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June 29, 2012

What the Contenders Need

NL Central

by R.J. Anderson, Jeff Euston and Kevin Goldstein

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With a little over a month to go until the non-waiver trading deadline, talks between teams are heating up. In a seven-part series appearing over the coming week, several BP authors will be covering the needs, potential fits, and more for the contenders in each division, as well as a rundown of the top 10 player trade targets. Today, we take a look at the NL Central.

Cincinnati Reds

Playoff Odds
Opening Day: 53%
High: 82% (6/17)
Low: 35% (4/14)
Current: 70%

Payroll picture
Walt Jocketty made a nine-figure bet this spring when he signed Joey Votto to a record $225 million extension running through 2023. A week later, Brandon Phillips signed for $72.5 million, and suddenly the Reds had leapfrogged to the top of the NL Central with $255 million in payroll commitments for 2013-17.

The Reds opened 2012 with a franchise-record $87 million payroll, but Cincinnati’s financial situation is not unmanageable. Jocketty has 10 players signed for 2013 at a cost of about $70 million, with his current roster intact except for Scott Rolen, whose deal expires this season. —Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
Jocketty has as much experience with blockbuster July trades as any general manager in the division. When Jocketty ran point in St. Louis, he consummated July trades that netted superstars like Scott Rolen, Larry Walker and Mark McGwire. Since joining Cincinnati, Jocketty’s deadline deals have been less eventful, but his penchant for the big deal was again on display during the winter when he acquired Mat Latos.

Biggest positional needs
Well-built teams build depth, not cores at the deadline. The Reds are in a position where the marginal upgrade of acquiring a new starting pitcher or shortstop might not be worth the cost. As a result, expect the Reds to shop around for some reserve pieces, perhaps a new right-handed reliever or another bench bat.

Potential fits
Generally, finding a trade partner for a bench or bullpen piece is no more difficult than sorting through what the non-contenders have to offer. Jocketty could look at the Athletics, Mariners, and Astros and make a run at one of their veteran arms, such as Grant Balfour, Brandon League, or Brett Myers. Bear in mind that Jocketty doesn’t need to make a move in order to secure the Reds’ standing as one of the league’s better teams. —R.J. Anderson

Top trade chips
The Reds don't have the kind of system to produce a blockbuster trade, as Billy Hamilton isn't going anywhere. That said, the Reds do have some depth at shortstop and Didi Gegorious is Double-A proven in terms of defense, and a solid line drive bat. As crazy as it might sound, don't be surprised if Paul Janish is used as a throw-in based solely on his defensive chops. Oft-injured Kyle Lotzker remains a big-bodied right-hander with plus velocity, and some scouts would like to see what he can do out of the bullpen. —Kevin Goldstein

Milwaukee Brewers

Playoff Odds
Opening Day: 72%
High: 78% (4/1)
Low: 11% (6/25)
Current: 13%

Payroll picture
The Brewers watched Prince Fielder leave for free agency last winter without so much as making an offer to their homegrown star. Fielder’s $200 million asking price was simply too high for Milwaukee. Nevertheless, the Brewers followed up their 2011 NL Central title by bumping their payroll to a club-record $98 million this season. But that decision hasn’t paid off in the standings.

Milwaukee’s window of opportunity could be closing soon. Starters Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum will become free agents after the World Series. With the $10 million 2013 option on Randy Wolf’s contract not looking like particularly attractive idea right now, the Brewers face the prospect of rebuilding their starting rotation for 2013. But with seven players under contract at about $51 million next season, Doug Melvin does enjoy some financial flexibility. —Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
Adding CC Sabathia in 2008 is Doug Melvin’s most significant deadline acquisition. In recent years, Melvin’s strategy has been to buttress his core. A good example of this is last July, when Melvin was able to snag Francisco Rodriguez and Jerry Hairston, Jr. without further gouging an already weak farm system.

Biggest positional needs
Milwaukee’s decision to shift Corey Hart to first base and allow Norichika Aoki to play right field looks like a good one. That leaves the Brewers’ greatest needs at shortstop and on the mound. Alex Gonzalez is on the 60-day disabled list, meaning the Brewers are using Cesar Izutris and Cody Ransom to tag-team at short. Meanwhile, the Brewers rotation is dealing with numerous injuries of its own. Add in John Axford’s struggles, as he is presently doing his best Derrick Turnbow impersonation, and pitching could be Melvin’s priority.

