3 Under-the-Radar Players Cincinnati Reds Could Nab at the Deadline
The start of the 2014 Major League Baseball season hasn't been kind to the Cincinnati Reds, but there are still nearly four months remaining in the season. Depending on where the club stands come July 31, there are a few players who it could try to acquire.
Reds fans are down on the team right now, but they still haven't seen what this squad is capable, due to injuries. Luckily, first baseman Joey Votto has returned and pitcher Mat Latos is due to come back from the disabled list this week. If they both are activated and if nobody else gets hurt, this will be the first time all season that all of the Reds starters will be completely healthy.
Getting healthy this week will give Cincinnati about two months to see what it is capable of. As of now, the team is still in the playoff picture. Depending on how the next two months go, the team will figure out if it should be buyers or sellers at the deadline.
The Reds don't have many pieces to deal should they decide that they are buyers. Pitcher Alfredo Simon appears to be the best trade chip if they decide that they are still in contention.
Should the Reds sell, they have a few pieces that other teams would love to have. Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman could all be dangled on the trading block if the organization decides to try to make a big move for the future.
Looking at the team's current roster, there aren't many spots that need addressed. Cincinnati is splitting time between three players in left field, so that probably isn't an area that the team will look to address. The only other spots that the team may look at addressing are shortstop and left-handed relievers.
Now that there are two Wild Card spots, there will be fewer teams willing to sell at the deadline. That means that a trade at the deadline could be hard to find.
Given that the Reds are (hopefully) about to get healthy, let's assume that they will stay in contention when the deadline approaches. Keep reading to see some under-the-radar players that Cincinnati can try to nab in order to enhance its playoff chances.
*All stats are via MLB.com
UT Jeff Keppinger, Free Agent
When fans think of acquiring a player at the deadline, they think about making a trade. In this instance, the Reds could gain a valuable player via free agency.
Take a look at who is searching for a team right now. There's a familiar face: Jeff Keppinger.
The utility man played for Cincinnati during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He has bounced around the league a bit since being dealt by the Reds, but he has made an impact nearly everywhere he went.
Keppinger had shoulder surgery at the end of last season but was released after going on a rehab assignment earlier this season. It's not known exactly how healthy he currently is, but if he was healthy enough to go on a rehab assignment, it's likely that he'd be able to be a bench player this season.
On his rehab assignment, he hit .256/.348/.359 with one home run and one double in 11 games. Those numbers aren't bad for someone coming off a shoulder injury.
Cincinnati has had a tough time getting on base and knocking runners in. Those are both areas that Keppinger excels at. He is a .289 hitter in his nine-year career. When runners are on base, he comes through for the team. The right-handed batter has hit .272 with men on base, .283 with runners in scoring position and .276 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
This season, the Reds are hitting .214 with runners in scoring position (28th in MLB) and .166 with runners in scoring position and two outs (30th).
Fortunately, the Reds know that he can hit at Great American Ball Park. Keppinger had a slash line of .289/.342/.391 during his time with the Reds, and he has a career slash line of .333/.398/.560 at Great American Ball Park.
Last year's .253 average was the lowest of Keppinger's career. That average would be more than welcomed on the current club.
Keppinger can play anywhere in the infield and even a corner outfield position if needed. The 34-year-old hasn't played shortstop since 2010, but he could give Zack Cozart a day off here and there.
With his down season and recent injury, the Reds may be able to get Keppinger for a relatively low cost. He would give the team a reliable bat for clutch situations off the bench and the occasional start.
If the scoring woes continue, the Reds should look at adding Keppinger—if healthy enough—sooner rather than later.
SS Didi Gregorius, Arizona Diamondbacks
Another familiar face would make sense for Cincinnati to go after at the deadline.
The Reds shipped Didi Gregorius to Arizona in a three-team deal that brought Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati two offseasons ago. It was an all-in move by the Reds, but now, they might be wishing that they hadn't given up the slick-fielding shortstop.
Shortstop Zack Cozart is about as good as it gets on defense, but he has struggled with consistency at the plate. He has been around .220 this season, which is much lower than what the team would like. Cozart was essentially a .250 hitter the last two seasons. With his knack for getting extra-base hits and his glove, the Reds could live with a .250 hitter near the bottom of the lineup.
