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November 18, 2010

GM for a Day

Cincinnati Reds

by Steven Goldman

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Having appeared in the postseason for the first time since 1995, the Reds are in a position where, if everything breaks right, they could enjoy a sustained run of strong seasons, along the way becoming the powerhouse team the NL Central has been missing as the Cardinals have weakened.

The reason for this is, of course, the team’s extraordinary core of young pitching, almost all of it developed by the organization. With Aaron Harang departing as a free agent, Bronson Arroyo represents the lone extra-organizational veteran on the staff. Everyone else of significance, including Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Travis Wood, and Aroldis Chapman were Made in Ohio, USA, or as close as we come these days, having been signed and developed by the Reds.

Note that I excluded Edinson Volquez from the foregoing list. That is because my first act as Reds GM for a Day would be to shop the undersized right-hander. As good as Volquez can be, the Reds have outgrown the need for him. He dealt with post-Tommy John wildness in 2010, but he’s also always been wild. Even in his last healthy season, 2008, consistency eluded him; if you look only at the numbers on the back of his baseball card, it’s easy to forget that his second-half ERA was 4.60.

With so many respectable candidates for the starting rotation—I count at least eight, including Chapman—the Reds don’t have to depend on Con Edinson for power. Volquez is arbitration-eligible this offseason, and the Reds being a budget-minded organization with several other key players also eligible, including Cueto, Joey Votto, and Jay “Don’t Bring Me Down” Bruce, this is the one place where the Reds can make a deal from strength and save money at the same time.

It is also an opportunity to add talent. Despite his playoff pasting, Volquez’s strong September (1.95 ERA in four starts) should help dispel any concerns about the lingering effects of his surgery, making him an attractive acquisition target who could bring a solid return. Having said that, those four starts came against Pittsburgh, Arizona, Milwaukee, and Houston, so there is no reason for us within our front office of the mind to get overly excited about retaining him.

The Reds can use help at shortstop and left field. There is a potential match here with the Rays, particularly if Yonder Alonso is included in the deal. With Votto’s MVP-level performance in 2010, Alonso is more blocked than Finland in 1939. The Rays are about to part ways with Carlos Pena, and it is rumored that they are looking to deal Jason Bartlett and B.J. Upton. One can take or leave Bartlett—the Reds have other options at shortstop that may be better, though with Bartlett likely to be a Type-A free agent after the coming season, obtaining him could net the Reds a draft pick down the road—but Upton could be quite valuable. With their pitching depth, the Rays could retain or swap Volquez (they have sufficient pitching depth to do without him, and also have their own concerns about arbitration-eligible pitchers), but Alonso gives them an interesting option at first base that they do not have.

The Reds had two glaring problems last year, both of which Upton could solve. First, they had no obvious leadoff man. Dusty Baker tried Orlando Cabrera, Drew Stubbs, and Brandon Phillips in the role, but none did well and the lineup spot hit .244/.306/.378 overall. Second, Jonny Gomes was too much of a presence in left field. Gomes is the National League Marcus Thames, a fine platoon player with .276/.371/.507 career rates against left-handed pitchers, and a defensive nightmare. Worse, he was a power hitter who didn’t hit with notable power. Upton has stagnated, having hit just .250/.340/.399 over the last three seasons, but at 26 there is still hope, and he does some things the Reds could use, like walk, steal bases effectively, and use his speed effectively in the outfield. A pasture patrol comprised of Upton, Stubbs, and Bruce would be one of the better defensive units in recent memory. Upton clearly has problems of concentration, as his frequent clashes with Joe Maddon and his failure to draw a walk in his last two postseasons (42 PAs) suggest, but Baker may be able to reach Bossman Junior where Maddon failed.

Given the general paucity of shortstops around the game, the Reds don’t have world-beating options there, but their in-house choices might do just as well as anyone they can bring in. Paul Janish is a fine defender who can’t hit—it’s probably too much to hope for a repeat of even his .260/.338/.385 rates in 2010. Triple-A shortstop Zack Cozart is going to struggle to hit .250 in the bigs, but he has power that should play up in the Great American Ball Park, and good range. While it would be preferable for the Reds to have a new Dave Concepcion or Barry Larkin, some combination of Janish and Cozart should provide a survivable combination of O & D at the position, and thus this GM for a Day is not prioritizing the pursuit of a shortstop.

