July has come. The month of reckoning. The decisions the Reds make this month will go a long way toward shaping the organization for the next 3-5 years. They are at a critical juncture and can’t fumble the opportunity to improve themselves for the long term. Hold on tight because some interesting things are undoubtedly going to happen this month.

Steve wrote an excellent article this week that brought up an important question: will the trades be limited to Reds players who are walking at the end of 2015? The Reds essentially have two reasonable options that we’ve covered before. Here’s a quick review:

  • They can keep the core intact (Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco) and trade off expiring contracts. Under this scenario, they may even trade Aroldis Chapman because he only pitches 50-60 innings a year and would likely bring back an excellent return. They might even trade Brandon Phillips, depending on how confident they are in Eugenio Suarez going forward and that Zack Cozart will recover well from knee surgery.
  • They can trade anything not nailed to the clubhouse of Great American Ball Park. This scenario would likely include trading all expiring contracts, Bruce, Frazier, Chapman and if possible, Phillips.

Both options make a lot of sense depending on whether you think the Reds can contend in 2016 and 2017.

And the differences between them isn’t vast in terms of who gets dealt. You could make a case for both Chapman and Phillips being trade or kept in the first and both should go in the second. The real differences lie with two players: Bruce and Frazier.

We have seen a great deal of trade rumors involving Jay Bruce, but Walt Jocketty has openly dismissed the idea of trading Todd Frazier. The apparent unwillingless to trade Frazier has led to my greatest fear this deadline: they will move one and not the other.

Let’s face it: Todd Frazier is likely having a career year. His first half was one of the greatest in Reds history before his recent three week slump, and he’s still on pace for close to 8 WAR. If you are going to trade him, now would be a good time.

Jay Bruce is only 28 years old and having a solid year at the plate. He is under contract for another year with a reasonable option year after that. Furthermore, he has seemingly made strides in important areas to improve his game. The best of Bruce might be ahead of us, and teams know that. Bruce wouldn’t net as large a return as Frazier, but he would bring back some really nice pieces.

I’d rather the Reds not trade either of them because I believe the core is good enough to make things interesting in 2016 and 2017, but if the Reds are going to trade Jay Bruce, they absolutely must trade Todd Frazier. Trading either of them essentially ends any chance they have of competing next year.

Even the most enthused Jesse Winker, Kyle Waldrop, and/or Yorman Rodriguez believers can’t possibly expect any of them to put up 120 wRC+ or more and play above average defense. As Steve wrote, Bruce might be their best hitter right now. If he isn’t their best, he isn’t far off.

This works the other way too. If for some reason the Reds trade Todd Frazier (highly doubtful), they need to trade Jay Bruce. Both will bring back excellent returns and a trade of one of them damages the 2016 roster too much to keep the other. Who plays third base next year and makes the Reds a better team if Frazier is traded?

Keeping one of them makes no sense. The Reds need both players to compete in the next two years. Trading one and keeping the other only slows down the rebuilding process at a time when they could get great value for both. They would at best be gambling that they could obtain the same value for the player they kept in the offseason.

Competing in 2016 starts with the core of Votto, Bruce, Frazier, and Mesoraco intact. That’s an excellent 2-5 in the lineup. The Reds need to decide if they have and can add the talent to compete for the next two seasons. If so, they can trade a number of pieces to upgrade 2016 and beyond and make a run at it. If not, trade everyone that isn’t going to be around in 2018.

A trade of either Bruce or Frazier without trading the other will immediately hurt both their chances to compete in the next two years and their long term rebuilding efforts. That would easily be the worst option.