Cincinnati Reds' Trade Deadline Strategy Blueprint
The Cincinnati Reds are in a curious position where it can be difficult to assess whether they will be buyers or sellers at the upcoming July 31 trade deadline.
The club currently sits at 48-42 and are 3.5 games back of the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers and one game back of the second NL wild-card spot. However, the Reds have been wildly inconsistent this year—better of late, however—and could just as easily find themselves with a near double-digit deficit to make up in the division.
The most likely scenario has the Reds looking to add pieces at the deadline in an attempt to make their third straight playoff appearance. So, for the most part, we'll be looking at deals to help strengthen the Reds' current roster. However, we'll also explore a few deals that could get the Reds the prospects they desire to retool and make a run in 2015.
Over the course of this article, I'll break down the Reds' biggest areas of need, give some prospect names who could be of use in possible trades, assess big leaguers with the potential to be moved in the event the Reds become minor sellers, possible targets and some suggested deals.
Let's get started.
Areas of Need
The Reds' shortstop situation always seems worse than it really is. For decades the club was fortunate to house two of the better shortstops in league history, with Dave Concepcion and Barry Larkin manning the position from 1970-2004.
Since then, the Reds have gone through a slew of shortstops, most of whom didn't last for more than a year or two.
Right now the club is utilizing Zack Cozart as its everyday shortstop. But is it time for a change?
Cozart showed promise in his initial call up but has been an extreme disappointment at the plate. And all the speed he flashed in the minors has seemingly vanished—he has six steals over parts of four seasons.
The lack of speed would be tolerable if he could post a remotely palatable slash line. Over 385 career games, the 28-year-old owns a .249/.286/.376 triple slash, with 162-game averages of 13 home runs, 32 doubles, 51 RBI and 76 runs scored.
This year Cozart isn't going to come anywhere close to those already disappointing numbers. Over 321 plate appearances the Ole Miss product carries a .237/.282/.310 slash line with 17 extra-base hits (two home runs), 21 RBI, 28 runs scored and a 49-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Cozart has been trending downward ever since his 2011 debut, and it appears as though it's time for the Reds to explore other options at the position.
The bullpen is arguably the Reds' biggest area of need. The group was stellar last season and was arguably one of the top-five units in all of baseball, limiting opponents to a league-best .216 BAA in addition to a stellar 3.29 ERA—seventh best in all of baseball.
This year that couldn't be further from the truth. The club's bullpen owns the sixth-worst ERA in all of baseball and possesses a horrifying 68 percent save percentage, which ranks second-to-last in the National League.
The late-inning duo of Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman has been downright fantastic, and, for the most part, Sam LeCure has been pretty dependable. Outside of these three, however, the Reds bullpen has been a disaster.
J.J. Hoover, Manny Parra, Logan Ondrusek, Jumbo Diaz and Carlos Contreras all own ERAs over 4.00 and have been overwhelming disappointments. The Reds need to address the state of their bullpen if they hope to catch the division-leading Brewers.
Of all the Cincinnati regulars, Ryan Ludwick may very well be the most disappointing. While Cozart was expected to "struggle," Ludwick, who was blessed with a clean bill of health this season—something he didn't have last year—was expected to rebound and help carry the offense and slot into the middle of the Reds lineup.
Unfortunately, Ludwick has failed to meet expectations by a rather wide margin. Through 66 games (237 plate appearances) Ludwick sports a .257/.322/.386 batting line with 17 extra-base hits (five home runs), 24 RBI, 16 runs scored and a 56-18 K/BB ratio.
That's a 23.6 percent strikeout rate and a 7.6 percent walk rate, both of which are below the big league average over Ludwick's career.
Ludwick has posted a negative fWAR this season (negative 0.3, to be exact) meaning that he has in fact played worse than a league-average replacement player.
Carlos Contreras, RHP, MLB
Carlos Contreras could end up being a nice piece in the Reds bullpen for the rest of the 2014 season. However, for the right team he could be an option at the back of a rotation as soon as next season and a mid-rotation starter as soon as 2016.
Contreras works with a low-mid 90s fastball that he pairs with an above-average changeup and an average slider. Contreras' changeup flashes plus at times, and, if his slider continues to come along at its current pace, it could give him a legitimate third offering, making him a solid mid-rotation option.
Contreras has struggled with his command for most of his career, and it's entirely possible that he winds up as a high-leverage reliever.
The 23-year-old's fastball plays up a grade as a reliever, and he can run it up to the high 90s in that role. In addition to the expanded value of his fastball, Contreras wouldn't have to worry as much about the development of his slider and could take more time in developing the pitch to its fullest potential.
Contreras would be an upside play for a rebuilding team, and that upside could help the Reds if they choose to package him with another, safer piece in exchange for an upgrade in the bullpen, at shortstop or in left field.
Nick Travieso, RHP, Single-A
Nick Travieso has done some major work on his prospect stock this season.
The 20-year-old has made 16 starts with Single-A Dayton, allowing a 3.72 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP over 84.2 innings of work. In addition to the improvements he's made in his ERA and WHIP, Travieso has also seen improvements in his per-nine ratios, averaging 7.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 9.0 H/9 and 0.6 HR/9.
