The Cincinnati Reds traded for Marlon Byrd last week. That’s not the most exciting sentence in the world is it? The response on social media was equally lackluster. It’s not that people ignored the trade, but it seemed to leave everyone feeling a little indifferent. This trade felt a lot like the argyle socks that you got for Christmas two weeks ago – you weren’t terribly excited about them, but you did need to replace a few pairs with holes in them.
However, the trade did leave people with questions. What exactly are the Reds (Walt Jocketty) doing? Trading for a thirty-seven year old outfielder appears to be a “win now” move. But didn’t the Reds just trade two of their starting pitchers (Alfredo Simon and Mat Latos) for prospects a few weeks ago? Those trades led some to believe that the Reds were rebuilding. So are the Reds trying to win now or rebuild? This off-season has given some mixed signals.
Part of the problem is that Cincinnati finds itself in a difficult position, as the NL Central has gotten much better over the past few years and every one of the Reds’ division opponents can reasonably claim a shot at October. The Cardinals are coming off four-straight playoff appearances, the Brewers spent much of last year in first place, and the Pirates have made the NL Wild Card Game in back-to-back seasons. Meanwhile, the Cubs have finished fifth or worse in the division five years running, but they’ve made several well-publicized free agent signings, have one of the most well-stocked farm systems in baseball, and appear to be ready to take a step forward.
On the other hand, the Reds also look to be too talented to just tear it all down and start over. They’ve invested $225M in a first basemen who’s locked up through 2023. They have also committed a lot of money to a core of Homer Bailey, Brandon Phillips, and Jay Bruce through 2016 (when Bruce is eligible for free agency). Throw in Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco, Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, and Mike Leake and you have the makings of what should be a team that can compete. I say“should”because, as we saw last year, injuries can derail even the best laid plans. It will be impossible for the Reds to be at their full potential if Votto, Bruce, Bailey, and Phillips (unlikely at his age) don’t stay healthy and/or have bounce-back seasons.
So what do you do when you’re too talented to rebuild, but still a few pieces away from contending? You trade for Marlon Byrd. Byrd is an obvious step up from the Reds LF situation a year ago. Last year the Reds’ left fielders accumulated -2.5WAA (third worst in the NL) and hit .233/.288/.399. Byrd on the other hand, hit .264/.312/.445 and finished with 0.6WAA playing 154 games. He continued his power surge that began in 2013 by hitting 25 homeruns for the Phillies last year. That would have tied for second in the Reds’ lineup last year (tied with Mesoraco and behind Frazier).
But the main question hasn’t been, “Are the Reds better at LF now than they were a year ago?” The obvious answer to that question is yes. Byrd, even with some decline for age, should be a step up from any options that were available to the Reds last year. The question is, why make a “win now” move like this while also trading away Simon and Latos?
Those trades have been discussed elsewhere, but they don’t seem to be the rebuilding moves that everyone thought they were at first. Simon was a sell high candidate who came back to earth after his All-Star caliber first half of 2014. Jocketty was able to acquire two of the Tigers’ top ten prospects in that deal. Eugenio Suarez could compete for the everyday SS job in 2015, and Jonathon Crawford figures to be a high ceiling pitching prospect (Baseball Prospectus Annual 2014). The Latos trade was a little more difficult to understand. However, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs made a compelling case for why this might be a good move for the Reds. In 2014 Latos’ velocity was down 2 MPH and he struggled with injuries throughout the season. For a “very volatile asset” the Reds were able to acquire “a big-league-ready fourth or fifth starter.” If you take the names off of the players in these deals and simply look at their stats, it doesn’t look as much like a “long-term” move.
The Reds have quietly filled a big hole this off-season, and got back something for starting pitchers who might have been hit or miss in 2015. This collectively helps make sense of these moves. I still believe that the Reds want to win now and acquiring Marlon Byrd is a step in that direction. In the worst-case scenario, if the Reds are riddled with injuries and fall out of contention, they can deal Byrd at the trade deadline to a contender. With the Phillies chipping in $4M of Byrd’s salary, this season is only costing Cincinnati $4M. It might not have been the most exciting of off-seasons, but like the socks you get every year at Christmas, it’s something that the Reds need.
One Last Thought:
Many Reds fans were disappointed to discover that Ben Lively was included in this deal. Why give up a promising pitching prospect? As Craig Calcaterra noted Lively is not a top prospect. “He does have the potential to be a mid-level big league starter.” As with most deals, the temptation is to overvalue prospects. The Reds have already traded for middle to back of the rotation starters this winter and have acquired a legitimate major league talent for one or two seasons. It seems like a risk worth taking.Next post: About the BttP Podcast
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