MLB Trade Ideas: 5 Arms That Could Make the Cincinnati Reds Title Contenders
As a Bleacher Report columnist, I get a lot of comments tossed my way, and can never be quite sure what to expect.
It’s always nice to get the “WOW what a great read, please do me the honor of ghostwriting my biography” notes at the bottom of articles. Or, at the very least, a “good job, keep it up”.
Neither are extremely thought-provoking or dialogue-inspiring, but they’re a billion times better than the more common “here are the 18 reasons you are wrong” comments, which are only slightly less of a downer than the “I’d rather gargle thumb tacks than read this BS” observations.
Most of the time reader comments range somewhere in the middle, but sometimes, every so often, I’ll come across the most rewarding kind of feedback: thoughtful, inspiring insight. These gems are rewarding, not only because they compel more readers to chime in (which, admittedly, is cool), but also because those readers were stimulated enough to take the time to inspire me back.
This type of discourse is what us bloggers and online columnists thrive on, so it’s particularly cool that a reader comment I received weeks ago still sticks with me today.
When measuring up the state of the Reds roster, this reader made the observation that Cincinnati is “built for the season”, whereas teams like the Phillies, Giants, and Cardinals (prior to Wainwright’s injury) are “built for the playoffs”.
It wasn’t a necessarily ground-breaking observation, as much as very, VERY true.
Plain and simple, the Reds are lacking one thing that most other legit playoff contender has: a number one starter.
Someone who can get you a win when you need it most. Someone who can cruise through the opposition’s batting order. Someone who can make Pujols go one-for-five.
Don’t get me wrong, the Reds (for the first time in a lonnnnnnnng time) have a GOOD rotation. In fact, I was just commenting yesterday on how inherently not-bad our whole rotation actually is. From Volquez to Arroyo all the way down to Sammy Lecure, there’s no one who, when they take the hill, makes you just sigh and count on 4-6 earned runs in five innings. Any Reds fan who has paid attention in the last 10 years knows that to be a pretty good feeling.
However, teams like the Phillies and the Giants have success in the postseason because they have bona fide stoppers. Lincecum, Cain, and basically the whole damn Phillies pitching staff at this point are on a different level than the Reds hurlers.
Not to say BaileyCuetoVolquezWoodLeake reach that elite status sometime, but they aren’t there yet, and now is the time (as young studs Bruce, Stubbs and Votto begin to blossom) for the Reds to start looking seriously at importing some stud-like material.
After all, “built for the season” will only take you so far.
The following is a list of top-tier starters the Reds could consider if they want to battle the NL elite this year.
But First: The Method
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Like most learned baseball fans, I absolutely hate when casual fans toss out trade ideas/suggestions/demands like beads on Bourbon Street.
I know and fully appreciate that most of the top-level MLB pitching ain’t goin’ nowhere. Pitching is hard to find, so generally teams want to hold on to their top guns.
So, for this exercise I focused only on players whose organizations might have good reason to unload them.
Also, let’s face it: the Reds pitchers are not that bad. If Walt Jocketty is going to drop cash or ship out prospects (of which they have many good ones), it should only be to acquire a dominating, proven monster. We don’t need another six-inning, three-run kind of guy.
We’ve got Johnny Cueto for that.
These two caveats alone narrow our scope to almost peep-hole proportions.
Here are five guys, ranked in order of their feasibility/degree-of-impact combination, that would make the Redlegs World Series contenders immediately.
5. Felix Hernandez: Seattle Mariners
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“King Felix” belongs on this list for two very important reasons.
First, everyone knows the Mariners are basically Felix, Ichiro, and 23 Oompa Loompas. If Felix DIDN’T want to get out of there, I’d question his sanity.
Second, they don’t associate the guy with royalty for no reason. He’s easily one of the five most dominant starting pitchers in baseball.
Fresh off an AL Cy Young award, Hernandez pairs devastating talent with dependable durability (five straight seasons of 190+ innings pitched).
That Felix would bolster the Reds stable of starters is unarguable. However, with the approximately $65 million he’s owed over the next few years, it may be silly to think the mid-market Reds can build a financial bridge big enough for the Felix Train.
Seattle would do well to cut their losses and rebuild, and a $20 million man isn’t the way to do it. Not sure what they were thinking with that extension, but it probably puts the King out of reach for anyone not named Boston, New York, or LA.
4. Clayton Kershaw: LA Dodgers
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For fans of the Dodgers, one of the more storied franchises in baseball history, the Frank McCourt saga has been one kick to the junk after another.
