Walt Jocketty is faced with the challenge of finding cheap help.
With just over a month until Major League Baseball's trade deadline, the Cincinnati Reds are beginning to explore the trade market in order to improve their roster.
Jocketty's biggest moves have usually come during the winter, but those two acquisitions turned out to be important pieces.
The Reds are currently in a battle for the National League Central. The St. Louis Cardinals have controlled the division for much of this season, and the Pittsburgh Pirates have started off strong again.
A second wild card takes some of the pressure off of teams. The NL Central is controlling both of the wild-card spots right now—according to MLB.com—so the trade deadline could come down to making a move to get the first wild-card spot.
There aren't many weaknesses on this squad. However, the few weaknesses Cincinnati has have been magnified in many tough losses this year.
Finding a No. 2 hitter or shortstop isn't on the team's list. Zack Cozart is still extremely young and has shown promise early in his career. An offensive catcher would be nice, but it wouldn't be worth giving up much for a guy who isn't as strong as Ryan Hanigan or Devin Mesoraco on defense.
Cincinnati's bench isn't great, but this team can't afford to trade for a guy to play every once in a while or hit late in the game.
So what should be on the Reds' trade deadline shopping list?
The Reds have the second-best rotation in baseball. St. Louis, a division rival, has the best. If the Reds have any chance of winning the division, the bullpen needs to step up.
Last year, the Reds owned baseball's best bullpen. The group of relievers owned a collective 2.65 ERA and were dominant.
It's easy to say that the relievers have been the biggest problem this year. The bullpen ERA has dropped to 3.89, which puts them at No. 19 in MLB. The Chicago Cubs are the only team in the division with a higher bullpen ERA.
Closer Aroldis Chapman has been great, for the most part. He has fallen in love with his fastball again and doesn't use his slider enough, but he still gets the job done.
Injuries have killed the bullpen. Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton, the team's setup men, have both missed time. Marshall has made multiple trips to the disabled list, and Broxton joined him recently. Losing two setup men is tough on any bullpen, especially when nobody steps up in their place.
Sam LeCure had his chance to take on the role, but he has stumbled as of late and been charged with two blown saves. If he can turn it around, the Reds won't need bullpen help as much.
Rookie J.J. Hoover has been inconsistent this year. The right-hander is 0-5 with a 4.32 ERA, but he has shown the ability to pitch in key situations. He is 3-for-3 in save opportunities and should get more chances in the eighth inning as long as Marshall and Broxton are out.
Alfredo Simon has seen an increase in appearances with the rest of the bullpen struggling. He used to be the long man, but he is entering in tight games now. It's not the ideal situation, but he's done a solid job.
The rest of the bullpen has just been a mess. Let's take a look at some of the names that have pitched meaningful innings this year: Logan Ondrusek, Manny Parra and Curtis Partch.
None of those pitchers should be on a major league roster, and Ondrusek was finally optioned to Louisville. Partch was the man to replace him, but he doesn't have good enough stuff to be effective. Sure, he dominated the Cubs. Let's hope he could do that.
Anyone here want Parra coming in to face a left-handed hitter with runners on? Probably not.
None of those three relievers have an ERA below 5.15, so there is some concern there.
What is the Reds' biggest need?
With that being said, the Reds made a bold decision by moving rookie Tony Cingrani to the bullpen. The only problem with that is nobody knows how to use him. It would be a waste to use him for just one batter, but it could be a key hitter in the game. It's tough to know how many days in a row he can pitch, which makes using him as a situational southpaw tough.
There are at least eight games (Pittsburgh twice, Chicago twice, Philadelphia twice, Colorado and Arizona) that the Reds' bullpen has blown late in games. Those were all games that were under control and looked like the team would cruise. However, the bullpen coughed up the lead, and it cost the team.
Had it not been for those collapses, the Reds could be enjoying at least a three-game lead in the division. It could be more, but the fact is that they lost those games.
The team could try to look in the minors for a solution or search the trading block.
Jose Arredondo, who is not on the 40-man roster, is one name that many fans keep bringing up. The right-hander has a 4.34 ERA and 25 walks in 29 innings in Louisville, courtesy of MiLB.com. He always had command problems in the majors and clearly hasn't figured it out in the minors. Also, the organization suspended him for unknown reasons. No thank you.
Two legitimate internal options are right-hander Yohan Pino and southpaw Zach Duke.
Pino has 43 strikeouts and only 16 walks in 47 innings. He also has six saves with the Bats, and he could be the next man up if the bullpen continues to struggle.
Duke was just signed two weeks ago and has been coming out of the bullpen in Louisville. This was an odd move to make, but he could be a replacement for Parra. In six innings in Louisville, he has yet to allow a run. He has allowed two hits and has recorded five strikeouts. He has two saves as well.
The southpaw did make the NL All-Star team four years ago, so there is potential for this low-risk move to pay off.
Nobody knows if or when Nick Masset will return, so don't get your hopes up with him.
If the Reds are going to make a run at the World Series, they need relievers to step up or make a move to improve the bullpen.
