The Cincinnati Reds' general manager Walt Jocketty awakens this July 28 morning with just four more days to decide if the Reds will deal for much-needed offensive help.
In the absence of two of their biggest stars, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto, the Reds have witnessed their distance from first-place Milwaukee go from a game-and-a-half to six.
The Reds have gone 2-8 in their last 10 games. In that span, they've averaged just 2.2 runs per game.
Not that it should be that surprising—the Reds faced the No.1 ERA in all of baseball when Washington came to town, and the Nationals delivered as advertised. But the Yankees and the Brewers were hittable, at least to a team fielding eight MLB starters.
If the Reds are going to try and save this 2014 snake-bitten season, they'll need to play add-on. And that's where it gets confusing.
There are several questions Jocketty will have to answer in four days: Can this roster be helped at a difference-making magnitude by trade? Is it worth trading top prospects, most likely pitchings prospects, for a bat or two?
First, let's consider the schedule the Reds will have in front of them. Beginning today, the Reds will enter a string of 20 consecutive games against teams beneath .500. That isn't to say they'll be playing a bunch of easy teams: Cleveland is just one game beneath .500, and the Marlins are hot.
But they won't see pitching like they just saw last weekend for a while, so that's good news for an offense that probably couldn't take it.
On the year, the Reds will have 29 games left against teams below .500. To complicate matters, they have precisely 29 games left against teams above .500. And 25 of those 29 games are all against National League Central competition.
So would a deal or two be enough to help the Reds take care of the sub-.500 teams and further assist them in facing a division against which they have had a lot of success (at least until last week)?
The Brewers still have 39 games left against teams at or above .500. The Cardinals, similar to the Reds, have just 29 games against teams at or above .500. The Pirates have 35.
That means there could be room to gain ground. Despite everything the Reds have endured, they are still just six games out of first, a reflection of a division that while competitive is without a clear favorite.
Which brings us back to the (perhaps several) million-dollar question: if you're Walt Jocketty, all things considered regarding the division and the body of work still in front of each team, do you part ways with high-expectation prospects, most of them pitchers, to throw the Reds a life raft that will allow them to stay above water until Phillips and Votto return?
The Reds are still only 4.5 games out of the wild-card spot. And with 58 games left on the schedule, the Reds should consider making the necessary deal to bring in the offense needed to compete. Regardless of how awful and unlucky things have been for the Reds to this point, the fact of the matter remains that they're just six games in back of first and only 4.5 from a wild-card slot.
But what do they give?
Robert Stephenson must be protected. The Reds will likely part ways with top-of-the-rotation talent in Johnny Cueto or Mat Latos after 2015, so Stephenson is hardly expendable.
But Michael Lorenzen or Ben Lively would be decent trading chips. Phillip Ervin, despite enduring his first poor year in the minors, was a first-round draft pick in the 2013 draft, so he might be packageable, too.
And for what they're looking to secure, those might be enough. So who can the Reds get that would actually make a difference?
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the Reds were one of four teams interested in outfielder Alex Rios:
The 33-year-old is slashing .299/.328/.426. According to Rotoworld, Rios has a $13.5 million club option for 2015, so the Reds in theory could control him for next year as well.
Marlon Byrd is another popular name revolving around the Reds.Per ESPN's Jim Bowden on Twitter:
Reds and Phillies continue trade talks regarding Marlon Byrd according to sources— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) July 23, 2014
The 36-year-old will be 37 this August, is owed $8 million this season and has a club option of $8 million next season, according to Rotoworld.
If the Reds could even fathom landing both, the organization would incur about $21 million or so in additional payroll for next season.
To adjust, the Reds might consider dealing Jonathan Broxton to a contender for prospects. Per Rotoworld, he's owed $9 million in 2015 and $9 million in 2016, with a buyout of $1 million. Ryan Ludwick will also move off of the payroll next season, freeing $7.5 million from the books.
Also, the emergence of Jumbo Diaz might make Jonathan Broxton expendable.
In addition to taking on more payroll, landing both would probably strip the Reds of key prospects like Lively, Lorenzen and Ervin, if not more, including Stephenson, who as mentioned before will likely be off the market.
But would this lineup be worth it, for the remainder of 2014 and 2015, for a shot at winning right now?
Billy Hamilton, CF
Todd Frazier, 3B
Alex Rios, LF
Marlon Byrd, RF
Devin Mesoraco, C
Jay Bruce, 1B
Skip Schumaker, 2B
Zack Cozart, SS
Then, when the Reds get healthy, it could look like this:
Bill Hamilton, CF
Joey Votto, 1B
Alex Rios, LF
Marlon Byrd, RF/Jay Bruce, RF
Todd Frazier, 3B
Brandon Phillips, 2B
Devin Mesoraco, C
Zack Cozart, SS
Of course, the scenario gets awkward when you have two guys making as much money as Jay Bruce and Byrd alternating. But Votto may not be available for a long time, and even when he does come off the DL, he may not reach 100 percent health the rest of the season, per MLB.com's Mark Sheldon.
Furthermore, Bruce is having his worst season in MLB, currently hitting career lows in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage. He could split time with Byrd and Votto or anyone else in the outfield.
But alas, cold reality will tailor expectations. Securing either Rios and/or Byrd will strip the Reds of at least two of their three top pitching prospects. Securing either or both would add substantial payroll.
Still, if on July 28, at .500 and just 4.5 games out of the wild-card spot, just six from first place and a favorable schedule in front of them, isn't it worth a shot?
If it doesn't work, the Reds can always replenish their farm by dealing Latos, Cueto and/or Mike Leake, because all three contracts will be coming up at the end of 2015, and it's highly unlikely the Reds will be able to keep all three anyway.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.