The Reds could have traded Aroldis Chapman in July.
We don’t know exactly what Arizona, Houston and the Yankees were offering then. We won’t know how the reported offer by the Dodgers or others early this week compare to the proposals from five months ago.Ã‚Â The secrecy that inherently accompanies unaccepted trade offers protects mistakes of omission by the front office from public scrutiny.
We do know last summer the Reds were asking for the moon, the stars and a couple small planets for Chapman. Even with those astronomical demands, deals were close. Maybe really, really close.
But the Reds declined.Ã‚Â They made a decision to wait.
With Chapman’s value now worth pennies on the peso, that choice looks to all second-guessers and hindsight-peddlers to be not only catastrophic, but terrible judgment.
The obvious reply is obvious. The Reds had no way to foresee Chapman’s gunplay and alleged rough treatment of his girlfriend in October.
Here’s the point the nay-sayer chorus should be making: The cratering of Chapman’s trade value is an example of the downside of putting off decisions. The consequence of old-school grinding. Of dithering, if you prefer that description. Of allowing risk aversion to paralyze decision-making. Moving slowly has its virtues, but is also full of danger. Despite driving 45 in the express lane, the Reds off-season plans just smashed into a pothole the size of Fountain Square.
(It needs to be said that we have no idea who in the Reds organization – Walt Jocketty, Bob Castellini or someone else – decided to slow-play the Chapman trade last summer. Let’s leave the blame – and credit, when due – at the doorstep of the “front office” that includes all those folks.)
On Monday, the Dodgers trade fell apart in spectacular fashion. Spectacle, to be sure. After that, the Reds front office accomplished little else. The club let it be known heading into Nashville that every player, not just Chapman, was on the table. A week later, that’s where they all still are.Ã‚Â The Reds left Nashville with a couple meh Rule 5 selections and an empty shopping cart otherwise.Ã‚Â Unless you’re into Fifty Shades of Walt, stay away from the “Winners and Losers” columns about the winter meetings.
It’s important to keep the lack of progress in Nashville in perspective. It’s just four days out of a long off-season. Trades can and will be made in the next few months. They count just the same. The Aroldis report detonated just as the curtain was rising on the winter meetings. It would have been great if the organization we cheer for had been uber-resilient. Chapman, after all, is but one player out of many. The Reds front office could have brushed its collective self off, rallied and given fans something to get behind. It didn’t. At least not yet.
But making a trade just to change the narrative, as cathartic as that might have been in the moment, would have only felt good in the short term. You only get to trade Todd Frazier (and Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips) once. If the Reds are going to do any of that, they need to get it right.
It’s not the calendar that should concern Reds fans. It’s the calculation.
Reports coming out of Nashville described Reds offers in negotiations as being unrealistic. MaybeÃ‚Â that’s just clever strategic leaking on the part of prospective trade partners and the product of a strong hand by the Reds. Maybe. As we’ve seen with the Chapman case, the longer you wait, the fewer potential matches are out there. Trade partners won’t wait forever. They figure out other fits and move on, leaving the Reds holding on to their stars too long to get full value. There are costs in methodical grinding. It feels safer but it isn’t always.
They say the Reds front office is too in love with its own players. We know that’s true. For better or worse, it’s part of the organization’s culture.Ã‚Â The Reds have been insufficiently aggressive in recent years at crucial times – the trade deadline in 2013, the off-season before 2014, the off-season before 2015. Now we can add the trade deadline of 2015 to that list. That history of being unable to figure out matches with other teams speaks to a systemic failure of player valuation. If you want to see an aggressive rebuild, look in the direction of Atlanta.
Before we melt into utter despair, it’s worth remembering thatÃ‚Â the Reds have made four productive rebuilding-style deals in the past twelve months – the trades of Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. Those sell-offs were dictated by obvious contract considerations. But sometimes the low-hanging fruit is nutritious as well as delicious. The Reds appear to have received market value in those transactions.
Where does that leave things?
Look, I’m as frustrated as anyone. Frustrated and impatient. Frustrated, impatient and skeptical.
If the Reds front office needs time to regroup from the Chapman debacle, so be it. It’s understandable. But their glacial past undermines any inclination to give them much benefit of the doubt. As we have just seen, it’s possible to overplay even a great left-handed reliever.