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It’s time to face reality in Cincinnati and admit that it’s really just bolognese sauce and shredded cheese. In unrelated news, it’s also time to trade Johnny Cueto. The Reds’ ace is in the last year of his contract and the team probably won’t re-sign him. At this point, it’s just a matter of which hat Cueto should buy at Lids in the mall before he takes a cab to Covington Airport for the very last time. Here at Baseball Prospectus, we’d like to help him in the process. We’ve challenged our writers to take over a team (randomly assigned) and put together a trade offer for Cueto to see who could land him. Their proposals are below, mostly in the order that they arrived.

Playing the part of Reds GM Walt Jocketty is Mr. #GoryMath himself, Russell A. Carleton.

From the Reds’ perspective, they do have a few assets that might be tempting to other teams in the race. Cueto is the obvious chip to be thrown into the pot because of his contract status (and that he’s a really good pitcher), and because the Phillies are still trying to decide whether they want to trade Cole Hamels. (Hint: yes.)

But there’s more to it. Depending how big of a tear-down the Reds want to do, they might also consider trading second baseman/right fielder Brandon Phillips/Jay Bruce (now an average player signed through 2017 for an entirely average free agent salary), senior-discount-eligible left fielder Marlon Byrd, and a starting pitcher or two. If the Reds want to get really adventurous, they could trade fire-balling closer Aroldis Chapman even though he is under team control through 2017. (Without Cueto, can the Reds really make a case that they have a real chance next year, and if not, why pay a closer to finish 30 of the 75 wins you’ll notch?) They could trade Todd Frazier, a legitimate cost-controlled All-Star now, but who will be on the wrong side of 30 next year. They could even trade (gasp!) Joey Votto to dump his contract.

For a team that has a farm system long on high floor, low-ceiling prospects, but short on sizzle, that could bring back some interesting pieces for the next great (or at least reasonably good) Reds team. But when will that team show up? In 2016? 2019?

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the offers as they roll in.

Minnesota Twins
To: Walt Jocketty
From: Terry Ryan (Brandon Decker)

Your team isn’t getting any younger, and outside of Robert Stephenson and Jesse Winker, your farm system is pretty weak. Well, you’re now talking with the perfect partner. Everyone knows we have the best farm system in baseball. Our team is in the hunt to make the playoffs and we’re willing to give up valuable pieces to pursue it.

We’re offering Nick Gordon, Kohl Stewart, Nick Burdi, and Oswaldo Arcia for Cueto and Byrd.

You’re looking to deal Cueto and Byrd is likely in his last season. Gordon can man second base once Phillips’ contract expires, or better yet, take over for Zack Cozart once this fluke season is over. Stewart has no. 2 starter potential. Burdi is a flame-throwing closer who lets you deal Chapman for more goodies. (You’re welcome.) Arcia gives you a majors-ready power bat.

To: Terry Ryan
From: Walt Jocketty

The problem with my minor-league system, Terry, isn’t that it’s weak. It’s that it’s replete with guys who profile as good, respectable major leaguers. Boring? Sure. But functional. Still, you are offering some interesting pieces. Arcia is a corner guy with some pop (or as non-Midwesterners say, soda) who can’t play decent defense. In a corner. And we don’t have that designated thing over here. Still, I did go out and actively shop for Marlon Byrd this off-season.

Stewart could be a replacement for Cueto in a couple of years, so that’s nice. Gordon could be Brandon Phillips. Burdi throws hard, but it seems that there are a zillion relievers around who throw really fast. It seems like in a best case scenario, in two years I’d have the same team that I do now, but with Frazier and Votto two years older. There’s value in here, but I wonder if I could get something better.

Toronto Blue Jays
Hi Walt, hope you and Sue are both well. Wanted to see if we could get something done for Cueto, who we really like. I’d be willing to put together a package of Marcus Stroman, Anthony Alford, and A.J. Jimenez, assuming you can take on $2.5 mm of the $5 mm left on Cueto’s contract for the rest of this year.