It wouldn't hurt for Cincinnati to explore its options and possibly bring in someone to compete with Cozart at shortstop. That man could be former Reds farmhand Gregorius.
The 24-year-old opened some eyes with his bat at the beginning of last season. He was hitting .323 with four home runs through June 1 last year.
Unfortunately for him, he had a hard time staying hot at the plate. His monthly average declined throughout the season, which included a .182 average in September and October.
Gregorius has spent the majority of the season down in the minors this season. He was recently recalled and has swung the bat quite well. The left-handed hitting shortstop has hit in all four games since he returned to the majors, and he has hit .375 with two home runs in those four games.
Cozart has hit only .245 against right-handers in his career, while Gregorius hit .275 against right-handers last year. A platoon at shortstop wouldn't be ideal, but having a right-handed bat and a left-handed bat at the position would give the Reds some options.
Arizona has made it known that it is willing to explore possible deals involving one of its shortstops, either Gregorius or Chris Owings. USA TODAY Sports' Nick Piecoro reported earlier this year that the team would be willing to deal one if the price is right.
The Diamondbacks could use some starting pitching. They could be interested in someone who has proven themselves at the majors, such as Alfredo Simon, or they could be looking for young prospects. If they are looking for the latter, the Reds may have a tough time putting together a strong offer.
Gregorius may get some consistent playing time right now as Arizona is banged up in the infield. Any playing time that he sees will be an opportunity to show other teams what he can do.
The Reds don't have many young middle infielders who can contribute this season, so Gregorius could be on their radar.
LHP James Russell, Chicago Cubs
As good as the Reds' pitching has been this season, the club has to be disappointed with how its left-handed relievers have pitched.
Cincinnati's bullpen has been one of the best in the majors for the past few years, but it was the one of the worst in National League for most of the first two months of this season. The reason: poor left-handed relief work.
Sean Marshall has been the team's left-handed setup man the past few seasons when he's been healthy. He posted a 2.51 ERA in 2012 and a 1.74 ERA in limited action last season.
This season, he has slowly worked his earned run average down to 7.71 through his first 15 games after starting the season on the disabled list. Control has been a huge issue for Marshall. He already has 12 walks in only 14 innings. To put that in perspective, he walked only 16 in 73 outings two years ago.
Manny Parra, who received a two-year deal in the offseason, has been unable to build on his success from late last season. A season after posting a 3.33 ERA in 57 appearances, the southpaw has a 4.87 ERA in 28 outings this season.
Although 10 walks in 20 innings is a concern, Parra's biggest issue has been the inability to get left-handed batters out. Left-handers are hitting .265 off the southpaw, which is 24 points higher than right-handers. Last year, Parra held left-handed batters to a .167 average.
Cincinnati could send Tony Cingrani to the bullpen to give the team a southpaw who can get left-handed batters out, but it appears that the youngster will be sent to the minors to work on becoming a more reliable starter. That means the Reds could be looking for a southpaw for the bullpen.
Last year, the Cubs explored the idea of trading Russell, according to Bruce Levine of ESPN.com. He is one of the most valuable assets the team has, and he could help the team bring back prospects in return.
Russell has been a durable reliever the past few years. He has appeared in at least 74 games in each of the past two seasons and posted earned run averages below 3.60 in each of them. This season has been one of his best in terms of statistics.
The 28-year-old has a 3.00 ERA and has struck out 8.4 batters per nine innings, both of which are the best of his career. He is allowing only 1.2 home runs per nine, which is tied for the second-best mark he has posted.
This is Russell's fifth season in the majors. Through this point in his career, he has held left-handed batters to a .233 average. How good has he been against top left-handed hitters? He hasn't allowed a hit to either Jay Bruce or Joey Votto since 2012, and Votto doesn't have a hit off him since 2011.
In his career at Great American Ball Park, Russell has posted a 2.79 ERA and a 1.241 WHIP.
As much as the southpaws in the Reds bullpen has struggled this season, the team needs to explore its options. The right-handers in the bullpen are starting to live up to their potential, but the southpaws, outside of Aroldis Chapman, have struggled mightily.
Trades within a division don't happen much, but these two teams did pull off a trade involving Marshall a few years ago. If Cincinnati is able to stay in contention through July, Russell could be a piece that the team may try to nab.