The MLB trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and although the Cincinnati Reds are currently just five games back of division rival St. Louis, they could use a new player or two to put them over the top.
The Reds will likely be around come playoff season, but a division title is the ultimate goal for the regular season, and a wild-card birth would be a disappointment.
The team has a couple of needs, both offensively and in the bullpen.
According to ESPN.com's Market Central app, the Reds have positions of relative weakness at shortstop, catcher and left field.
With several positions the team could look to fill, what are the Reds going to do this year at the trade deadline?
What the Reds Will Do
The Reds may not be the strongest at shortstop, catcher or left field, but the biggest area of concern at this juncture is the bullpen. The team is currently without setup men Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall, and what was once the biggest strength of the team is now one of its biggest weaknesses.
What the Reds will likely do is address the outfield situation, while leaving the bullpen untouched.
When Broxton and Marshall return, the team should be set up well given the strong performances this season by Sam LeCure, Alfredo Simon and Aroldis Chapman. Manny Parra has also come on strong as of late, and over his last 14 appearances—12 innings—the 30-year-old lefty has yet to allow an earned run and pairs it with a 0.58 WHIP and ratios like 9.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 4.00 K/BB and 3.0 H/9.
Given the strong performance by members of the Reds' bullpen in recent opportunities, they will look to trade for an outfielder.
That outfielder is Juan Pierre.
Pierre isn't the sexiest target and owns just a .236/.280/.290 slash line over 68 games this season. While his slash line hardly instills confidence in the hearts and minds of Reds fans, there are reasons to expect that he'll be a better player in the second half of the 2013 season.
Pierre is currently suffering from an abnormally low BAbip. Over the course of his 14-year MLB career, Pierre's BAbip sits at a comfortable .312. This year, that figure is hovering at a paltry .255. Couple this with the fact that Pierre's line-drive rate and HR/FB ratio are both higher than last year's figures, and you have the perfect candidate for a bounce-back second half.
Also working in Pierre's favor is that he's always been a better second-half player. In the second half, Pierre's career slash line shoots to .310/.355/.381, up from .283/.335/.345 in the first half.
Pierre would give the Reds another solid option for the leadoff spot in the order, allowing Dusty Baker to shift Shin-Soo Choo down to the two hole, subsequently dropping Zack Cozart down to seventh where he'd be far more comfortable.
While this is what the Reds will do, it is arguable that the team's bigger need is in the bullpen, so let us analyze what the team should do.
What the Reds Should Do
The Reds could use another reliever. Even when Broxton and Marshall return, there's no guarantee that they—Broxton especially—will return to their prior form and act as dominant back end of the bullpen options.
If they do, then the addition of another reliever would just bolster an already strong bullpen. But if they don't, one could slide to a middle-relief role, while the remaining two locked down the seventh and eighth innings.
The bullpen currently owns a 3.53 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP to go along with a 16-16 record and ratios of 9.6 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 2.48 K/BB and 7.3 H/9. The bullpen is average thus far, and although they have been significantly better lately, the team could benefit from adding a late-inning reliever.
With that said, the Reds need to look for a pitcher to solidify the back end of a floundering bullpen.
Though he's on the disabled list, Jesse Crain would be the perfect addition. Crain has appeared in 38 games and has worked to a 0.74 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP and ratios of 11.3 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 4.18 K/BB and 7.6 H/9.
Crain's numbers are impressive, and although the Reds would have to attempt to re-sign him following the 2013 season, there's one number that sticks out—and it could make the hassle of re-signing him worth it.
Through his 38 appearances—36.2 innings—Crain has allowed a grand total of zero home runs. If we know anything about Great American Ball Park, it is that the ball tends to fly pretty well there, and home runs are the norm day in and day out.
Crain owns a career .78 GB/FB ratio—.02 lower than the league average—and that bodes well for success in GABP. The Reds would do well to deal for Crain as the trade deadline approaches.
The other two positions of relative weakness in the Reds' offense are shortstop and left field. Now, while it is never good to gloss over glaring needs, consider the Reds' current state and available options.
At shortstop, Zack Cozart has the ability to hit between .245-.260 with 15-plus home run power and above-average, Gold-Glove caliber defense at a very thin position around the league.
His .236 batting average is admittedly unattractive, but is it really worth trading away prospects for the likes of Alexei Ramirez, Stephen Drew or Asdrubal Cabrera? Not likely.
As for left field, the team should just bide their time until Ryan Ludwick returns. On the year, Reds' left fielders—Chris Heisey, Derrick Robinson, Donald Lutz and Xavier Paul—have combined for a .242/.308/.373 triple slash with 10 home runs and 51 RBI.
Beyond what the group of fill-in players have done in Ludwick's absence though is the fact that Chris Heisey has performed quite well since returning from a two-month layoff due to injury. In 10 games back with the team, Heisey is slashing a gaudy .368/.440/.895 with two home runs, four doubles and five RBI to go along with a 3:2 K/BB ratio.
With that, and Ludwick returning from the DL—final year of his contract coming in 2014—the timing of trading for a new left fielder, even if just for one season, is hardly optimal.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through play on July 9th 2013