With the Major League Baseball trade deadline rapidly approaching—July 31, in case you were unaware—it's become increasingly clear that the Cincinnati Reds need something, anything to get them to the next level in order to compete for a division title and possibly a World Series championship.
The team has concerns surrounding the level of production it's received from several key areas, including left field, shortstop and the bullpen. Until it addresses at least one of these issues, the Reds are not a championship-caliber team, much less a division winner, or even a wild-card team.
With that, the Reds have a few options. Should they buck their recent trend of twiddling their thumbs at the deadline, then they will likely choose to pursue a reliever and a bench bat while shipping off underperforming prospects—e.g. Daniel Corcino—who still have upside and value if moved to a new team.
But, this article isn't about what they will do, it's about what they should do. What the Reds should do is make a trade to address one of the weaknesses mentioned above.
Outlined below are two trades the Reds could feasibly make. Both trades are doable in terms of the salaries the Reds would take on and the perceived availability of the incoming players, as well as the package assembled to acquire them.
Let's start with an in-division deal involving a familiar trade partner.
|Reds Get||Starlin Castro, SS||James Russell, LHP|
|Chicago Cubs Get||Tony Cingrani, LHP||Jesse Winker, OF, Double-A||Amir Garrett, LHP, Single-A|
Want to make a splash at the deadline? This is the way to do it.
It can be tough to justify acquiring Starlin Castro, a player well known for his lackadaisical work on the field. However, the Reds are in grave need of an offensive upgrade at shortstop, and this is the best way to fill that hole.
Offensively, Castro is a great fit for the Reds. The 24-year-old is slashing .274/.325/.436 through his first 406 plate appearances to go along with 26 doubles, 11 home runs, 52 RBI and 43 runs scored.
Zack Cozart's offensive contributions pale in comparison to Castro's. In 90 games as the Reds' shortstop, Cozart has managed just a .236/.287/.307 slash line with 18 extra-base hits—two home runs—22 RBI and 31 runs scored.
In addition to Castro, the Reds would also do wonders for their bullpen by acquiring left-handed reliever James Russell.
The Reds' left-handed relief situation has been a mess. With Aroldis Chapman manning the ninth inning, the Reds were left with Manny Parra and Sean Marshall as their two remaining left-handed relievers.
Unfortunately, the club lost Marshall to a season-ending shoulder injury, and Parra has regressed significantly from his outstanding 2013 season—3.96 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, up from 3.33 and 1.20 in 2013.
Russell, on the other hand, has been outstanding. On the season, the 28-year-old has allowed a 2.54 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP with a 7.0 strikeout rate, a 4.1 walk rate, a 1.69 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 5.4 hits per nine innings. Russell's numbers would make him the third-best reliever on the Reds roster, behind Chapman and Jonathan Broxton.
Giving up Tony Cingrani would be tough, as the 25-year-old has shown some promise since being called up during the 2012 season.
However, for the Chicago Cubs, Cingrani could be a great fit. The Rice University product would be a cheap, controllable option through the 2019 season, and he would provide the Cubs with a high-upside lefty—something their system is lacking.
Jesse Winker would slot in as a surefire top-10 prospect in the Cubs' system—likely toward the back end of the group—and presents the Cubs with a solid outfield prospect with the ability to post .300/.350/.500 seasons with 20-plus home runs at the big league level.
The third piece of the Reds' return package, Amir Garrett, provides the Cubs with another high-upside lefty with legitimate mid-rotation potential.
Garrett is still raw, thanks largely in part to his pursuit of a career in professional basketball. However, he has a fresh, live arm, capable of ramping up a mid-90s fastball. His curveball and changeup are, understandably, behind his other two offerings, but they both have the potential to be at least big league average.
Garrett's curveball has the best potential of his two secondary offerings. He's inconsistent with the pitch's release point, but with repetition and the improved ability to stay on top of the pitch, it could be an above-average offering at maturity.