The young right-hander has seen his velocity tick back up into the 93-95 range while also displaying improved command and control over all three of his pitches.
Travieso has the potential to develop into a No. 3 starter, but that all depends on the development of his secondary arsenal. Travieso's slider flashes above-average and could become a solid out-pitch. His changeup is behind both his fastball and slider, but the Reds have a good history with developing that pitch—see Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto.
Travieso isn't necessarily the high-ceiling piece a team would be looking to land in return for a top-tier position player, but he could be a nice piece of a return package for a player like Ben Zobrist or Alex Rios.
Ben Lively, RHP, Double-A
Ben Lively is the last high-end moveable pitching prospect in the Reds' farm system. Realistically, Robert Stephenson and Michael Lorenzen are off limits, but Lively is a guy the Reds could sell high on.
Lively has a decent ceiling, likely capping out as a No. 3 starter. However, right now the 22-year-old is doing some impressive things at the Double-A level after having thoroughly dominated his competition in the hitter-friendly California League.
Between the two levels, Lively owns a 2.65 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP, and he has season averages of 11.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 4.07 K/BB and 6.8 H/9.
Lively has an average fastball, which plays up a grade thanks in large part to the deception created by his throwing motion. His curveball and changeup are solidly average and hold potential to be above-average offerings at maturity.
Lively has good command and control over all three of his pitches, as evidenced by his allowing 2.7 BB/9 on the back of a 7.7 percent walk rate.
Phillip Ervin, OF, Single-A
Phillip Ervin isn't likely to be moved, but depending on the Reds' situation come the trade deadline, he could become expendable if the team is looking to make a big splash.
Ervin's performance this season has detracted slightly from his trade value, but the 21-year-old is still a legitimate five-tool prospect capable of locking down center field. Ervin boasts above-average tools across the board, but his best two are his hit and run tools.
Ervin has a chance to be an impact player at the big league level and could slot in as a top-five prospect in just about any MLB system. If the Reds are in the market for a top-tier trade target, Ervin is the prospect to deal.
Other Prospect Options:
- Donald Lutz, 1B/OF, Triple-A
- Neftali Soto, 1B/3B, Triple-A
- Yorman Rodriguez, OF, Double-A
- Ryan LaMarre, OF, Triple-A
- Daniel Corcino, SP, Double-A
Moveable Big Leaguers
The Reds are likely to be buyers at the deadline, as they currently sit at 48-42 on the season, 3.5 games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers and one game behind the final National League wild-card spot.
If the team finds itself in a position where winning the division or even snagging one of the two wild-card spots is a stretch, they could look to sell one or two pieces from their current big league roster.
There are really only three players the Reds should or would consider dangling in trade talks, and they are as follows:
Alfredo Simon, SP
Before the 2014 season, Alfredo Simon never would have been in consideration for this discussion. However, the 33-year-old has had one of the most surprising seasons in all of baseball and has inserted his name into the discussion of expendable pieces.
Simon, who was converted into a reliever prior to the 2012 season, reverted to his original role as a starter to fill in as an injury replacement.
And he has been downright fantastic.
Over 17 starts (110 innings pitched) Simon leads the National League in wins with 11 and has produced a 2.78 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP while averaging 5.5 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 2.58 K/BB and 7.4 H/9.
With the way he's been pitching, Simon could slot right into the middle of a contending team's rotation. Another perk of trading for Simon is the fact that the team acquiring him would also have him for next season, as he's only eligible for free agency following the 2015 season.
Simon is one of two players on this list who could find himself on the move whether the front office considers the team buyers or sellers.
Mike Leake, SP
Of the three starters on this list, Mike Leake may be the least likely to be traded; however, it's certainly worth a look. The 26-year-old has shown solid improvement over each of the last two seasons, and he's in the middle of what might be the best season of his five-year career.
Leake, through 17 starts, is on pace to set career-best marks in innings pitched, K/9, BB/9 and K/BB among other important measurables.
Leake is under club control for the remainder of the 2014 season, as well as the 2015 season. So, like Simon before him, clubs would benefit from an extra year of control after acquiring him.
Jonathan Broxton, RHP
Jonathan Broxton could be traded whether the Reds are contenders or not. Though it seems counterintuitive to trade a reliever when the club is in need of bullpen help, the Reds could find themselves in a position to deal Broxton to a team in dire need of a closer.
Though it would detract from the back-end of the bullpen, Broxton could be a huge piece of a package to land a right-handed power bat capable of playing left field—or, even better, an offensive-minded shortstop.
One oft-mentioned pitcher, Johnny Cueto, is absent from this list. The Reds are likely to keep two of their three starters approaching free agency—Cueto, Leake and Mat Latos—and of the three, Cueto, having acted as the best starter on the team for the last four seasons, is the least likely to be traded.