Kevin Gregg of the Chicago Cubs has been great this season. He's been too good, which could be a problem when trying to trade for him. He was signed to a minor league contract, and he quickly became the Cubs' closer. In 24.1 innings this year, he has an ERA of 1.11 with 26 strikeouts and only seven walks.
Teams are going to be lined up to get him, and the Reds should be right there with everyone else.
Gregg probably won't end up in a Reds uniform, but it's not a crazy idea. Other teams need Gregg more, so the Cubs would certainly get better offers for their closer.
Cincinnati is looking for a reliever for the rest of the year, but they shouldn't be looking for someone who will cost them a lot of prospects. A short-term solution in the bullpen is the answer, and a high-profile name—like Broxton a season ago—isn't likely to be on the way.
Realistic options at the deadline: Gregg (CHC), LaTroy Hawkins (NYM), Jesse Crain (CWS) and Brian Wilson (FA)
Tough call on what to do in left field. A tight payroll won't allow the Reds to get a premier slugger, but they could use some help out there.
Ryan Ludwick is out until probably at least August with his shoulder injury. He didn't even make it three innings this season after signing a new contract in the offseason. He will make $7.5 million next year, so any move the Reds make will have to be for a small or expiring contract.
Chris Heisey again had a chance to win the starting left field job. Poor offensive numbers and an injury have made the team explore other options until Ludwick returns.
Meanwhile, the current left field replacements have shown what they can do.
Xavier Paul has the most pop out of all of the players, but he hasn't shown that he can play every day. He is hitting .248 while playing left, but he is hitting .313 off the bench. He hit .268 in April and .283 in May, but his .213 average in June may show that he's starting to tire.
Derrick Robinson has been impressive this year. He plays good defense and has speed, which the Reds lack. He's hitting .273 this year, but he lacks pop in the bat. Of his 24 hits, 19 of them have been singles. He has been able to turn some singles into doubles with his speed. Robinson should also be better than 1-for-4 in stolen base chances.
Rookie Donald Lutz got off to a good start but hasn't done much lately. He made an impressive jump from Pensacola to Cincinnati, but he just isn't ready to play in the majors. Lutz has good power and solid speed, but he isn't producing.
Each outfielder brings something to the table. One has speed, one has pop and one has a little of both. None of the players are great on both sides of the ball, but Heisey's return gives the Reds a solid replacement in left.
Heisey has a combination of speed and power, and he can play great defense. He will need to stay healthy and show what he can do.
An uncertain future makes this a tough position to address. The Reds will try to re-sign Shin-Soo Choo in the offseason. If they do, they are set in the outfield. Ludwick's injury makes this a need, however.
Billy Hamilton isn't coming up to play in August, so eliminate him from the mix.
Finding a cheap replacement will be tough, especially without many top prospects left in the system. A right-handed bat is preferred, but the team should explore every option.
Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reported in May that Jocketty was not finding any players who could fit in the team's vision: "There is really nobody out there that would make much of a difference. We’re just biding our time to see what happens."
Making a trade just to make a trade isn't a smart decision. The Reds will take their time to analyze their options.
Raul Ibanez is 41 years old. He's signed to a cheap contract this year, and his bat would be valuable. He has 17 homers and 42 RBI with the Seattle Mariners and has been on winning teams. Last year's postseason showed that he can come off the bench in the clutch.
If the Reds made a move for Ibanez, it would be sooner rather than later. He could give the Reds some pop in left field for the next few months and come off the bench when Ludwick returns. Seattle can't ask for too much for a 41-year-old, so this is an attractive option.
Ibanez is a left-handed hitter, which is not exactly what the team is looking for. He is, however, one of the best options should the team make a trade.
Ryan Raburn of the Cleveland Indians is a right-handed bat who could help the team. He is splitting time with former Red Drew Stubbs in right field. Raburn is hitting .258 with eight homers this year, and he could be trade bait if the Indians continue to fall out of contention.
The Kansas City Royals could put outfielder Jeff Francoeur on the trade block. He is struggling this year, but he has good power and can play defense. An outfield of Francoeur, Choo and Jay Bruce would give the Reds the best outfield arms in baseball.
Francoeur hit .285 two seasons ago, so it may just be time for a change for him. The 29-year-old has had an inconsistent career, and the Reds could get him while he's affordable in terms of prospects.
A quick look at his numbers makes you scratch your head. He has hit at least .280 four times in his career. However, he has alternated his performance level between every season. Since coming to the league in 2007, he has seen his average drop at least 30 points one year and then rise 30 points the next year. It has literally been a different Francoeur from one season to the next.
Although his numbers don't indicate it so far this year, he should be able to make it a good season based on his career trend. His average should rise, and there is still plenty of pop in his bat.
The Reds aren't likely to make a deal for left field with Ludwick due back shortly after the trade deadline. If they do make a deal, it will be for a short-term answer and will be for someone who can also be a threat off the bench.
Realistic options at the deadline: Ibanez (SEA), Raburn (CLE) and Francoeur (KC)
*All major league stats are courtesy of MLB.com, and the minor league numbers are via MiLB.com