As things get smoothed out (and by “get smoothed out” I mean continue to be completely effed as McCourt and Commissioner Bud Selig conduct a public slap fight) you have to think whoever is running things in Dodger-town will be wanting to get the economics under control.
The Reds have some talented young pitchers that don’t make much money (Leake, Wood, and Bailey all make less than a half mil), so one would have to think sending one to LA for Kershaw (currently making about the same as the other guys but due for a long-term deal that the Dodgers may want to avoid) and packaging a prospect or two could make both sides happy.
Kershaw, 23, averages over a strikeout an inning and has a career ERA of 3.19. He isn’t King Felix on the dominance meter, but he may be an affordable option if the Reds want a number one power pitcher.
3. David Price: Tampa Bay Rays
Price, like Hernandez, makes the list because he’s on a team that probably won’t contend for a few years.
The Rays made the World Series just three seasons ago, but since have shipped out Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, and Scott Kazmir, and appear to now be in full rebuild mode.
Sharing a division with baseball behemoths Boston and New York, the Rays have little margin for error in their managerial decisions. They boast the second-lowest payroll in the MLB (about $42 million), so it’s conceivable that trading their soon-to-be highest paid player (his modest deal owes less than $2 mil a year, but is up after 2012) would be a wise business decision.
The Reds have 2008 first rounder Yonder Alonso practicing in left field because first base is currently, um, OCCUPADO.
So, unless All-World performer Joey Votto decides baseball just isn’t his thing, it could behoove Cincy to flip Alonso while his value is still high. Alonso could play right away for the Rays (Dan Johnson, hitting .182, makes Carlos “Mendoza Line” Pena look like a contact hitter), and if the Reds were to package Wood or Bailey (or maybe both) they might be able to get a deal done.
Affording Price for the long term might be a tall task for owner Bob Castellini, but it would immediately make them a World Series contender.
2. Chris Carpenter: St. Louis Cardinals
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The thought of Carpenter wearing the wishbone C makes me taste bile.
He’s a whiner, a jerk, and tied with Yadier Molina for “dudes Reds fans would most like to bag and tag”.
He also happens to be a damn good pitcher.
Since becoming a Cardinal in ’04, Carpenter has won 84 games, a Cy Young trophy, and anchored a perennial playoff contender. He’s in the last season of a 5-year deal, and makes $15 million this year.
Should the loss of Adam Wainwright to injury cause the Cardinals to fall out of the NL Central mix by the trade deadline, and if they can stomach sending their best pitcher to one of their bitter rivals, the Reds may be able to afford him for half a season.
However, those are two monstrous “ifs”. The Cardinals hate the Reds just as much as the Reds hate the Cardinals, and intra-divisional trades are almost always avoided if possible. Still, St. Louis will be under a lot of pressure to find a way to afford Albert Pujols for the next ten years.
Welp, here’s a way.
Go ahead, Reds fans, hate me. I basically hate myself.
1. Josh Johnson: Florida Marlins
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Here’s the guy I would LOVE to see in Red.
Big, strong, and bullish on the mound, Johnson is in a deadlock with Felix Hernandez for the “biggest stud on a putrid team” title.
More than any other franchise, the Marlins are fine with going from sneaky powerhouse to Garbage Pail Kid in the matter of a year. In ’97 they won 92 games en route to a World Championship. They immediately shipped out Gary Sheffield, Edgar Renteria and Co., and settled on 5 straight losing seasons.
Then, somewhat miraculously, a 2003 team led by Josh Beckett, Miguel Cabrera, and Derek Lee won it all again, proving that five wrongs CAN make a right.
Currently, the Marlins are entrenched in a 7-season skid without a playoff berth, and with the Phillies, Giants, Reds, Brewers all looking strong in the National League, it doesn’t look like Florida has the talent to challenge soon.
Florida is 24th in baseball in payroll (just under $55 million) and can’t afford to pay people eight figures if they don’t plan on getting a title out of it. Johnson makes $7.75 million in 2011, and $13.75 million in ’12 and ’13.
Reds’ closer Francisco Cordero’s $12 million dollar contract comes off the books at the end of the season, and Aroldis Chapman waits in the wings.
If Cincinnati were to put together a tantalizing enough prospect package for Florida’s liking (Wood/Alonso/Juan Francisco?), Josh Johnson could make the Reds a World Series favorite for the next three seasons.
Make it happen, Walt.