We like Stroman a lot, but feel we still have a shot at the division this year and know Cueto can help put us over the top. Given that Stroman won’t be contributing this year, we see this as a total positive addition to the team for 2015. Alford is another guy we really like, but we’re comfortable with our outfield for the next few years and I think he’s the sort of guy who’d fit really well into your lineup. Jimenez, similarly, can step in at catcher this season, though he’ll probably need a bit more seasoning at Louisville.

–AA (Rian Watt)

***

Hi Alex. Sue is doing great. We’re planning a trip to Sonoma soon for a little R&R and some indie league baseball. If you are in the neighborhood, stop on by!

This is a ballsy trade package on a number of levels. Obviously, Stroman is injured, but my oh my was it pretty when he pitched last year. Jimenez, though a catcher, has had Tommy John surgery and it’s not like the bat is a thing of beauty in Triple-A, so maybe he’s a backup to the backup. Alford is unpolished because of his college football past and missed some developmental time, but no one doubts the athleticism. So, if I believe in Stroman’s recovery from ACL surgery, I may have a very quick Cueto replacement right there. Jimenez isn’t much, but Alford is a fun lottery ticket. This one would be good if I decide to trade Cueto, but promise to the fans that we’re still in it for 2016.

Tempting…

–WJ

Baltimore Orioles
Good day, Walt!

I want to make a push this year while the AL East is ripe for the picking and Cueto and Phillips are key pieces to help us out. We’ve got several young stud pitchers you might like. Because I’m so motivated to get this deal done, I’m going to offer you your choice of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, or Hunter Harvey. These three guys are all cost-controlled young arms with tremendous potential.

Cheers,
Dan (Ben Murphy)

***

Good morrow, Dan!

I guess this is the Carlos Beltran–for–Zack Wheeler deal, except that it also involves Phillips. Quality over quantity. Hard to really go wrong on picking which arm I’d prefer. Put them in a bag and pull one out at random. Bundy has had TJ, while Gausman has not, but Gausman hasn’t been amazing in his initial tries at MLB. Harvey is a little further off than the other two, but it’s clear the stuff is there. So, if I take this deal, I have a lovely piece to pair with Robert Stephenson in 2017, but I’ll probably also have to concede that I need to trade Chapman and Bruce if I’m trading away Phillips in the same deal. And as much as I rag on Phillips, he is still the kind of guy who can put up a two-win season, and it’s not like those are easy to find.

Must be nice having all those arms to trade!

All the best,
Walt

Houston Astros
Hey Walt,

Long time, no see! I’m at the part of my #process where I need to acquire a good pitcher, so I’m doing some due diligence on Cueto. As you know, we still have a stacked farm system. But as you might not know, I’m willing to deal, even for a short-term fix.

You’ve got some pretty good players, so I’m guessing you don’t want a ton of low-minors guys. You want some players who can help you compete next year, and I’ve got what you need. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Vincent Velasquez: can replace Cueto this year;

Domingo Santana: a bit of a hacker (too soon?) but can be a no. 4 outfielder with some major power at the least;

Tony Kemp: we’ve got Altuve, so Kemp is blocked, but Phillips is like 60 years old (please don’t show him this) and Kemp can be an option for you soon.

Let me know what you’re thinking. We can kick the tires on some other names as well.

Best,
Jeff (Ben Carsley)

P.S. Don’t even think about asking for Carlos Correa or George Springer. I’m not Billy. LOL.

Confidentiality Notice:

This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential and intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to whom they are addressed. If you have received this email in error please notify the system manager. If you are not the named addressee you should not forward this to Deadspin.

***

Hey Jeff,

Yeah, definitely long time no see. Ever since you left St. Louis and then you guys switched leagues, no more excuses to get together.

Anyway, while I must admit I was sad not to see the name Correa in your offer, because it would totally make sense for you to send your no. 1 overall pick and future shortstop for a three-month rental. But with that said, can I have Correa?

