If there was an All-Star team for city-wide event hosts, Bob Castellini and the city of Cincinnati would be Mike Trout. Kudos to them for throwing a gracious, thoughtful, fabulous affair. The bottom line was the guests had fun. In the end, the only thunder rumbled off of Todd Frazier’s batÃ‚Â and the onlyÃ‚Â lightning flashes came from Aroldis Chapman’s left arm. If you’re a fan of the Cincinnati Reds or a resident of the Queen City, you can rightly be proud today. Once again, the non-baseball side of the Reds organization proved it is second to none.
But the significant issues facing the baseball side of the Reds operation linger unwelcome like the drunk co-worker who doesn’t know when to leave the party.
Will the Reds make changes in the organization?Ã‚Â Bryan Price and members of his coaching staff could be fired, although reports this morningÃ‚Â citing Bob Castellini indicate that won’t be the case. Firing the coaching staff might make a few fans feel better, but wouldn’t address the real problem.Ã‚Â General manager Walt Jocketty and members of his front office staff could be let go, although the day trade talks were likely to heat up isn’t the ideal time for that.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Vague rumorsÃ‚Â to the contrary, I sort of doubt it. But neither would those moves shock me.
What does seem likely is the Reds will participate in player trades – maybe more than one.Ã‚Â It’s important to keep in mind that trades are about contracts as much as they are about talent. Johnny Ceuto is a great pitcher, but the team who receives him would be trading for only 15-18 of his starts. When looking at possible returns from trading him, don’t ask What is Johnny Cueto worth? Instead, ask What are 15 starts by Johnny Cueto worth?
The answer is quite a bit, to an organization at a high-opportunity point. That’s why they would be willing to sacrifice talented players with multiple years of team control for three months of Johnny Beisbol. But there’s a limit. Expecting clubs to mortgage their future is unreasonable.
The questions of trading partners, bundling and specific returns have been covered here the past few weeks.Ã‚Â Yesterday, Grant Freking outlined specific trade partners and player match-ups. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve posted two analyses of trading Jay Bruce, by Grant and Nick Carrington;Ã‚Â an upbeat outlook on 2016 by Mike Maffie; a post by Nick on the returns from the Nationals for Chapman; a post from Nick Kirby in favor of trading Todd Frazier and posts from Kevin Michell on the Reds’Ã‚Â matchup with the Detroit Tigers and trade returns for Chapman.
As the Reds move forward the next two weeks, follow how they approach two larger strategic questions.
1. Will the trades be limited to Reds players who are walking at the end of 2015?Ã‚Â
The list of relevant players in that category include: Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Marlon Byrd, Manny Parra and Brayan PeÃƒÂ±a.
Or will the Reds move players they control through 2016 and beyond? They include: Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman and possibly Brandon Phillips.
The issue is whether the Reds will look to rebuild quickly, as soon as 2016, or blow up the core of the team. If the Reds view themselves as possible contenders next year, they will stick to trading from the first group. If the front office is looking for more fundamental personnel turnover, they would include players from the second list.
The latter perspective is held by Reds radio announcer Marty Brennaman. Brennaman appeared on the MLB radio show The Leadoff Spot yesterday with Steve Phillips and Todd Hollandsworth. Brennaman’s view can be summarized this way: The core group of players – Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Homer Bailey and Zack Cozart – has proven they aren’t good enough to compete with St. Louis or Pittsburgh. The Reds need to trade those parts for good young talent, rebuild and plan to compete 2-3 years from now. That’s what I would characterize loosely as the Blow It Up camp.
One difficulty with the Blow It Up strategy is that it’s easier said than done. Votto has a big contract and full no-trade rights. Phillips’ contract is easier to swallow, but he’s earned full no-trade rights as well, based on his veteran status. Todd Frazier is untradeable now given his iconic stature with Reds fans. Zack Cozart and Homer Bailey are recovering from major surgeries. They would be impossible to move other than for pennies on the dollar. That leaves Jay Bruce and Aroldis Chapman. (More on Jay Bruce in a second.)