Potential fits
Veteran shortstop options like Marco Scutaro and Jason Bartlett could catch the Brewers’ eyes (particularly if Bartlett is released). The usual array of pitchers will come up, too, though there is one potential catch: Melvin may opt against buying, and instead test the market to determine Zack Greinke’s worth. —R.J. Anderson

Top trade chips:
The Brewers still have a farm system with few talents beyond their 2011 and 2012 draft picks. There is some scouting interest in Low-A shortstop Yadiel Rivera, a big, athletic, slick-fielding shortstop with some raw power, though he has never put up numbers. On the flip side is Scooter Gennett, one of those little second basemen who just flat out hits. —Kevin Goldstein

Pittsburgh Pirates

Playoff Odds
Opening Day: 3%
High: 10% (6/24)
Low: 0% (4/14)
Current: 7%

Payroll picture
The Pirates positioned themselves as buyers at the trade deadline a year ago, then found themselves 10 games out of first place after the first week of August. It would seem the Bucs remained aggressive in the off-season, judging by the widely reported Opening Day payroll figure of $63 million, a 50-percent increase from their 2011 mark of $42 million. But with the Yankees paying $11.5 million of A.J. Burnett’s 2012 salary, Pittsburgh actually is spending just $51.9 million, last in baseball.

It’s certainly not as if the Pirates are hamstrung by dead money. Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen are signed affordably through 2016 and 2017, respectively. And Burnett and Clint Barmes are the only other players signed for 2013. However, Pittsburgh could have as many as 10 players file for arbitration in the off-season, including key contributors James McDonald and Neil Walker. —Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
Neal Huntington entered July 2011 as an unlikely and first-time buyer. He resisted the temptation of emptying his farm system to chase the postseason, instead settling on low-cost alternatives like Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick. Expect Huntington to take a similar approach this season.

Biggest positional needs
The struggles of Casey McGehee and Alex Presley leave the Pirates yearning to acquire a better player at one of three positions: first base, corner outfield, or third base (the Pirates could then shift Pedro Alvarez to the cold corner). It seems doubtful that Pittsburgh would quit on Clint Barmes already, though his offensive performance to date certainly justifies it.

Potential fits
One wonders if the Pirates might pursue a Carlos Quentin or Carlos Lee trade. A player like Lee is not ideal, but the Pirates are receiving such poor production from their incumbents that, like last season, they could acquire unexcitable upgrades and still come out better for it.  – R.J. Anderson

Top trade chips
The Pirates are not going to completely sacrifice their future by trading one of many high-ceiling pitching prospects, but every team in baseball has enough prospects to pull off a lesser deal. While he's certainly crashed as a prospect, Gorkys Hernandez remains a plus-plus defensive center fielder who should have value off the bench, and he's pretty much big-league ready. While his ceiling is that of a No. 4 or 5 starter, lefty Rudy Owens is nearly big-league ready, and could generate interest. —Kevin Goldstein

St. Louis Cardinals

Playoff Odds
Opening Day: 63%
High: 92% (5/11)
Low: 55% (6/19)
Current: 72%

Payroll picture
John Mozeliak lost out on the bidding for Albert Pujols in December as the asking price rocketed well past the $200 million mark. But the St. Louis GM countered by spending a cool $127 million to bring back Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal, sign free agent Carlos Beltran and lock up Yadier Molina.

The Cardinals’ Opening Day payroll of $110 million is close to their 2011 mark, and Mozeliak has eight players under contract for 2013 at a cost of $83 million. The eight-figure salaries for Berkman and Kyle Lohse come off the books this winter, so the Cardinals have some room to maneuver if the right opportunity presents itself. —Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
Mozeliak, like his predecessor Jocketty, is willing to make a bold move when the opportunity presents itself. Last July, Mozeliak executed a much-maligned three-way trade that sent Colby Rasmus to Toronto for what amounted to Edwin Jackson and some relief pitchers. Mozeliak then acquired Rafael Furcal in a later deal. Thanks to the two trades, the Cardinals not only made the postseason, but also won the tournament.

Biggest positional needs
Lance Berkman’s inability to stay healthy has the St. Louis resorting to a three-headed monster (Matt Adams, Matt Carpenter, and Allen Craig). Suggesting the Cardinals hedge their bets on Berkman’s return sounds smart, but it doesn’t seem to work logistically, at least not as the roster is currently constructed. More likely is that St. Louis will troll for pitchers, be it starters or relievers. The Cardinals do have Chris Carpenter returning soon, and a strong comeback could limit their interest in adding another rotation piece.

Potential fits
As is the case with the Reds, the Cardinals may pursue arms similar to Balfour, League, and Myers. —R.J. Anderson

Top trade chips
The Cardinals certainly have the resources to pull off a blockbuster if they so desire, but in a system will plenty of Top 100 prospects, it's hard seeing them putting Oscar Taveras, Kolten Wong or Shelby Miller on the table under any circumstances. More realistic targets could be pitching prospects John Gast and Trevor Rosenthal, both of whom are close to ready to be middle or back-of-the-rotation starters. In terms of throw-ins, Adron Chambers could be attractive as an extra outfielder, and third baseman Tyler Rahmatulia has shown some impressive hitting ability at the lower levels. —Kevin Goldstein

 

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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

BP Comment Quick Links

SC

I know Billy Hamilton is an exciting talent because he is unique, but is he really untradable? For all the value he may have as a .320/.370/.450 hitter with 80 steals, he's not a five tool middle of the lineup force. Other clubs have been recently willing to trade better hitting prospects (Montero the most obvious example).