Velasquez can replace Cueto in the sense that someone has to pitch in that spot, but he’s going to have to cut the walks if he wants to actually be a replacement. (Which isn’t to say that success in the majors at 23, with very little time in the high minors, isn’t impressive.) Santana has a big bat that he seemingly uses to hit home runs and field balls. There’s value in that and he’s probably a major leaguer, but you have to look at the whole player. Kemp is a diet Altuve. Nice piece to have around, but I’ve already got a lot of complementary pieces in the farm system.

This is a very realistic offer. Cueto is probably worth a couple of wins over the course of the next 2.5 months if all goes well and probably bumps up your odds of a World Series this year by a bit, but like any trade, only a bit. I guess that’s the dirty secret of these sorts of deals. Really, you’re talking about maybe a 1 percent bump in championship odds. But someone has to win that championship, and I #commend you for trying.

P.S. Why are we using pound signs in front of random words? I #want to know.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Walt,

Good to see you in Pittsburgh last month. I’m glad you made the road trip so we could talk some business in person. Here’s my offer: Cueto and Eugenio Suarez for Nick Kingham, Harold Ramirez, and Elias Diaz.

I think this helps you pair up some of your top guys with some complementary players. Kingham can slot in with Stephenson as the premier arms in your stable, and he’ll be ready very soon.

Ramirez makes a well-rounded addition to an outfield that should include Winker soon. His athleticism and build help him produce results on the field and at the plate. He still needs some refinement around his approach, but his bat speed will play up with more experience and coaching. I think there’s some Carlos Lee in his profile, and that would make a damn good regular to hold down a corner outfield spot.

Even though Diaz doesn’t have the upside of the other two guys, he can probably slot in as your backup catcher next season and for years to come. He’s still got some starter potential, but his defensive profile gives him a high floor.

I know you’re not interested in a lengthy rebuild, and I think all three of these guys will help you sooner rather than later. I’d love to beat Mozeliak and get a shot at a World Series this year. It’s been a long time in their shadow for everyone in this division.

–Neal (Jeff Long)

***

Neal,

Yeah, I love me a good Primanti Bros. sandwich. It was good to see you.

Let’s back up here. Suarez? You want Suarez? A 23-year-old who can play short and has delivered above-replacement value in his brief time in the bigs? Were you thinking that would slip past me? Look, if I’m trading Cueto, it means that I need to be thinking at least a little bit about a rebuild. Suarez may not be the next Barry Larkin, but that’s the sort of guy I’m going to want to hold onto, unless I’m doing some upgrading. Kingham looks like a very low-risk, solid workhorse, Ramirez is mostly projection, and “some Carlos Lee” isn’t very comforting to me. Why does everyone want to trade me their second-best pitching prospect, a corner outfielder, and a backup catcher? Nothing against those guys, but I can do better for Cueto alone.

Plus, it would be a little taboo to trade in the division with you, even though Cueto would be gone from both of our rosters at the end of the year. But it would still be weird.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Dear Walt,

You need young talent, we need starters’ innings. There’s no guarantee that Brandon Beachy can actually pitch, and between you and me, I’m not sure what exactly a Michael P. Bolsinger is, and but I’ve got him starting every five days. So: We’d do Jose De Leon, Chris Anderson, Alex Verdugo, and Austin Barnes for Cueto and Mike Leake. You’ll love these guys. De Leon is a premium arm, and relatively close. Anderson’s 22, in Double-A for the first time, slots in above much of what you currently have, and he was a first round pick! Verdugo’s 19 and hitting .285 in full-season ball, spending most of his time in center field, and a second-rounder. Austin Barnes plays both second and catcher! He’s hitting .302! We’ve broken him into the major leagues already!

Four prospects for two rentals? Heck, I’m probably overpaying.

–Farhan (Kate Morrison)

[Hey Walt – Andrew here. I agree with everything Farhan said. Just wanted to let you know that I read all his emails before they go out.]

