“I’m really excited about the game,” my brother told me as we discussed which day he, my father, and I would be available. “I haven’t been to one all year.”

I usually make it to two or three games a season these days; my poor brother, a die-hard Reds fan who lives in Michigan, gets even fewer opportunities.

But, for his birthday, we decided that the Carrington men would make the pilgrimage to Cincinnati to see our beloved Redlegs. For us, it was a special occasion to all three be together in the stadium.

“Sorry, guys. I didn’t know who was starting when I bought the tickets. I wish we were going tomorrow.” The day after our game, Luis Castillo, the lightning-armed youngster would throw fireballs past the St. Louis Cardinals. Our game’s starter? Asher Wojciechowski.

In fairness, Wojo pitched great that night, and he’s performed extremely well as a reliever this season. However, the Wojos of the world weren’t supposed to be pitching this year. That was so 2016 we were told, and yet, here we were in July with a Major League castoff starting a game.

But alas, injuries overwhelmed the Reds staff, and decisions to put Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, and Michael Lorenzen in the bullpen to start the year meant the Reds had either look outside the organization or deep within.

As we begin thinking more and more about the 2018 rotation, our only clarity is that we have little clarity. Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan, and Anthony Desclafani continue to be major questions marks going forward; the Reds certainly can’t count on them to pitch a full season next year.

Some youngsters have shown flashes; Sal Romano and Stephenson give us spurts of hope, and if they continue with recent trends, will have an inside track to rotation spots in the spring. Others have largely had lost years and left us with more questions than answers. Tyler Mahle is now getting his chance to rise to the occasion.

That leaves us with Castillo, lots of questions, and optimism based on smallish samples. It’s no wonder Dick Williams recently told the Enquirer that the Reds would seek starting pitching help this offseason. No more Scott Feldmans, though; Williams says they want the “highest caliber player available” and suggests that may be a player with several years of control.

But that player may not exist on the free agent market, and even if he does, the Reds seem unlikely to push all their chips in to sign him. However, they could trade for such a player and that’s where things get interesting.

Note: I’m 50-50 on whether trading for a difference making pitcher makes sense for 2018. The Reds could justifiably go with their young guys to learn more about what they have first, something I expected them to do earlier in 2017 than they have. However, I can also see how a good, established pitcher could bring some measure of certainty they’ve lacked the last few years and jump start a playoff push.

Some young pitchers with years of control could be available in the right deal and if so, they could stabilize a unit that has spent more time on the trainer’s table than on the mound. Here are a couple examples of young pitchers who could be available with a few career stats (feel free to add pitchers to this list):

  • Marcus Stroman (26) 3.11 ERA, 3.58 SIERA 3 Years of control (Toronto)
  • Michael Fulmer (24) 3.45 ERA, 4.25 SIERA 4 years of control (Detroit)

These players are just types of guys the Reds could be interested in; I don’t mean to narrow in on these two specifically. However, Stroman and Fulmer are young and on teams that may be trying to rebuild this offseason. It’s possible that obtaining multiple pieces for one could entice the Blue Jays or Tigers.

The big question is how much the Reds would have to give up to get a guy like this? Williams mentioned trades from both the “system” or Major League “assets of value.” Those are very different deals.

When the Reds traded for Mat Latos, may his career rest in peace, they used young assets from areas of depth at 1st base and catcher. Now, they have lots of young pitching talent, talent that has yet to establish itself as Stroman and Fulmer have, corner outfielders, and 2nd and 3rd basemen galore.

To better understand what it would take to obtain a young pitcher with years of control, we need to look at similar deals in the past.

