Major League BaseballÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s general managers and their staffs convene in FloridaÃ‚Â this week, somewhere nearÃ‚Â Del Boca Vista. Ã‚Â You can find them in the pool, in the clubhouse and all over those shuffleboard courts. With its meetings this morning, the convention kicks off the unofficial start of baseball’s Hot Stove season.
Don’t expect much, it’s early. Organizations use this opportunity for staff strategy sessions. GMs also conduct face-to-face conversations with other clubs to exchange their plans for the offseason and advance discussions started on the phone or by text. Talks can also take place with player agents regarding contract extensions and free agent signings.
What news can we expect from the Reds?
Unlike a year ago, when the RedsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ stove was bitter cold, the front office has signaled a busy offseason.
For the first time in seven years, the Reds have a new general manager. Dick Williams was promoted to that position last week. Walt Jocketty remains as the clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s President of Baseball Operations. By all accounts, decision-making wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t change this season.
What will be new is the Reds strategy. The club has announced it will be rebooting, rebuilding, regrouping in 2016. Expect them to be busy trading away name players, not acquiring them.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our approach is to do whatever we can to help the club in the long-term,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Jocketty. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more realistic that weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be competitive in 2017 and Ã¢â‚¬â„¢18. We met with the major league staff and the pro scouts and put together a strategy for that.Ã¢â‚¬Â
That process has begun. The Reds released Brennan Boesch, Jason Bourgeois, Kristopher Negron, Collin Balester and Josh Smith. Brayan PeÃƒÂ±a, Sean Marshall and Manny Parra reached the ends of their contracts. The Reds declined options for Skip Schumaker and Burke Badenhop, so theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve become free agents as well.
The clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 40-man roster now has only 34 players, which is normal. The Cardinals (34) and Pirates (33) have a similar number of openings. That space is not necessarily for free agents. Spots will be used to protect minor league players from the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings in December.
Who will the Reds trade away?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think anyone is off limits,Ã¢â‚¬Â noted Jocketty.
The five players who could be on the trading block are Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto.
Votto (32), still guaranteed $199 million through 2023 and has a full no-trade clause, would be the most difficult to move. Trading players with nine years remaining on a contract is rare. The Reds first baseman had his best season in 2015. Even with normal aging decline, Votto will still be an underpaid, elite player when the Reds hope to compete again.
Brandon Phillips (34) also has no-trade rights, but his contract ($27 million over the next two seasons) is reasonableÃ‚Â thanks to his newfound skill as a singles hitter.Ã‚Â If the Reds could find the right landing spot for Phillips Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Yankees, Angels, Orioles, Royals and White Sox are possibilities Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the second baseman may choose to jump to a contending team.
Jay Bruce (28) could have trade value as a power-hitting, good glove outfielder, but his slump the last two months of 2015 hurts his appeal. Bruce’s contract Ã¢â‚¬â€œ one more guaranteed year at $12.5 million and team option of $13 million for 2017 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ has plenty of upside. Trading Bruce is the most likely move in the category of Ã¢â‚¬Å“change to show we’re changing.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Todd Frazier (29) would return at least on top-100 prospect. The Reds declared their third baseman off limits at the 2015 All-Star break, but his horrendous slump that started on July 1, should change the equation. Frazier is a good defender and his contract is team friendly. He is signed for just $7.5 million this season and will be under arbitration in 2017. Absent a pricey extension, which the Reds should not pay, Frazier wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be around for much of the Reds next window. They should have no trouble finding a market for a third baseman that hit 35 home runs. Maybe they could look for a young, major league ready 3B to replace Frazier for the next 4-5 years.
Aroldis Chapman (27) has enormous value on the trade market. He should bring back at least two top prospects. The Reds must, must, must move Chapman this offseason. The Red Sox might be a good fit. Their new President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, and Walt Jocketty have a track record of reaching deals. The Red Sox are loaded with position player prospects and are looking for a closer. A reunion between Chapman and Dusty Baker in the nation’s capital is also possible. The Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks were reported to be the most aggressive suitors for ChapmanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s services at the 2015 August 1 deadline.
What will the Reds be seeking?
The Reds will be focused on assets for 2017 and beyond. Contrary to what you hear from the dutiful austerity chorus, the Reds will have money to spend if they execute a couple of the above trades. That could include signing a multi-year free agent outfielder still in his 20s like Jason Heyward or Justin Upton. Dozens of other free agent options are available. The Reds could look to trade Chapman for a young (read: cost-controlled), major-league ready OF. A boy can dream, can’t he?
And they may choose not to go for a multi-year OF. Instead the Reds could look for this year’s version of Marlon Byrd, Nori Aoki or Alejandro De Aza (all three of those players are available again this year) to serve as a bridge to Jesse Winker. But a trade of Jay Bruce would ratchet up the need for another OF.Ã‚Â Other than OF, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to see the Reds acquiring long-term players unless it’s part of a big trade involving Frazier or Chapman.
With a roster and prospect list bursting with young starting pitching, adding a quality starter via free agency may not be the most obvious move Ã¢â‚¬â€œ especially with the fresh, chilling memories of Jason Marquis. But with Homer Bailey not expected back until May, it might be prudent to add a pitcher at the start of the season to allow the Reds time to unholster their young guns.
The Reds should then borrow Theo Epstein’s favorite move and trade that pitcher to a contender at the mid-season deadline. Presumably Bailey would be back and the newbie pitchers sorted out by then. The Cubs turned Scott Feldman into Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop in 2013. Jason Hammel was part of the trade to the A’s at the middle of 2014 that brought back Addison Russell and other top prospects.
Finally, the Reds need to build a better bullpen. A few of the candidates to start will end up relieving. One of them can close in 2016. To build the pen, the Reds need to acquire as many young, powerful arms as they can along the way. Relievers come from everywhere. Veteran relievers, as we’ve seen with Badenhop, Kevin Gregg and others, are often not worth the money. Bullpens are important but the vast majority of relievers are inconsistent from year to year. That’s why they aren’t starters.
Here’sÃ‚Â the checklist they should be working on in Del Boca Vista:
- Trade Aroldis Chapman
- Trade Brandon Phillips
- Look to Trade Jay Bruce and/or Todd Frazier
- Acquire a quality free agent starting pitcher to flip mid-season
- Acquire an outfielder or two
- Always be collecting power arms for the bullpen