The bullpen is a more pressing concern. The unit was middling as a whole, and closer Francisco Cordero seems to be nearing the end of his useful lifespan with a strikeout-to-walk ratio that has declined for three straight seasons. Dealing him and the $13 million remaining on his contract is going to be a problem, so throwing money at an established closer type is likely out of the question. In any case, I believe that closers aren’t born, they’re made, so whichever of my many candidates for the starting rotation that doesn’t stick there will get a chance to demonstrate if their stuff plays up in the bullpen. In the meantime, I’m going to look hard at some of the talented but second-tier relievers on the free-agent market, pitchers such as Grant Balfour and Koji Uehara, who might be willing to come on short-term, reasonably-priced contracts, and can alternately set up or close depending on how bad things get with Cordero.

 Finally, I would make every effort to avoid arbitration with Bruce, Cueto, and Votto and sign them to long-term contracts. At 24, 25, and 27, respectively, each should be good for the long haul and remain the center of the ballclub for years to come. It has been over 30 years since the Reds were a year-in, year-out playoff contender, but given the fecklessness of the Astros, Cubs, and Pirates, the forever-on-the-brink nature of the Brewers, and the decline of the Cardinals, they have every chance to finally offer an encore to the Big Red Machine. They earned the chance with brilliant scouting work, and now it’s time to collect the reward.  

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  Edinson Volquez,  Reds

32 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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dREaDS Fan

This is perhaps the HotStove Fever speaking, but it seems the Reds match up better for the other Upton than they do BJ and the Rays. The Rays, as you say, don't particularly need another starting pitcher a la Volquez. The D-Backs are pitching needy & the Reds have the additional required pitchers/players/prospects (Mesorasco et al) to pull a J-Up trade off.

Nov 18, 2010 03:33 AM
rating: -2

There is absolutely no chance of this happening. None. Zero. Zilch.

As a Reds fan, do you think there'd be a chance in Hades for the Reds to trade Votto for any combination of marginal upgrades in the rotation? No way, Jose and Upton has a higher ceiling than Votto does.

It's nice to dream though, isn't it?

Nov 18, 2010 06:45 AM
rating: 3
Peter Hood

I have to agree. BJ Upton is a problem case IMO and not a good addition. I'd perhaps be talking to the DBacks about Drew and "pitching" Volquez and perhaps Alonso in that direction. I also agree the Justion Upton might be a good return although you would certainly have to include Alonso in the offer. Perhaps Alonso/Janish/Volquez/Mahoney for Upton/Drew.

Nov 18, 2010 06:46 AM
rating: -3

I contend you'd need way more than an above average SS/pitcher combo plus a light-hitting 1B and a below-average 26-year old pitching prospect. WAY more to get Upton alone, without adding Drew into the mix.

Nov 18, 2010 06:54 AM
rating: 3

Upton himself would have to bring in 2 elite players, I would think. Votto is elite, but obviously isn't going anywhere.

Chapman & Bruce and Towers might be interested - which is why I don't see an Upton deal getting done.

Nov 18, 2010 06:58 AM
rating: 3

I'm sorry. I don't want to be snarky. But this offer (and dREaDs') is insane. Justin Upton is YOUNGER than Domonic Brown and is signed through 2015 for about 50 million dollars. There's a legitimate chance he outperforms his salary by close to 100 million dollars over that time and hasn't even approached his prime. The man went .300/.366/.532 in his AGE 21 SEASON. He's also a very strong defensive player by most measures.

That doesn't even address the fact that Drew might legitimately have been the 2nd best SS in all of baseball in 2010, behind Tulowitzki. VORP and bWAR preferred Hanley as #2, but fWAR picks Drew.

I don't know if the Reds have the goods to make a trade for Upton at all. I think the Diamondbacks would be more than justified at turning down some sort of Chapman, Leake, Alonso, Wood and more package - and I don't think the Reds move Bruce or Votto.

Nov 18, 2010 07:39 AM
rating: 2

yup - they can do it without Votto, but they can't keep both he and Bruce

for Upton, I think you can keep Towers on the phone with Chapman + Bruce, but you're going to have to give a little more to seal the deal

if you're trying to get (the underrated) Drew, too, then you're throwing in Leake and one of Janish/Cozart

Chapman, Bruce, Leake, Janish, and Heisey for Upton and Drew?

I still think Towers might say no, and that's a butt-load of cheap talent...

Nov 18, 2010 09:26 AM
rating: 0

That's a downgrade at RF and SS for the Diamondbacks, and I'm not sure they'd be upgrading anywhere in the rotation either. Chapman is too much an unknown to be seen as a sure-thing-ace. Don't forget, the Dbacks still have Hudson, Saunders, and Kennedy all of whom are under 30 and no worse than guys like Cueto, Leake, Wood, and Bailey.