***

Dear Farhandrew,

Yes, I’m probably going to trade Leake. He’s 180 innings’ worth of league-average stuff, but for a team that needs a no. 4 guy, it wouldn’t be a bad investment. And maybe my best bet is to package Cueto and Leake, like the Cubs did with Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel last year. Of course, doing that netted them Addison Russell. I wonder if anyone out there would be willing to part with a top-10 prospect like that this year for a really good and a really average starter.

Outside of Barnes, who’s probably a major-leaguer but may not be a starter, this group is relatively far away. Verdugo is, as you point out, very very young. The other two players are both in Double-A, but Anderson’s results haven’t been good and De Leon’s only got about 50 innings there because he started the year in the Cal League. They’re not tiny babies, but this is more of a 2019 trade than a 2016 one.

If I wanted to aim in that direction, I could probably get a couple of guys in the 2019 range for Cueto alone and negotiate something else for Leake (and additional pieces for Phillips, Chapman, etc.). I could build a theoretical super-team for 2019–22, if I’m allowed to stick around that long through the inevitable 270 losses in three years. Leake wouldn’t fetch as much as Cueto, but I’m guessing a fellow GM would be more willing to part with a higher-ceiling guy if he was several years away. I’m assuming all the risk, after all. So the only reason to package those two is if I could get something really special from both of them that I couldn’t get elsewhere. Like the Cubs did with Russell. (Not to harp.)

So, looking at your system, unless Corey Seager is involved, I think I can get a deal better suited to my needs elsewhere.

–Walt

New York Mets
Hi Walt,

Probably didn’t expect to hear from me, right? We have more than enough pitching. But we’ve finally got a real chance at a playoff spot and there just aren’t a ton of impact hitters being shopped. I hear you’ve made Jay Bruce available, but we’re just not looking to take on that much salary at this time. And Billy seems to think that they’re still going to make the playoffs and won’t return my calls on Ben Zobrist.

Anyway, here’s our offer: Brandon Nimmo, Jhoan Urena, and Gavin Cecchini for Cueto.

You’re getting a bona fide top-100 prospect that you’ll be able to pair with Winker for a long time in the corners. Urena’s been progressing well on his rehab assignment and actually just went yard on Monday in the GCL. We’re not too concerned about the wrist being a long-term issue. He’s got a ways to go in the developmental process but there’s possible impact potential. Finally, we’ve been impressed with the steps Cecchini has taken at Double-A this year and he’ll bolster your middle infield depth alongside Suarez with Cozart and Phillips set to hit free agency in a couple of years.

Best,
Sandy (Chris Mosch)

***

Hey Sandy,

You guys apparently need someone to start Game Six? Well … okay.

I can never keep my Cecchini’s straight. I appreciate that you’re not trying to oversell Nimmo as a center fielder and Urena is the proverbial lottery ticket, even without the wrist injury. Cecchini is a shortstop, but did you know that he’s already made 21 errors this year at Double-A and that he made 27 last year? What is going on with him?

I don’t know that I can go back to my fans and say, “I got a boringly average corner guy, a really promising guy (no really), and a guy who can’t seem complete a throw to first.”

Best,
Walt

Los Angeles Angels
Walt,

I’d like to open a line of discussion about acquiring Cueto. My proposal is Tyler Skaggs, Alex Yarbrough, and Sean Newcomb for Cueto. My intention here is to offer you a major-league-caliber starter to replace Cueto as soon as next season—Skaggs—as well as a minor-league arm that can offer future production resembling what you received from Cueto—Newcomb. Yarbrough would add depth to your middle infield and could potentially replace Brandon Phillips after his contract expires in 2017.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

Thanks,

Bill Stoneman (Brendan Gawlowski)

***

Bill,

First off, congrats on getting that job. Again. I guess.

