Cincinnati Reds: Why Club Must Be Conservative at Trade Deadline

Kyle Newport@@KyleNewportFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2012

Cincinnati Reds: Why Club Must Be Conservative at Trade Deadline

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    With less than a month until the July 31st MLB trade deadline, the NL Central leading Cincinnati Reds do not need to make a big trade to bolster their roster.

    At the beginning of July, the Reds are in good position to make the postseason. Their pitching staff is finally pitching up to its capability, especially their starting rotation. 

    After the Pirates collapsed last season, they will need to prove they can hang around for an entire season. Their pitching has been as good as Cincinnati’s, but their offense is a huge problem. If the Reds hope to win the division, they will need to start playing better against Pittsburgh. Cincinnati lost the season series last year (10 losses in 15 games) and have lost five of nine games against their division rivals this season.  

    The St. Louis Cardinals should never be counted out, and last September showed why they are always dangerous. While they deal with numerous injuries, the Reds need to take advantage and get separation. 

    This team has the ability to catch fire and run off several wins in a row (recently won six straight). When they play at home, their offense wakes up and carries the team with home runs. Any time the other teams have pulled within striking distance in the division, the Reds tend to play better.

    With a young squad, there is no need for them to make a major deal to make a run at the postseason. The team could use a cheap player to come off the bench, but the rest of their roster is producing.

Starting Rotation

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    After an offseason of hype, the Reds’ rotation started to pitch better in June after a disappointing first two months of the season.

    Despite being left off the NL All-Star team, Johnny Cueto has taken on the role of an ace. A 9-4 record has him among the league leaders in wins, but it is how he pitches after a loss that makes him a stopper. 

    When he takes the mound after a Cincinnati loss, his team has only lost once. His 2.26 ERA puts him among the league leaders, and he has been the only pitcher who has been consistent for the entire season.

    Last year’s team leader in wins, Mike Leake, got off to a miserable start. After losing his first five decisions and a 7.11 ERA through mid-May, he has lowered his ERA to 4.12 and has only allowed more than three runs once in the past six weeks. 

    While his pitching has improved, his hitting makes him dangerous. His 37 hits in the last three seasons are the most by any pitcher, and he has hit the first two home runs of his career this season.

    Do not let Bronson Arroyo’s 4.12 ERA fool you. He normally does well for the first part of the game, but he cannot manage to finish a game off. His ERA is the result of pitching late into games and staying in a batter too long. 

    Working on one run through seven innings against the Yankees in May, he allowed two home runs in the eighth inning to bring his total to four runs for the game. Last week, he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning but allowed three runs in that inning. 

    Homer Bailey, the team’s second most consistent starter through May, has started to struggle lately. Early in the season, Cueto and Bailey carried the starting rotation. Even though his ERA has risen to 4.42 on the season, the rest of the rotation has stepped up lately.

    Acquiring Matt Latos in the offseason gave the Reds a dominant top of the rotation, but he got off to a shaky start to the season. He dropped his first two decisions, and the trade looked like a bust for a short time. Since losing in mid-April, he has not lost a start while winning his last seven decisions. 

    Reds fans may get annoyed with the inconsistent rotation, but Arroyo is the only one who is older than 26 years old. A trade would not help the rotation, so the Reds can rely on their rotation to get them to October.

Dominant Bullpen

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    Having arguably the best bullpen in the National League, Cincinnati normally closes out a game when the starting pitcher hands the game over to a reliever.

    After not allowing a run through the first two months of the season, All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman had a rough June. In 10.1 innings, he allowed eight runs and blew three out of nine save opportunities. He lost four games in the month, and Chapman looked hittable for the first time in his career.   

    Former closer Sean Marshall started pitching better after being removed from the role. Since changing roles, he has only allowed one run since May 20th.  

    The rest of the bullpen normally pitches well, but they go through stretches of control problems. When they throw strikes, they are nearly unhittable. 

    After Ryan Madson got hurt before the season started, the bullpen looked like it may be a weakness for the club. Nick Masset and Bill Bray also suffered injuries, so they needed other pitchers to replace them.