At worst, Garrett can be a late-inning relief option, where his fastball could operate as a plus pitch from the left side. The inefficiencies he experiences with his secondary offerings would also become less of an issue, as he'll only really need one to develop in order to become an effective option out of the pen.
The package could be tough for a lot of fans to process as it would give up the team's perceived No. 6 pitcher, along with arguably the best prospect in its system—and a third with some impressive upside.
|Reds Get||Ben Zobrist, 2B|
|Tampa Bay Rays Get||Sal Romano, RHP, Single-A||Chad Rogers, RHP, Triple-A|
This trade is much more conservative than the first and, in all likelihood, a move the Reds may actually make.
Ben Zobrist was a near-buy-low candidate earlier in the year, and after missing some time with an injury, he had been struggling at the plate. More recently, however, Zobrist has been on point. Over the month of July, Zobrist has seen his batting line skyrocket up to .267/.356/.410, on the back of a .360/.450/.500 performance through his last 55 plate appearances.
Aside from his current slugging percentage—a mark that would represent the second-lowest full-season figure of his career—Zobrist has rebounded back toward his career averages, and he looks to be a pretty safe bet for the remainder of the 2014 season.
Zobrist is a free agent at the end of this season, so the team would have to look to re-sign the 33-year-old at the end of the year. However, it's a price worth paying when you consider some of the offensive woes the team has experienced this season.
Zobrist's versatility would afford the Reds a wealth of opportunities. The veteran super-utility man could lock down second base with relative ease until the return of Brandon Phillips, upon which he would slot quite nicely into left field.
Perhaps more important than the defensive versatility Zobrist offers is his ability to hit second in the Reds lineup.
With Joey Votto out for an undetermined length of time and Phillips dealing with his own injury, two of the more important pieces to the Reds' offensive attack are on the shelf. The injuries have caused first-year manager Bryan Price to do a lot of lineup shuffling, and the Reds' most recent game saw Cozart operate from the 2-slot.
Zobrist could remedy some of the lineup concerns, and when Votto and Phillips do return, he'd still be a great option to hit second. Zobrist makes contact at a very high rate, and even with an in-play percentage of 72 percent this season—nine-year MLB average is 69 percent—Zobrist has managed to sneak his on-base percentage up over the .350 mark—something the Reds could desperately use behind Billy Hamilton.
Hit-and-run opportunities would be plentiful for the Reds with Zobrist batting behind Hamilton, and the middle of the order would be presented with numerous chances to hit with both runners on base.
Acquiring Zobrist won't cost nearly as much as his teammate David Price, but he still won't be cheap.
Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman isn't the type of GM to sell low on a player, and he's content with waiting until he gets exactly what he wants for Zobrist. He's also likely to be content with keeping Zobrist and trying to sign him to a multiyear deal following the 2014 season.
So, the Reds will have to pay full price for Zobrist. But what exactly is full price?
The Rays' farm system isn't quite as deep as it used to be, as Tampa Bay has seen top prospects such as Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Matt Moore and others graduate to the big league level. With Price likely on his way out—at least next year, if not this one—the Reds could part with a combination of mid-level pitching prospects such as Chad Rogers and Sal Romano.
Romano, a 6'4", 250-pound right-hander, possesses a solidly average fastball, which possesses above-average potential as he continues to log minor league innings. His breaking ball and changeup figure to be average offerings.
Romano has shown some improvement over his 2013 campaign, logging a 4.01 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP over 19 starts. As he continues to improve his command and control, Romano can be a solid option at the back end of a contending team's rotation.
Where Romano has shown vast improvement, Rogers has been somewhat disappointing. The 24-year-old is still an attractive piece, though.
While he doesn't have overpowering stuff—his fastball sits right around 91-92 mph—Rogers works well out of the bullpen, utilizing a three-pitch arsenal that includes a slider and changeup, as well as the aforementioned fastball.
Rogers' arsenal and velocity suggest that he'll be a middle-relief option when he reaches the big leagues.
If the Rays balk at Rogers, Jon Moscot—a surefire rotational option—may be enough to make them pull the trigger.
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