My Cincy relatives perpetually overrate the talent on their team, and I think some people in the city's media fall into the same trap leading to an unrealistic optimism among their fans.

Chapman could be special, but the rest of the rotation has the opportunity to be above-average at best. In the preseason Top-10, KG said Wood's ceiling is likely a 4th starter and Leake's a 3rd. Heisey could be a "good 4th outfielder". Those aren't the kind of players that would pry a Justin Upton or Stephen Drew away, let alone both.

You don't trade stars and add a handful of average talent. Unless you're the Twins trading away Santana. Ba-zing!

Nov 18, 2010 09:42 AM
rating: 0

rebuilding teams often make trades where they downgrade themselves in the now, though...

In their 3-years in The Show, Bruce has produced one more run (per FG) than Upton. Upton obviously has more upside and a more team-friendly contract, but there is a very real chance that Bruce is better over the next couple of years ... Chapman is one of the elite prospects in the game

(This is for fun, of course, but...) If the D'Backs were to deal Upton & Drew, they would probably target young arms, an OF, a SS, and either a 3B or another OF

Bruce + Chapman + Heisey for Upton feels close to fair to me

Leake + Janish/Cozart for Drew also feels fair, but it might be a little light, since nobody in that package has 'star power' ... maybe add Juan Francisco

If you were Towers, would you turn Upton/Drew into Chapman/Leake/Francisco/Janish/Bruce/Heisey?

That would be a young, loaded D'Back team

Like I said - can't see it happening, though...

Nov 18, 2010 10:01 AM
rating: 0

Trade speculation is fun!

I'll answer your question: If I were Towers, I would listen, as is my sacred duty, but no I wouldn't take that trades. Here's why:
1) At worst, Upton = Bruce. And I'll take the risks I know over the ones I don't.
2) I don't like any of the other players the Reds are offering beyond Chapman, when I'm considering the long-term future of my club. As I stated above, I'm lukewarm on Leake.
3) At 25 and 28, neither Janish or Cozart excite me at all when I already have a young-ish power-hitting and defensive-wizardly shortstop on my roster.
4) I don't need a fourth outfielder like Heisey because I already have Gerardo Parra and Brandon Allen, and am not sure what to do with them aside from stick one at 1B and pray.
5) Juan Francisco similarly doesn't help me since I've acknowledged that my team's biggest trouble is that it strikes out too much and can't take a walk. That's Francisco's game and he'd be taking me in the wrong directon.
6) I'd make some halfhearted inquiries into having Alonzo thrown in with the group you mentioned, but I wouldn't be excited about it.
7) Financially it doesn't excite me. I'm only saving about $20 million over the next 5 years by trading that collection for Upton and Drew, and that money would barely buy me a replacement-level veteran over that time at the going market rate.

It's an interesting offer but in the end, it would help the Reds immensely and the Dbacks very little.

A MORE interesting trade would be the Dbacks sending Drew to Tampa for BJ Upton.... :)

Nov 18, 2010 10:20 AM
rating: 1

I agree with most of your points ... I still think that Towers would lose sleep if that offer were on the table

I disagree that in a WORST CASE, Upton is equal to Bruce. For one, Bruce has already been better than Upton (I know, I know, UPSIDE!). That aside, there are certainly scenarios where Bruce is better than Upton over the next 5 years. I don't know that I would BET on it, but it's a non-zero chance.

- I think Heisey can be a slightly above average outfielder, rotating around and getting 400 PA (like the Rangers use David Murphy) - for 400k, that's a valuable player
- I'd prefer Heisey to Parra, and Heisey is under control for 5+ years
- Francisco is a nice upside play that also lets you trade Mark Reynolds
- If you could sub Alonso for Heisey/Janish and then flip Alonso to a team needing a young 1B, then you make out that much better

Nov 18, 2010 14:58 PM
rating: 0

also, if Chapman doesn't get you excited, then you need to get you some Baseball Viagra!

Nov 18, 2010 15:00 PM
rating: -1

Steven, you forgot to mention that BJ Upton's low-OBP leadoff style meshes perfectly with Dusty Baker's. Corey Patterson...Willy Taveras....Orlando Cabrera....Drew Stubbs.....Brandon Phillips....not a one of them with an OBP any higher than 355. It's a match made in heaven for the Reds! (And maybe in that park in an easy division we'll finally start to see the power that BJ's pedigree promised us so many years ago.)

