Another trade deadline has passed and the Cincinnati Reds have once again opted not to participate in the massive swap. It doesn't mean they weren't active. Just hours before the 4 p.m. deadline on July 31, MLB.com's Jayson Stark tweeted that the Reds were "dangling" starting pitcher Mat Latos:
Not only are #Reds not buying. Other teams say they've dangled Mat Latos. Looking for big return of course— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 31, 2014
The Reds dangled Latos, and we dangled our expectations alongside him. But when nothing happened, our sights turned to Walt Jocketty, as if he suffered some diffusion of responsibility. As if he missed a golden opportunity to...to do something. Yeah?
Let's start with what we know: The Cincinnati Reds have precisely one valued, rare commodity: starting pitching. From ace to No. 5 in the rotation, the Reds have talent that could occupy a spot in virtually any team's rotation.
Its collective ERA is 3.31. That's the third-best ERA in baseball.
The Reds can largely attribute this rotation to any recent success it has endured, minus 2010. In 2010, the team's collective ERA ended seventh-best in the NL while their offense was the very best in the NL.
That NL No. 1 offense didn't win a single playoff game.
2011 was familiar. The 2011 Reds ended the year with the NL's No. 2 offense, right behind the St. Louis Cardinals. Their pitching was No. 12, in the NL. That No. 2 offense didn't even make the playoffs.
But 2012 introduced Mat Latos to the rotation, a prized, talented arm from the San Diego Padres. So talented that it took three major Reds prospects to get him. That year, the Reds' collective ERA would end tied for third with the Los Angeles Dodgers in all of baseball, just .001 behind the Washington Nationals.
Its offense? No. 9 in the NL. And forgettable.
It was the year of Johnny Cueto and Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg. But neither would throw a single inning for their teams in the NLDS. Unsurprisingly, neither team would advance.
But the results were obvious. 2012 is the very best the Reds had been since The Big Red Machine and their offense finished No. 9 in the NL. 97 wins, two playoff-game victories, no ace to hand the ball to when the Reds needed him most.
2013 wasn't much different. No. 4 pitching in baseball, not just the NL, the NL's third-best offense, 90 wins and a playoff berth. Unfortunately, the team would once again miss its ace, who admirably rushed back to "health" to pitch that pivotal game.
The result was what it was. But anyone who follows Johnny Cueto knows that there's an exponentially better Johnny Cueto at 100 percent. That probably wasn't him. He hadn't pitched since June 28th.
Which, of course, brings us back to 2014. For the Reds to stay competitive either this year or be serious contenders in the ever-pivotal 2015 season, they needed to keep its cornerstone intact. The Reds needed to ensure it had the starting pitching necessary to not only move beyond 162 games, but succeed in October.
This product, a team that has dropped 10 of its last 13 games as of July 31, is not the product. You don't just incur the injuries that the Reds have and resume business as normal. That "backup" plan everyone blames Walt Jocketty for not having doesn't exist. There is no backup plan for losing a former MVP, All-Star and Gold Glover. There's no backup plan for a Gold Glove second baseman who also drives in 100-plus RBI and hits for average.
To expect a worthy backup plan for a former MVP would be like expecting DerMarr Johnson to replicate the production of Kenyon Martin after he broke his leg before the 2000 NCAA tournament.
If you think there are just bench players who can produce at the rate of Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips or Jay Bruce—when Bruce isn't somewhere off in space on the Starship Enterprise—then you probably expected Jon Kitna to just waltz in and shred the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005 following the shredding of Carson Palmer's knee in the playoffs.
Point being, there is no Plan B for losing that caliber of player. And until this recent stretch of futility, the Reds had endured in the face of numerous losses. Jay Bruce had knee surgery in May. Devin Mesoraco pulled a hamstring in April. The Reds would have to survive Votto's first quad injury.
The Reds bullpen? You wouldn't recognize it if you saw it now with the likes of Nick Christiani, Trevor Bell (who, to this day, still owns the NL's worst reliever ERA). The Reds had to turn to J.J. Hoover in tight situations, along with Logan Ondrusek to fill late-inning voids.
Remember, the Reds would start the year without the entire back end of the bullpen. Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall, Aroldis Chapman—all on the DL to begin the year. Marshall will most likely be there until 2015.
The Reds had one of the worst bullpens in baseball. It was, at the time, well-documented. And even though guys eventually got healthy, the bullpen had already inflicted considerable damage on a young 2014 season.
2014 is not an organizational failure. It's an organizational emergency. Point to any other team in baseball and compare injuries. From top-of-the-rotation starting pitching to hitter(s) batting anywhere from Nos. 2-6, to the guys behind the gate.
And on July 31, 2014, before the 4 p.m. deadline, we're disappointed that Walt didn't sell?
Why? What did you want Walt to sell? A proven, battle-tested product that demonstrated it could win 90 games a year and make the playoffs?
I will agree that relief pitching could have been moved. Broxton's salary, $9 million in 2015, per Rotoworld.com, would have been especially refreshing to be rid of, and you'd have to believe he could have brought back a decent prospect in return because of the year he's having.
Jumbo Diaz has made Broxton expendable, at least in a short sample size. The Reds could have used the financial flexibility to add a bat in the offseason. Perhaps they still will.
But to trade either Cueto, Latos or Mike Leake would have instantly made the 2015 Reds weaker. And isn't that what this is about now?
You can't possibly equate this product to the 2015 Reds. It's at least reasonable to assume the Reds won't suffer the quantity or caliber of injuries they suffered this year again. Right?
Why strip the team, in quite possibly its last season with this talented core, of its strongest asset?
The Reds can always grab a bat for left field in the offseason. But a starting pitcher? Remember what it took to get Latos?
If the 2014 trade deadline has demonstrated nothing, it's that starting pitching is the bee's knees of baseball. Jon Lester, David Price, Jeff Samardzija, Justin Masterson, John Lackey. That's the most prized, sought-after asset in the game. Every GM in baseball is scrambling for it, trading away the future to get it.
And the Reds are oozing with it.
Just two weeks ago, the Reds were 1.5 games out of first place and seven games above .500. That is in the absence of a former MVP. That's in the midst of Jay Bruce's worst professional season to date. That's after starting the season with eight guys on the DL.
The product isn't worth disassembling and selling the parts off. Who knows what happens if Phillips doesn't roll over his wrist before the break. Who knows what happens if and when Votto's quad stops hurting or when Bruce returns to the back of his Topps Card.
What happens when the Reds aren't trotting out Chris Heisey, Brayan Pena, Skip Schumaker and Kris Negron in a starting lineup every night? And no disrespect to any of those athletes, but they aren't starters. They're fine substitutes.
That's why I'm giving Walt Jocketty a solid B for the deadline. There was at least opportunity to shed salary in Broxton, and even though the Reds are just 3.5 games from a Wild Card spot and 5.5 back of first place, I don't think they'll be able to seriously compete this season and therefore aren't in much need of a $9 million set-up man.
Besides, Jumbo Diaz is proving himself to be a viable candidate to take that spot in 2015.
Alfredo Simon was another name that could have been dealt. Despite the fact he's had an All-Star season to this point, every other team in baseball can see that he's pitching into, literally, uncharted territory.
If there was ever a candidate for second-half regression, he fits the bill. Maybe GMs knew as much.
Still, as of this day, the 2015 Reds are still in the discussion as NL favorites. Disable their top payroll guys again, and maybe they aren't. But at this juncture, 2015 may be the last shot this uber-talented Reds team is going to have to win a championship.
Right now, 2015 is all the Reds have. At the 2014 trade deadline, Walt Jocketty at least kept it that way.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.