Matt Garza Deal (Before 2011 Season)

Cubs get

  • Matt Garza
  • Fernando Perez
  • Zac Rosscup

Rays get

  • Chris Archer (BA #27)
  • Hak-Ju Lee (Baseball America #92)
  • Sam Fuld
  • Brandon Guyer (Cubs 10th best prospect – BA)
  • Robinson Chirinos

Garza, 27 years old at the time, had three seasons of control left and had posted ERAs between 3.70 and 3.95 the previous three years. The other players the Cubs received weren’t big prospects, but the Rays got two top 100 prospects and three of the Cubs top ten prospects. It was a pretty good haul that would foreshadow similar trades to come.

Mat Latos Deal (Before 2012 Season)

Reds get

  • Mat Latos

Padres get

  • Yonder Alonso (BA #33)
  • Yasmani Grandal (BA #53)
  • Brad Boxberger (BA Reds 10th best prospect)
  • Edinson Volquez

The Reds traded a ton to get Latos, who was 24 and coming off two excellent seasons. They saw him as a top of the rotation guy and thus paid a high price. Latos had four years of control left when the deal was completed.

Jose Quintana Deal (2017)

Cubs get

  • Jose Quintana

White Sox get

  • Eloy Jimenez (BA# 14)
  • Dylan Cease (BA# 97)
  • Mat Rose
  • Bryant Flete

The Cubs traded their top two prospects to get the 28-year-old Quintana who had three and a half years left on his deal (two team option years). Right now, he has a career ERA of 3.56 with a SIERA of 3.88. From 2012-2016, Quintana had an ERA between 3.20 and 3.76 in the American League.

What do these trades have in common? Teams typically need to give up multiple top prospects to receive young, established starter. The Reds have those attractive pieces, both in the minors as well as the Majors. It appears they would have to give up either two top 100 prospects or at least three of their top ten prospects. Who could be involved in such a trade? I’m glad you asked.

Prospect Trade Chips

Here’s how some major publications rate the Reds prospects in terms of their system and nationally (in parentheses) after summer updates:

MLB.com

  1. Nick Senzel (#10)
  2. Hunter Greene (#20)
  3. Taylor Trammell (#70)
  4. Tyler Mahle (#85)
  5. Jesse Winker
  6. Aristides Aquino
  7. Shed Long
  8. Tyler Stephenson
  9. Alfredo Rodriguez
  10. Vladimir Gutierrez

*Luis Castillo and Sal Romano were not eligible for this list when it came out.

Fangraphs

  1. Hunter Greene (#23)
  2. Nick Senzel (#24)
  3. Taylor Trammell (#70)
  4. Tyler Mahle (#85)
  5. Luis Castillo
  6. Jesse Winker
  7. Shed Long
  8. Tyler Stephenson
  9. Aristides Aquino
  10. Alfredo Rodriguez

Others considered for national ranking: Luis Castillo, Shed Long, Jesse Winker

Baseball America

  1. Nick Senzel #9
  2. Hunter Greene #30
  3. Tyler Mahle #78
  4. Luis Castillo #82
  5. Taylor Trammell
  6. Jesse Winker
  7. Vladimir Gutierrez
  8. Shed Long
  9. Tony Santillian
  10. Jose Siri

Redsminorleagues.com

  1. Nick Senzel
  2. Luis Castillo
  3. Hunter Greene
  4. Sal Romano
  5. Jesse Winker
  6. Vladimir Gutierrez
  7. Tyler Mahle
  8. Taylor Trammell
  9. Tyler Stephenson
  10. Tony Santillian

As you can see, not everyone agrees on who the Reds top ten prospects are. For instance, Sal Romano makes only one of the three lists he was eligible for. But, it does seem that the Reds have a general top six with Senzel, Greene, Castillo, Mahle, Trammell, and Winker.

You have to think that Luis Castillo’s stock has risen, probably to the point that he’s untouchable. I also doubt that Senzel or Greene go anywhere. If the Reds are going to make a big trade using just their farm system, it probably involves at least one of Mahle and Trammell with two other top 10-15 prospects included.

Major League Trade Chips

The Reds could also trade some Major League talent where they have some depth: corner outfield, 2nd and 3rd base, and pitching. The Major League trade chips would seem to be the following players.