Nov 18, 2010 06:50 AM
rating: 1

this team really can't add payroll. votto and bruce's arb and phillips big raise eats up a lot. moving a pitcher for a SS or LF would be ideal. likely this team comes to camp very similar to last year's squad.

Nov 18, 2010 07:32 AM
rating: 0

I think Alex Gordon is the perfect fit for the Reds. He could platoon with Gomes in left and sub for Rolen, who needs frequent days-off, at third. I don't think it would take that much to get him. That leaves only shortstop (and lead-off) as a problem. I would offer Arroyo, Mesoraco or Grandal, Janish or Cozart, and another starter option like Thompson, LeCure, or Maloney to the Mets for Reyes. Not sure the Mets bite, but that's a lot in return for one year of Reyes.

Nov 18, 2010 07:52 AM
rating: 2

Love both of these target ideas. But I don't believe Grandal can be traded until he's been under contract for a year (or any pick from the 2010 draft). I'm also not sure Arroyo (at his salary) would particularly excite the Mets, especially if there were making a for-the-future sort of move like trading Reyes.

Nov 18, 2010 08:24 AM
rating: 0

The notion that Aroldis Chapman was "Made in Ohio, USA," is ... interesting. Guys who spend less than a season in a farm system before hitting the Show were hardly "made" in that system. Signed, yes, but developed? That happened before he got there.

Nov 18, 2010 08:06 AM
rating: 1

Not to mention that his half-season in AAA was spent in Kentucky. The meaning is perfectly clear - they've acquired great value from within their own system - just expressed inelegantly.

Nov 21, 2010 14:08 PM
rating: 0

Uh, Voltron is a southpaw.... (er, Volquez)

Nov 18, 2010 08:23 AM
rating: -3

Not really. He's a righty.

Nov 18, 2010 09:32 AM
rating: 2

My bad -sorry!

Nov 18, 2010 10:33 AM
rating: 0

No mention of Rolen? He struggled in the second half of the season and they need to find someone to groom into playing 3rd.

Nov 18, 2010 09:05 AM
rating: 0

Redsfan beat me to my thought, Scott Rolen. He's a rock solid player when healthy and interested, but he's not both of those things very often anymore. I know it was only three games, but he looked old and dreadful in the playoffs. I don't know - is he a good clubhouse guy? Watching him over his career, the guy always looks miserable.

Nov 18, 2010 09:26 AM
rating: 0

Hence, Alex Gordon? I'd be curious to Steve's thoughts re Todd Frazier and Juan Francisco as L-T replacements @ 3B


Nov 18, 2010 10:34 AM
rating: 0

"Alonso is more blocked than Finland in 1939." That's why I subscribe to this website.

Nov 18, 2010 11:34 AM
rating: 5


Nov 19, 2010 14:15 PM
rating: -1

Good, but I actually preferred the Jay "Don't Bring Me Down" Bruce reference.

Dec 20, 2010 01:47 AM
rating: 0

bozarowski: Didn't know that about the one-year trade rule; thanks. Maybe Phillips instead of Arroyo? But it has to be one of those two guys (or Cordero, who I know they don't want) for the Reds to be able to afford Reyes in 2011.

Nov 18, 2010 13:13 PM
rating: 0

The guy I think the Reds could get for LF in a below-value deal is Matt Kemp. Kemp/Stubbs/Bruce would be an outstanding defensive OF, and while leadoff would still be a problem, the upgrade in LF over Gomes would more than make up for it, both offensively and defensively.

It's no secret that the Dodgers aren't too keen on Kemp anymore. He'd likely see a boost in production at GAP. Plus, the Dodgers could use some arms. This one could happen.

I'll throw one out there--Leake/Heisey/Alonso/Frazier for Kemp/Broxton. Do that and work out some way to land Stephen Drew(trade Volquez for him?)to bat leadoff and play SS and you've got a perennial contender.

Nov 19, 2010 19:25 PM
rating: -1

I don't think you'll get Broxton, but Kemp is a better suggestion than Upton, for sure.

Nov 22, 2010 07:04 AM
rating: 0

For an established SP like Volquez (or Bailey, who I had thought of as being the prime Reds SP trade chip), I would think LA would at least talk about Kemp.

Nov 22, 2010 14:03 PM
rating: 0

If I ask really nicely, will you trade Alonso to the orioles for Luke Scott, um, some relievers who might get cut anyway?

Nov 22, 2010 17:54 PM
rating: 0
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