    Bray returned from his injury in June, but Masset is not close to returning. Instead of making a trade, the return of Masset would give them a boost for the second half of the season.

Starting Lineup

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    The lineup has underperformed so far this season, so the second half could feature an exciting offense.

    All-Star first baseman Joey Votto got off to a relatively slow start after signing a huge contract, but he has turned it up a notch in June. He hit .392 for the month with six home runs, and he had an on-base percentage of nearly .500. He leads the majors in doubles with 38, so Votto has a knack for getting on base.

    Also named to the NL All-Star team, right fielder Jay Bruce put up better power numbers than Votto in the first half of the season. With 17 home runs and 54 RBI, Bruce provides the team with a productive bat behind Votto and All-Star snub Brandon Phillips.

    After starting the year in the leadoff spot, Phillips got injured early on and was moved to the cleanup spot. His hamstring injury hurt his batting average, but he turned it around in June and got it up to .290. He provides occasional power (10 home runs), and he can hit anywhere in the lineup. His defense is sensational, so he gives the Reds stability for the future. 

    The rest of the lineup has been inconsistent but have the potential to be a good supporting cast. Drew Stubbs, Chris Heisey, and Ryan Ludwick have split time in the outfield. The averages are lower than expected, but they have driven in runs. 

    Scott Rolen provides the Reds with great defense, but injuries have hurt his offense. At this point in his career, the third baseman needs to get his batting average above .200 if he wants to remain in the lineup.

    Ryan Hanigan and rookie Devin Mesoraco have split time behind the plate for Cincinnati. Hanigan is the better overall catcher right now, but Mesoraco is still developing into a major leaguer. 

    Rookie shortstop Zack Cozart has been phenomenal on defense, but he started to struggle at the plate after he got moved to the leadoff spot. 

    With two (occasionally three) rookies in the lineup and a platoon situation in left field, the team goes through stretches of inept offense. However, their lineup is good enough to score runs and win them games. 

Bench

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    Heading into the season, the Reds' bench was their glaring weakness. 

    Mesoraco is the backup catcher, so he spends the majority of the time on the bench. Manager Dusty Baker does not use his backup catcher as a pinch-hitter unless it is absolutely necessary. 

    Rookie Todd Frazier filled in nicely when Rolen went down with an injury, and he now finds himself on the bench. His average has fluctuated throughout the season, but he comes through with clutch hits for the Reds. 

    With Ludwick receiving most of the playing time in left field, Heisey gives the Reds a power threat off the bench. Two seasons ago, he hits four pinch-hit home runs. Now he has utilized his speed and put down more bunts. 

    Utility players Wilson Valdez and Miguel Cairo also are available to pinch hit, but neither of them provide power. Valdez is mainly used in bunting situations, but he has hit the ball better lately. Valdez recently got his average above .200, but Cairo has hovered around .140 lately.

    From the left side of the plate, Mike Costanzo and Willie Harris did not produce. Currently, the Reds do not have a left-handed bench player. 

    If there is a need for Cincinnati, a left-handed player for the bench would be it. However, they could get through the rest of the season without one. If they choose to acquire one, they will need to keep it cheap.

Payroll

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    Cincinnati spent a lot of money in the offseason to acquire players and to lock up some of their key players.

    As ESPN reported earlier this year, Votto received a 10-year, $225 million extension in the offseason. He has put up great numbers this season, so the signing appears to be a smart move. 

    Cincinnati.com's John Fay reported Phillips also signed a huge deal in the offseason, and he continues to put up numbers which should make him an All-Star. He is great with the fans and would have been difficult to let go after this season.

    With Bruce signed long-term, the Reds have a large portion of their payroll going to their three star players.

    When Madson signed for $8 million this season, it looked like a bargain. After getting hurt, it is doubtful he will ever pitch for the Reds. He would be owed $2.5 million if they choose to buy him out, or they could choose to pick up his $11 million option for next season.

    ESPN.com has the Reds payroll at around $76 million, so they are very limited in what they can do at the trade deadline. If the Reds decide to make any moves, a cheap utility player/outfielder for the bench would be the only area of need they need to address.