Chapman is the outlier here. If he was a starting pitcher, no way I’d trade him. He’d pitch on Opening Day 2016 and to packed houses every fifth day after that. But as a closer, he offers little value to the Reds above what another pitcher could provide. If the Reds are committed, as it seems, to using the most electric arm in baseball just in the ninth inning of games they are already ahead, I’d trade him (which I’ve been saying since 2011). His value in the trade market dwarfs his value to the Reds in that limited role.
So while it’s easy and feels good to shoutÃ‚Â blow it up, laying out a plausible path for doing that is another matter.
2. Will the Reds target players who help immediately or look for prospects with minor league time ahead of them?Ã‚Â
The trade of Mat Latos for Anthony DeSclafani is an example of the former. The trade of Alfredo Simon for Eugenio Suarez falls into that category as well. That’s what you would expect from an offseason trade by an organization that views itself as a contender the following season.
But trades at the July deadline are different. There is a limit to how much a trading partner who is in the middle of a pennant drive will give up when it comes to contributing 25-man roster pieces. They are much more inclined to trade players who offer production next year or beyond, but not 2015. That’s why these deadline trades are usually veterans for minor league prospects. On the other hand, trades that include Reds players with control extending to 2016-17 (Bruce, Chapman, Phillips) could bring back short-term 25-man roster help. It would depend on what the Reds were seeking.
Those who offer immediate help tend to be role players (again, a contender won’t trade a star player in the middle of a pennant race) with limited upside. The minor league players tend to have a higher ceiling and that type of prospect is what the Reds should be adding.
3. Will the Reds target offense, and the right kind of offense?
Last offseason, based on public statements by the general manager, the Reds appeared to have reached that Eureka! moment when they realized the importance of on-base percentage hitters to the offense (hey, Moneyball was published only 12 years ago). They then proceeded to acquire Marlon Byrd, Brennan Boesch and Chris Dominguez. The leadoff spot has an OBP of .275 so far this season. The Reds are 10th in OBP in the NL.
The organization needs to start stockpiling hitters with on-base (walking) skills with the same zeal they have devoted to amassing pitching arms in recent years. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t trade Johnny Cueto for a star pitching prospect if that’s the best deal. But it does mean they should quit placing a higher priority on pitching. Fundamental changes in baseball’s run-scoring environment mean that the notion that “you can’t have too much pitching” has become a misleading and debilitating clichÃƒÂ©. One need look no farther than the 2013 and 2014 Reds for evidence of that.
4. What about Jay Bruce?Ã‚Â
What should we make of reports that the Reds have had Jay Bruce out there on the trade market for a few months and rumors from insiders that he’s as likely to be traded as anyone else?
If you recall, the rumors of Bruce’s availability date back to the past offseason, when he (along with every other major league player not bolted down) was mentioned in connection with the San Diego Padres. Given Bruce’s slow start to 2015, it isn’t surprising that the Reds would keep Bruce’s name out there. The fact that he wasn’t traded is evidence that the Reds weren’t willing to give him away.
Now that Jay Bruce has turned his season around in compelling fashion, you wonder if the Reds will take down the For Sale sign in right field. As Nick Carrington outlinedÃ‚Â a few days ago, Bruce not only has sustained his production for two months, but there are compelling reasons (career-best walk and strikeout rates) to believe Bruce has moved his approach to the next level. Since May 16 (two full months), Bruce has hit .308/.386/.549 with a wRC+ of 155. That means he’s hit 55 percent better than the average major league player. Over those two months, he has outproduced Todd Frazier and Joey Votto.
Are the Reds really going to trade their best hitter, when they have him signed to team-friendly contracts through 2017?
Trading Jay Bruce might have seemed like a reasonable, if desperate, move during the offseason and the first part of 2015. But trading him now seems as irresponsible as trading Todd Frazier would be. The Reds have both those players under control at reasonable salaries through 2017, with plenty of opportunity to trade them between now and then if the situation dictates it.
But if they want to be competitive in 2016 or 2017, and as a season ticket holder, I certainly hope they do, then Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier are cornerstones.
What would I do?Ã‚Â Limit trades to the 2015 walkers and Chapman, but trade all of them. Put priority on high-ceiling prospects even if they are farther away from the major leagues. Focus on hitters who have good plate discipline and above-average power.