The Cincinnati Reds seem to be one of the most intriguing teams going into the July trading season. With Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake being free agents at the end of the year and Aroldis Chapman going into his walk year in 2016, a lot of people are calling for an “Astro-style” tear-down.
I don’t really believe that is necessary. Changes absolutely have to be made, you just can’t let all these guys walk for the comp picks. But, there’s enough talent in this organization that a fairly quick re-tooling can push things ahead towards the future.
By Baseball Prospectus’ rankings, the Reds currently have the 15th best farm system in baseball. However, as Brendan Gawlowski wrote at BP for the “Every Team’s Moneyball” series, the Reds have had a bit of a knack for getting lots of fruit from systems that haven’t been rated all that highly. If you can get decent pieces for Cueto/Leake/Chapman, then you might have a top ten system going forward, and that’s important when you are a small market franchise. I, however, do not wish to trade Todd Frazier like many have suggested, because he’s under team control until after 2017.
Now, if the Reds think they aren’t going to have a chance to be competitive until 2018, then sure, you go ahead and move him, but as I am going to try to illustrate, in my amateurish way, I don’t think that is the case at all. If the Reds’ current system were bottom feeders instead of mid-pack, then go ahead and pull that trigger, because you’re screwed for the next few years anyway if that’s the case. Of course, if you get a “Godfather” offer for Frazier, then you have to consider it anyway, but that’s the case for pretty much 99% of the players in baseball. So, I will be concentrating on the pitching side of things here today.
The team that jumps off the page as needing pitching right now are the Toronto Blue Jays. We’re talking about a team that has the 26th worst DRA in baseball, and the 29th worst DRA by starting pitchers. The bullpen isn’t quite as horrid, with the 13th ranked DRA for relievers, but Brett Cecil has been quite shaky lately, so they might even be in play for Chapman as well. This team could be championship caliber with better pitching, as their team TAv is a quite good .278, trailing only the Yankees (really? I’m quite surprised by that) and the Dodgers in all of baseball. If you use wRC+ the Blue Jays are first, Dodgers second, and Yankees third, for what it’s worth. Bottom line is the Jays have a damn good offense. A Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, or Aroldis Chapman would really help their cause, especially Cueto and/or Chapman.
Who on the Blue Jays should the Reds target? I’d probably start with Daniel Norris. Norris struggled a bit in his first go-round through the majors earlier this season, but he’s only 22, and probably wasn’t quite ready to be in that spot. He’s currently pitching OK at AAA Buffalo, but he’s carrying a .345 BABIP at the moment, so that 3.44 ERA looks pretty good in that context. Another guy I might target is Jeff Hoffman. If you’re the Jays, that would be a pretty steep price, but flags fly forever, so if they decide they wanna go all in, that’s a guy you could steal. He’s got a chance to be an ace. I think that’s probably shooting too high if I’m the Reds, but might as well ask, right? Jairo Labourt and Sean Reid-Foley are also names that could be bandied about. Heck, you might, probably not, but might even get them to come off Dalton Pompey.
Who else could use some pitching? Well, the Yankees have a lights out bullpen, but their starting rotation is middle of the pack, and they’re the Yankees, and they’ve got a shot to make the playoffs, so you know they are going to make some moves. The Yankees system isn’t super impressive, and it seems like their guys are always overrated (hey, they’re the Yankees!) but I’d take Aaron Judge off their hands in a second. I probably wouldn’t balk at Luis Severino either.
A team like the Houston Astros might well decide this is their year. It might really be, too. Their playoff odds are now at 53% to win the AL West and 70% to make the playoffs. This is where you get into the Nationals/Strasburg territory. Everyone said during that whole situation that hey, they’ll be back every year, so why risk it? There aren’t any banners flying in Washington that I can see. Maybe that WAS their year, then. Maybe they should have pitched Strasburg and went for it all. The Astros are likely going to be cautious but most of their top prospects are already in the show already, so why not give it a shot? Tomorrow may never come. I’d gladly take Brett Phillips, Derek Fisher, or Domingo Santana off their hands, but it’s probably a long shot that you are going to get any of those guys, even in a Cueto deal. So I don’t see these two sides matching up for Cueto and/or Chapman. I could totally see them snagging Leake for a lower level prospect though.
The Dodgers are currently running Carlos Frias, Mike Bolsinger, and Brett Anderson out to the mound every fifth day, and you just know Anderson is an injury waiting to happen, since he’s made of glass (and I always really liked him when he was in Oakland, if only he could stay on the field). Corey Seager and Julio Urias are most likely untouchable but their system is pretty darn loaded even without including those guys. I’m not really big on any of their position players currently in the minors, but they’ve got pitching for days that I would try to target in a Cueto or Chapman deal, or even both together. Could you imagine that team running out Kershaw, Grienke, and Cueto in a playoff series and then having Jansen and Chapman to finish it out? Mannnn. Grant Holmes, Zach Lee, Chris Anderson, and Jose De Leon are the guys I’d be looking at.
The Washington Nationals were thought to have a “super-rotation,” but Stephen Strasburg has struggled, and Jordan Zimmermann has still been good, but not quite as good as he has been in previous years. This means that they could possibly be a Cueto destination, but there’s actually been reports that the Nats were looking hard at Chapman. There’s no way they are going to move Lucas Giolito, but Joe Ross is a name that could be a good starting point for a deal.
So, circling this back to the Reds, even with the injury problems — losing Devin Mesoraco and Homer Bailey for the season — and having several other key players missing time, the team’s third order winning percentage is still .489, which over a full season would be 79 wins. If you remember, some loser predicted an 83 win season during our “Team in a Box” season preview series. Give me Mesoraco and Bailey and I still think I’d be right on the money. The Reds currently have the 8th ranked team TAv, so the offense isn’t that horrid. The starting pitching other than Cueto and Leake are all extremely young, and Robert Stephenson is almost ready to be knocking on the door. Cueto and Leake are almost certain to be gone, with Chapman a little less likely, but with Raciel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, and Anthony DeSclafini, and Stephenson waiting in the wings, plus whatever pieces you can get in these potential trades, there’s no reason this team can’t be competitive in 2016 and forward. The next month could set the tone for the next 5 or 6 years of Cincinnati Reds baseball. Should we trust the current regime to not screw this up? This is a crossroads for this organization, and the pressure is on. Do you want to run with the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs, or do you want to sit in the cellar? It’s going to be an interesting next few weeks in Cincinnati, for sure.Next post: 2015 Sonoma Stompers Game Audio Archive
Previous post: Why Listening to Pete Rose Is Pointless