with big strikeout potential who was recently demoted to Triple-AÃ‚Â but stands to return to BaltimoreÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rotation after the All-Star break. GausmanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fWAR in 2014 was 2.1 in 113.1 innings.
Possible trade: Bruce and Cueto to the Orioles; Triple-A starter Kevin Gausman, Triple-A starter Tyler Wilson (Orioles No. 8 prospect), and Low-A third baseman Jomar Reyes (Orioles No. 11 prospect) to the Reds.
Chicago Cubs: Chapman and Leake
The odds of a Reds-Cubs trade are slim because people in the Reds front office/ownership would likely postulate the following: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Can you imagine if Chappy and Leake kicked our behinds for the Cubs later in the season? How embarrassing would that be?Ã¢â‚¬Â That, of course, would be prehistoric reasoning to NOT make a trade — such sentiments areÃ‚Â similar to that of a jilted ex worrying that he/she might see their former significant other at the ballpark — that could alter the short-term future of a franchise that is going nowhere this year or next year in a loaded NL Central.
The Cubs would be inclined to do this deal because Hector Rondon, Jason Motte, and Pedro Strop have all been given shots at the closing gig — Chapman would settle that merry-go-round for manager Joe Maddon. As far as starting pitchers go, while ChicagoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rotation owns the NLÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s second-best xFIP, the club has encountered trouble at the back end of the rotation, and the bullpen has logged more innings than any other NL contender aside from the Pirates. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s where innings-eater Mike Leake comes in. (Even if the Cubs are reportedly not looking at free-agent-to-be starters.) Leake doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t need to usurp ChicagoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top three of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Jason Hammel in the rotation. He just needs to deliver quality starts.
On the prospect side, the Reds should go after the CubsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ still-loaded horde of position player prospects. If IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m Walt Jocketty, I make no Chapman-Leake deal with the Cubs unless I receive Kyle Schwarber (Cubs No. 2 prospect, No. 40 in MLB.comÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Top 100) or Albert Almora (No. 3, No. 46) to headline the return package.
Possible trade: Chapman and Leake to the Cubs; Triple-A catcher Kyle Schwarber OR Double-A outfielder Albert Almora, and High-A third baseman Jeimer Candelario (Cubs No. 12 prospect) to the Reds.
Houston Astros: Byrd and Cueto
George Springer should be back at some point, but in general, HoustonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s outfielders are very young — among those that get regular playing time, 28-year-old Colby Rasmus is the elder statesman by three years. So, Byrd would provide a nice injection of wisdom as well as pop off the bench.
The Astros reportedly prefer Cueto over Cole Hamels. Johnny Beisbol could co-anchor the rotation with AL Cy Young contender Dallas Keuchel, which would allow the young but dazzling Lance McCullers and the solid Colin McHugh to slot in nicely behind a fearsome duo of Cueto and Keuchel. Despite promoting former minor-league stars McCullers, Springer and shortstop Carlos Correa (amongÃ‚Â others) over the past year or so, the Astros still possess the prospects to get this trade done.
Possible trade: Byrd and Cueto to the Astros; Double-A outfielder Brett Phillips (Astros No. 6 prospect, ranked No. 94 in MLB.comÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Top 100), Double-A pitcher Josh Hader (Astros No. 9 prospect), and High-A pitcher Daniel Mengden (Astros No. 20 prospect) to the Reds.
Los Angeles Angels: Bruce and Phillips
While the AngelsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ bullpen could certainly use Chapman, they have more pressing needs in left field (dead last in majors in wRC+), second base (Johnny Giavotella isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t cutting it), and in the rotation (12th out of 15 AL teams in xFIP), though in the case of the latter, the emergence of Andrew Heaney and the eventual return of Jered Weaver numb that need a bit.
As far as left field goes, both Bruce and Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun have very limited major league time in left field and are on near-equal footing as far as Defensive Runs Saved goes, but in any case, one of them likely wouldn’t have a problem moving to left to help the team.
At second base, Phillips (4 DRS) is a massive upgrade defensively over Giavotella (-9 DRS), and while PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ offensive game these days is bereft of power, he could help turn the lineup over for Bruce, Calhoun, Mike Trout, and Albert Pujols. It must be said that as the owner of 10-and-5 rights, Phillips has toÃ‚Â approve anyÃ‚Â trade. If I were him, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d make the move, and I think the Angels would be willing to eat Bruce and PhillipsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ remaining salaries ($39.5 million for 2016-17) in exchange for a lower return in prospects.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Chapman and Leake
Spearhead by the typically-unhittable Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Dodgers rotation leads the NL in xFIP and K-BB%. And yet, the reality is that behind that dynamic duo, Los AngelesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ rotation is paper-thin. Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu are lost for the season. Brett Anderson, Mike Bolsinger, and Carlos Frias have been solid behind Kershaw and Greinke, but not one of those three possesses a recent track record of success as a big-league starter. (Remember, this is a team that fancies itself a World Series contender — and it should.) Brandon Beachy could be back soon, but Frias just went on the disabled list. The Dodgers needs find a solid starter (Leake) to install behind Kershaw and Greinke. (Leake, rumored to prefer a return to his native West Coast, would seem to be a strong candidate to re-sign with the Dodgers this winter.)
