The Biggest Issues Cincinnati Reds Must Address at the Trade Deadline
The Major League Baseball trade deadline has been greatly affected by the addition of the second wild card, but the Cincinnati Reds still need to do their best to address areas of need at this year's deadline.
Thanks to the second wild card, more teams stay in contention for longer. As of June 17, only three teams in all of baseball are more than six games out in the wild-card race. Despite all of the injuries and a lack of offense, the Reds sit only three games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the wild-card race.
While some of those deficits seem too big to overcome, more than three months remains in the season. Teams will eventually have to decide whether to buy or sell at the deadline.
A limited budget and a lack of top prospects will make it tough for Cincinnati to pull off big deals at this year's deadline. Luckily, this team doesn't need much in order to boost its playoff hopes. The rotation is loaded, and the lineup has finally gotten healthy. If each starting position player begins to live up to expectations, plenty of talent is already on the roster.
Keep reading to see what areas the Reds need to improve at the deadline.
*All stats are via MLB.com
If there is one major weakness in Cincinnati's system, it's the lack of depth at shortstop.
Outside of Zack Cozart, nobody in the system can make an impact in the majors at this moment. Many Reds fans wish there were options at the position other than Cozart, but, to be fair, he has been more than adequate.
Sure, the .227 average isn't where it needs to be. However, some of the biggest names at shortstop are also struggling at the plate this season. Oakland's Jed Lowrie (.224), St. Louis' Jhonny Peralta (.232) and Washington's Ian Desmond (.233) are all among the worst-hitting shortstops in baseball.
Cozart has proved to be a .250 hitter with some pop throughout his career, so he's slowly working his way up to that mark. A dreadful start put him in a big hole early (0-for-22 to start the season), but he hit .258 in May and is currently hitting .255 in June. Although those averages aren't great, the Reds will take them, as the shortstop hits in the bottom of the order.
Given that the shortstop has started to swing the bat better and is one of the best defensive shortstops in all of baseball, according to FanGraphs, the Reds don't need to try to make a big move to improve the position. They just need to add some depth, preferably on the younger side.
Over the past few seasons, Cincinnati has added veteran shortstops to complement a young shortstop. Check out some of the names on the list:
- Edgar Renteria
- Wilson Valdez
- Cesar Izturis
- Ramon Santiago
Renteria and Valdez haven't played in a major league game since the team let them leave, and Izturis played in only a handful of games with the Houston Astros this season. That's pretty telling of how effective those players were during their time in Cincinnati.
The Reds don't have anyone in the minors who can back up Cozart, so Santiago is the backup. Finding a young shortstop would help break the cycle of bringing in aging veterans for a season or two. Also, it may help push Cozart to swing the bat more consistently.
If Cincinnati wants to deal for a young shortstop, there may be a potential match. The Arizona Diamondbacks sit in last place in the NL, and they have a couple of young shortstops (Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius) who they may dangle to try to bring back some pitching.
Power Threat for the Bench
There is no doubt what the Reds' biggest weakness is: production off the bench.
Cincinnati's bench has put together a .228 average with just two home runs through its first 79 at-bats of the season. Those numbers can help explain why the team has trouble coming back from even the smallest deficits late in games.
Outside of Chris Heisey (one pinch-hit home run in 2014), there is no real power threat on the bench. Brayan Pena gives the team some pop, as he has the team's other pinch-hit homer. Other than those two players, there's nobody on the bench the team can call upon to change the game with one swing of the bat.
Heisey, Pena and Skip Schumaker are all capable of coming up with key hits late in games. However, it's risky to use Pena as a pinch hitter. If Devin Mesoraco gets hurt and Pena has already been used, the Reds would be in a bad spot. That leaves Heisey and Schumaker as the only real options on the bench on most nights.
Roger Bernadina and Ramon Santiago are also on the bench, but neither player has done much as a pinch hitter this season. Bernadina has the second-most pinch-hit appearances on the team (18), but he has managed only two hits. Santiago has yet to record a hit in three official at-bats off the bench, but he has put down two sacrifice bunts.
Bernadina won a spot on the roster by hitting .413 with three home runs during spring training. The big spring gave fans hope that he would be a force from the left side of the plate late in games. Unfortunately, his bat didn't make the trip from Arizona to Cincinnati.
Obviously, a team isn't going to make a trade to acquire a player who can hit 20 home runs just to throw him on the bench. However, there are players who will be available who can at least provide some pop off the bench. Right now, the only real power threats the team has on the bench are Heisey and Ludwick, when he isn't starting.
Cincinnati can start looking at potential options, but until teams start to fall out of the race, it won't know which players will be available at the deadline.
Young Arms for the Bullpen
Cincinnati's bullpen has been a major disappointment, mainly because of injuries, but the relievers have been turning it around lately.
The bullpen started the season without Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall. One by one, they started to come back. The bullpen no longer had to rely on guys such as Trevor Bell and Curtis Partch.
At one point, the bullpen's earned run average was the worst in the majors by quite a bit. Now, the earned run average has dropped below 4.00 and is working its way up the rankings.
With Mat Latos' return to the rotation, Marshall went to the disabled list and Tony Cingrani shifted to the bullpen. Marshall had a 7.71 ERA in 15 outings this season and clearly wasn't right, so he and the team decided that it would be best for him to try to get his left shoulder to 100 percent.
Cincinnati's bullpen is getting back to being the dominant bullpen it has been for the past few seasons. Chapman and Broxton have both pitched at All-Star levels. After starting slowly for the second consecutive season, J.J. Hoover has gotten it together in June. Sam LeCure has been strong for most of the season, minus a few recent hiccups.
As good as the bullpen has been lately, there are still some weak spots. The biggest weakness has been the team's left-handed middle relief work. As mentioned above, Marshall has been very shaky. Manny Parra had a solid 2013 season, but he has not been reliable this season.
Parra has a 4.64 ERA and a 1.500 WHIP in 30 outings this season. Left-handed batters are hitting .275 off him after hitting just .167 off him last season. He has also allowed four of the 16 runners he has inherited to score, which is just one fewer than he allowed in nearly twice as many chances last year.
If the Reds insist on using Tony Cingrani as a long man rather than a setup man or left-handed specialist (has held left-handers to a .208 average in 2014), they may need to look at adding another southpaw to the bullpen.
The Chicago Cubs could look to move southpaw James Russell at the deadline. Depending on the asking price, the Reds may look into putting together a package to help bolster the bullpen.
Cincinnati may also look at acquiring some arms for the future bullpen. Logan Ondrusek has been inconsistent this season, and Alfredo Simon is aging and will be a free agent after the 2015 season. Bringing in a young arm or two via trade and giving them some action in September could benefit the team in the future.
The Reds could try to fix their left-handed need by letting Cingrani serve as a left-handed specialist, but if they don't, a trade may be necessary in order to help solidify that part of the bullpen.