Eugenio Suarez – Suarez has broken out this season, accumulating 4.4 fWAR to this point. The only reason the Reds may consider dealing Suarez is that Nick Senzel continues to inflict severe harm on minor league baseballs. Suarez would be a steep price to pay, but he would minimize the quality of any secondary pieces. In terms of Major League talent the Reds could be willing to part with, Suarez is the cream of the crop.

Adam Duvall – Duvall is an interesting case. He’s a classic low OBP, big power guy who adds solid corner defense. Based on performance, he has generated more value than the other corner outfielders, but he’s also 29 years old. A contending team would love him. A team that’s 2-4 years from contending? That’s more iffy and probably relegates Duvall to a secondary piece.

Raisel Iglesias – Iglesias has established himself as one of the best relievers in baseball. But, that’s the problem: he’s a reliever. Contenders would love Iglesias because he could be a difference maker in the postseason, but contenders typically keep their good, young starters. Rebuilding teams have little use for a 70-80 inning reliever when they are 2-4 years away from winning. As good as Iglesias is, he likely doesn’t fit well in a trade of this kind.

Robert Stephenson – Bob Steve has shown signs of life lately, posting a 2.22 ERA in 24.1 August innings, but he also continues to walk way too many guys. His stuff could entice a rebuilding team to take a flyer on him, but one month of promising play does not substantially increase his trade value. He’s a nice second or third piece because incredible potential remains if he could ever harness the raw stuff.

Cody Reed – A former top 100 prospect, Reed has struggled mightily since his call up in 2016. His ERA is AAA is good (3.55), but he has walked almost 13% of the batters he’s faced, a really concerning number. I can’t imagine Reed generates much excitement for other teams.

Amir Garrett – Has anyone’s star dimmed more over the course of the season than Garrett’s? He came into the season as a top 100 prospect and showed so much promised early for the Reds, but after being sent back to the minors for a short time, he has struggled mightily. It’s quite possible that his back injury influenced his performance, so he’s a bounce back candidate, but his trade valuable has dipped pretty low with his AAA performance.

Michael Lorenzen – From June of 2016, when Lorenzen made his first appearance of the season, until the 2017 All Star Break, Lorenzen had a 2.91 ERA and 3.37 SIERA over 96 innings. Then, he started fiddling with mechanics and seemed to lose both command and life on his pitches. That led to significantly more line drives and a 6.26 ERA in 27.1 innings (though his SIERA is still only 3.49 during that time). Teams would undoubtedly be attracted to his stuff and his potential to transition to starting, but his more recent struggles have reduced his trade value.

Scott Schebler – Schebler is a lot like Duvall only younger. Outside of a dreadful July where he tried to play injured, Schebler has hit at least 13% above average in every month. It’s hard to imagine him as the focal point of a trade because of his limited track record, but he could be quite a sweetener if the Reds are sold on their other corner outfield options.

Conclusion

The Reds would have to give up some big-time talent to stabilize a rotation that seems constantly in flux with injuries. Again, they’d likely have to deal three of their best prospects or the equivalent in Major League talent. It’s unclear whether teams would value players like Schebler or Duvall as comparable to a second top 100 prospect, but Winker’s presence might make one of them expendable, unless Winker is part of a deal.

If I were doing a deal, I’d dangle one of the corner outfielders with Mahle and one to two other prospects in the 7-15 range, knowing full well that might not do it.

I’m okay with Mahle being a headliner if the Reds get back someone like Stroman because I believe the Reds can find two quality starters of Romano, Stephenson, Lorenzen, Garrett, Reed, and Finnegan. Pairing Stroman with Castillo would provide the Reds with an impressive 1-2 punch they’ve lack in recent years.

Regardless, the Reds should be past starting waiver wire retreads or non-prospects. If they decide to trade valuable assets for a significant pitcher, we’ll know they mean business in 2018. Should be a fun winter.