Alex Rios, OF, Texas Rangers
Though he doesn't necessarily solve the Reds' need for a power-hitting righty, Alex Rios would be a nice fit in left field for the Reds. The Reds lack a true No. 2 hitter, and although Todd Frazier has done an outstanding job there, his bat would be better suited near the cleanup spot.
The Reds could slot Rios into the second spot in the order, which also gives them the ability to bat Frazier third or, in Votto's absence, fourth or fifth.
Rios makes contact at an absurdly high rate (82.1 percent in 2014 with an 11-year average of 79.4 percent) and puts the ball in play at an equally impressive rate (76 percent in 2014 with an 11-year average of 69 percent). In addition to his sky-high contact and in-play rates, Rios generally makes hard contact, producing a 29 percent line-drive rate in 2014 compared to a 19 percent average over his career.
This year Rios has made productive outs in 30 percent of his plate appearances, compared to the 32 percent league average over the course of his 11-year career.
Rios doesn't hit for much power, but he gets on base at a solid rate (.333 in 2014 and .325 for his career), and he is capable of swiping 15-plus bags over the remainder of the 2014 season.
Even better about Rios is that the 33-year-old possesses an affordable $13.5 million club option for 2014.
James Russell, LHP, Chicago Cubs
Last month the Reds lost lefty Sean Marshall for the remainder of the 2014 season. However, the former Chicago Cub could be replaced by a current Cub: James Russell.
Russell is in the midst of a career year, gathering a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over 35 appearances (25.1 innings pitched). The 28-year-old boasts career-best marks in H/9, ERA+ and strikeout percentage.
Some of that success could be based on good luck, as he's allowed a career-best .212 BAbip (his career average is .282) despite allowing an 80.5 percent contact rate and a 10.5 percent walk rate.
Nevertheless, Russell would be a nice addition to a floundering Reds bullpen which has allowed the second-worst ERA (4.13) in the entire National League.
Marlon Byrd, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
Remember that time the Reds could have probably gotten Marlon Byrd last year? Or at least blocked him from going to the rival Pittsburgh Pirates? Yeah.
Well, this year, the Reds can atone for that mistake by acquiring Marlon Byrd at the July 31 trade deadline.
Byrd isn't the same high-profile trade target he was during the 2013 season, but the 36-year-old is still a productive player. Over 89 games played (368 plate appearances), Byrd boasts a .263/.313/.488 triple slash with 18 home runs, 19 doubles, 52 RBI, 45 runs scored and a 106-22 K/BB ratio.
Byrd is signed through the 2015 season and has a modest $8 million price tag for that season. The only major drawback to his current contract—and it could be a deal breaker—is his 2016 vesting option, which kicks in if he amasses 600 plate appearances in 2014 or 550 in 2015 and a total of 1100 between 2014 and 2015.
Byrd's contract status could cause the Reds to explore other avenues in their attempt to fix their left-field situation. However, the 13-year veteran could fill a major void in the Reds' lineup should they choose to pursue him.
Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs
Maybe a bit of a stretch, but Starlin Castro could be just what the Reds need at shortstop. Sure, the 24-year-old is a pretty poor fielder. He's posted negative UZR values in four of five seasons as well as four of five seasons with RZR values below .800.
Fortunately, Castro makes up for a lot of his defensive woes with some solid work at the plate. This year the Dominican Republic native owns a .280/.326/.452 slash line with 11 home runs, 26 doubles, 51 RBI and 40 runs scored.
Castro is an adept hitter and, like Rios, would slot well into the second spot in the Reds' order. Castro's current season includes a number of career-bests, including a 5.8 percent walk rate, a 10 percent extra-base hit rate, a 28 percent line-drive rate and a productive-out rate of 34 percent.
The price tag to acquire Castro would be lofty, but he's signed through the 2019 season and holds a 2020 team option for $16 million. Castro's salary would be very affordable, especially if he continues to hit like one of the top shortstops in baseball; by the end of his contract, Castro is only slated to make $11 million.
Other Possible Targets:
Over the past few slides, I've given you the names of prospects the Reds could look to move, big leaguers who could become expendable and some possible targets the club could look toward in order to fill voids on their roster.
To wrap things up, here are some possible packages the Reds could put together in order to land the players discussed in the previous slide.
Deals as Buyers
Reds Get: Alex Rios
Rangers Get: Daniel Corcino and Donald Lutz
Reds Get: James Russell
Cubs Get: Jeremy Kivel and Tanner Rahier
Reds Get: Marlon Byrd
Phillies Get: Jon Moscot and Junior Arias
Reds Get: Starlin Castro
Cubs Get: Phillip Ervin, Nick Travieso and a player to be named later
Reds Get: Joaquin Benoit
Padres Get: Donald Lutz and Jon Moscot
Reds Get: Josh Willingham
Twins Get: Sal Romano and Jonathan Reynoso
Reds Get: Ben Zobrist
Rays Get: K.J. Franklin and a player to be named later
Deals as Sellers
Reds Get: Ryder Jones and a player to be named later
Giants Get: Jonathan Broxton
Reds Get: Jonathan Schoop and Parker Bridwell
Baltimore Gets: Mike Leake