Possible trade: Chapman and Leake to the Dodgers; Double-A pitcher Jose De Leon (Dodgers No. 4 prospect, ranked No. 93 in MLB.comÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Top 100), Triple-A infielder/outfielder Darnell Sweeney (Dodgers No. 7 prospect), and Triple-A pitcher Joe Wieland (Dodgers No. 14 prospect) to the Reds.
Kansas City Royals: Byrd and Cueto
Cueto gives an ace-less staff a true No. 1, and (on paper) dramatically improves a rotation ranked 14th inÃ‚Â the AL in xFIP and strikeout rate. Even though Chapman would undoubtedly improve the Kansas City Ã¢â‚¬Ëœpen, the RoyalsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ relief core is plenty good already. And as far as Leake goes, adding him doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t move the needle enough.
The Royals are really hurting for outfield help right now. Bruce could be a fit, but I think Kansas CityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top priority should be targeting help atop their rotation — especially since Alex Gordon (groin strain) is expected back before the regular season culminates — so, Byrd is the more appropriate fit for a short-term need/bench bat.
Possible trade: Byrd and Cueto to the Royals; Double-A pitcher Kyle Zimmer (Royals No. 3 prospect, ranked No. 47 in MLB.comÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Top 100) and Double-A outfielder Bubba Starling (Royals No. 13 prospect) to the Reds.
New York Yankees: Bruce and Leake
A popularly-circulated story on Reds Twitter recently was this Sporting News piece hypothesizing a Cueto-Phillips package to the Yankees. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s difficult to argue that Cueto and Phillips would not significantly improve the Yankees. Cueto could be a piece that pushes the Yankees over the top in a crowded AL East race, and Phillips would be a massive upgrade to a position thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been nothing short of a black hole offensively and defensively.
My counter would be that the top of New YorkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rotation is already strong with Michael Pineda — who is performing like one of the top starters in baseball — and Masahiro Tanaka pitching effectively with whatever ligaments remain connected in his right elbow. Ivan Nova has pitched well since coming back from Tommy John, and Nathan Eovaldi has held his own. Leake would add nice depth to the rotation, mainly due to C.C. SabathiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s struggles.
As far as Bruce and the Yankees, what I wrote about this possibility recently still holds true today:
Yankees: Bruce would have to waive his no-trade clause in order to be shipped to the Bronx, but he would immediately enhance their right field situation Ã¢â‚¬â€ though Chris Young has been better than expected and Carlos Beltran has improved over last two months Ã¢â‚¬â€ and add to whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been one of the majorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ top offenses. Also, Bruce would give the Yanks an impressive defensive outfield, with Brett Gardner in left and Jacoby Ellsbury in center. Lastly, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an enticing short right field porch at Yankee Stadium for Bruce to consider.
Toronto Blue Jays: Chapman and Cueto
The Blue Jays own the top run differential (plus-82) in the American League, yet are a game under .500 and 4.5 games back of first place in the AL East. Why? Starting pitching. TorontoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s starters are ranked 13th out of 15 AL teams in xFIP and K-BB% and 14th in fWAR. The bullpen has been much, much better than the rotation.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time for the Blue Jays to act and go for it. (Again). The clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s offseason acquisition of Josh Donaldson was a sage move, and it surely doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to waste an MVP-type season from the third baseman. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the cornerstones of the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s offense for years, have been productive players in 2015, but each have team options for the 2016 season and are showing signs of slowing down. Jose Reyes and Russell Martin are already 32. The AL East is winnable. Go get Chapman, and your bullpen goes from very good to potentially-dominant. Go get Cueto, and your rotation isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a tire fire and allows Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison, and Co. to fall in line behind Cueto. The price will be steep, but Toronto has the prospects to pull it off.
Possible trade: Chapman and Cueto to the Blue Jays; Triple-A pitcher Daniel Norris (Blue Jays No. 1 prospect, ranked No. 13 in MLB.com Top 100), High-A pitcher Sean Reid-Foley (Blue Jays No. 6 prospect), and Double-A outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. (Blue Jays No. 9 prospect) to the Reds.
Washington Nationals: Byrd and Chapman
The Nationals have already been Ã¢â‚¬Å“linkedÃ¢â‚¬Â to Chapman, and with many key players (Ian Desmond, Doug Fister, Denard Span, Jordan Zimmerman) in line for free agency this offseason — not to mentioned the advanced age (89) of owner Ted Lerner — Washington wants to win now.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why acquiring Chapman to fortify an already-sturdy bullpen makes sense, as does acquiring Byrd as insurance in case outfielders Span (back) and Jayson Werth (wrist) endure serious complications to their current injuries. Byrd also offers far more experience than current backups Matt den Dekker, Clint Robinson, and Michael Taylor.