Is the idea that Hamilton is more valuable, that he's uniquely valuable, or that the Reds don't need to acquire the kind of big league talent they would expect to receive in exchange for him?

Jun 29, 2012 07:39 AM
rating: 0
 
captfadeaway

As in the case of Aroldis Chapman, it seems that the buzz-generating value of Billy Hamilton is equal to (if not greater) than his value as a player for the Reds. Even with the recent flurry of coverage acknowledging the God-like talent of Joey Votto, Chapman and Hamilton get more ink than anybody else in the organization. For a club looking to someday rival the attendance success of the St. Louis Cardinals, the chance to add one more charismatic star on the cheap probably makes Hamilton untradable.

Jun 29, 2012 16:10 PM
rating: 0
 
nschneider

I love the playoff odds chart for the Astros. They've been flat-lining since day one.

Jun 29, 2012 08:01 AM
rating: 2
 
cubfan131

I was going to comment that the Reds and Cubs colors are too close together to be able to tell them apart. But then I realized the Cubs could be white and we'd know what their odds were.

Jun 29, 2012 09:20 AM
rating: 3
 
drawbb

The color confusion is actually a legitimate complaint, and this isn't the first division profile in which it's been a problem. Seems like there are plenty of colors that could be used to avoid any issue...

Jun 30, 2012 04:10 AM
rating: 0
 
MaineSkin

Remember, Hamilton is hitting where Gary Brown hit next year and since I've heard he's skinnier than DGordon, I doubt he has a VColeman year coming in the future.
Cincy has the bats to win, now, and if they elevated the pressure off of Latos by sending Hamilton and Cingrani to Mil for Grienke, I see the Reds being a force in the playoffs with a Grienke, Cueto and Latos threesome.

Jun 29, 2012 16:23 PM
rating: 1
 
captfadeaway

That's not a bad idea, really, as far as winning this year is concerned. What probably halts that, though, is that Greinke's likely to sign elsewhere after October. Those massive Votto and Phillips contracts are decent bets, but if the TV money doesn't balloon like everyone's expecting it to, the Reds could end up financially hamstrung.

I don't expect Hamilton to perform in the bigs like he's doing in the minors, but if he comes reasonably close, he helps Cincinnati on the field and at the ticket booth for years. I think Jocketty will hang on to him for that reason alone.

Jun 29, 2012 16:40 PM
rating: 0
 
ddufourlogger

I have thought the same thing actually....that Greinke would be a great get for the Redlegs. You'd have arguably the best staff in the NL, perhaps only rivaled by Philly. And with Latos and Cueto signed for a few more years, relatively reasonably, there's at least a CHANCE that Greinke could be kept even at something close to market rate for an ace. Not likely, I would agree, but at least a conversational possibility. He does prefer to stay out of the spotlight, so the big market players are unlikely to be attractive to him.

I've also thought that it's time for KC to make the leap next year and bring their homegrown kid back to ace that staff. They've got the young position players, but need that legit #1 to become contenders in a winnable AL Central. Royals put $100M on the table for 5 years and he might jump at it.

Jul 02, 2012 13:55 PM
rating: 0
 
Ric Size

Could someone please explain to me how Pittsburgh's playoff odds are 7%, when they are 1/2 game ahead of St. Louis, whose playoff odds are at 72%. We're nearly half way through the season. I'm not being sarcastic; I would really be interested in the rationale.

Jun 29, 2012 19:01 PM
rating: 0
 
dhcohen

Must be run differential. Pittsburgh is at +3, St. Louis at +60.

Jun 29, 2012 23:08 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Take a look at our Adjusted Standings and Playoff Odds reports. The Adjusted Standings report looks at St. Louis' underlying stats and sees the best team in the National League. It looks at the Pirates and sees a team that's played like it should be 33-42. The Playoff Odds report shows a future expected winning percentage of .564 for the Cardinals and .459 for Pittsburgh, as I write this, so that's where the difference in the odds comes from.

Jun 29, 2012 23:22 PM
 
Ric Size

Okay, here's my follow-up question. Presuming both teams run differentials stay the same as well as their position in the standings, at what point in the season do the odds even out?

Jun 30, 2012 09:26 AM
rating: 0
 
cams322

Assuming the run differentials stay the same, the odds even out when the pirates real record is further ahead of the cardinals real record than the differential between 564 and 459 winning percentages in the remaining games can make up.

Hoping the pirates hang in there until the end, it would make a great story. I just wouldn't bet on it.


Jul 01, 2012 09:36 AM
rating: 0
 
David Jackson

Man, talking about trading Hamilton and Gast makes me sad.

David Blaine couldn't come up with a pickoff move as good as John Gast has. With Molina's arm and Hamilton's speed, there's a game in 2014 where it all comes together. It'd be amazing. I could just watch that for an hour.

Jul 03, 2012 12:05 PM
rating: 0
 
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