This deal is intriguing, but I’m trying to figure out if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Skaggs has already been passed to the Diamondbacks and then back to you guys. He had Tommy John surgery last year. His middle name is Wayne. But there’s still that “he’s 24, so he could still be a really good pitcher yet” thing. And he’s already MLB-proven. He gets groundballs. And it’s not like I can go watch his next start and see for myself. I’d have to take him sight unseen. Oh, how tempting. At least I know I’m getting an actual major leaguer.

Newcomb seems like a more sensible no. 3. As the headliner in a package, that wouldn’t make me smile, but as a secondary piece, that has some value. Yarborough seems like a tweener even as a utility guy. It’s a little much to say he could replace Phillips, but I’ll leave that aside.

Let’s keep in touch on this. At the very worst, I probably end up with a decent actual MLB pitcher with at least some #dream left in him and a perfectly good pitching prospect to go with him.

You’re welcome,

Walt Jocketty

Chicago Cubs
Hi Walt,

Glad you’re open and listening on Cueto at this stage. Although I know the decision to sell is hard, it’s one we had to consciously make very early in the process for a few years in a row, and we hope you won’t have to do it as often. Consistent, deep competition in the Central is good for all of us, from a long-term, infrastructural standpoint.

Obviously, when it comes to a trade like this, we’re both in a difficult position. I know Bob Castellini is sensitive to the idea of selling and trading Cueto, and I can tell you that our ownership group is actively wary of handing over something that might allow you guys to beat us in future division races. You can’t afford to give us a Jay Bruce, or even an Aroldis Chapman, and we can’t afford to give you a Kyle Schwarber. Too much concentrated future value changing hands within a division like that just makes both of our bosses too uneasy.

I have an offer for you, though, based on our success a couple years ago in maximizing our talent return for short-term pitching assets at the deadline. We were crestfallen when we weren’t able to trade Ryan Dempster for Randall Delgado, but we ended up landing both Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks for him, and truthfully, we feel like we dodged a bullet. Early in a rebuilding process, it can be so easy to lock in on that one sexy name; I want to encourage you not to do so, because it played majorly to our advantage once we stopped doing so. We got Pedro Strop, Jake Arrieta and IFA slots for Scott Feldman in ’13, and of course that bonanza of mid-level contributors for Matt Garza a few weeks after that.

Getting that kind of booster shot of depth really accelerated our rebuild. We’re contenders a year earlier than we expected to be, largely because so many of the arms we grabbed have added actual depth and value. So I want to give you guys the same opportunity, to use your short-term asset to amass long-term depth. We can offer Arismendy Alcantara, Duane Underwood, Jacob Turner, and Carl Edwards Jr. and we can take Cueto at full freight, with our owner’s pre-approval.

Looking forward to a continued dialogue, and ready to deal right now,

J. Hoyer (Matthew Trueblood)

***

Hi Jed,

First off, it’s good to talk to you again.

Second off, I was hoping that when you listed Alcantara first, you were just going alphabetically. He’s probably not as bad as he’s looked in his brief time in the bigs, but maybe you can do a little better. I could see you guys as a trade partner if I was looking for position player talent that was three to four years away (Gleyber Torres?) or perhaps if I wanted to make a splash in the other direction (and depending how you feel) maybe now would be a good time to unload Starlin Castro to free up some of that middle infield logjam?

I appreciate the discussion of needing to look for depth pieces, but I have a lot of depth pieces and in making this trade, I’m giving up “our ace” and any pretense that 2015 will be “our year.” If I’m not careful, I’ll send the message that I’m torpedoing 2016 too.

Too bad. Cueto would have fit in perfectly with Jon Lester and Arrieta in a playoff series. Just saying. You have my number.

W. Jocketty

San Francisco Giants
Walt,

Hope all is well with you and the family.

With some question marks lingering in our starting rotation, we’re interested in discussing Cueto, although a more realistic target for us might be Leake. Nonetheless, a pitcher of Cueto’s caliber would fit right in with our goal of keeping the pennant in San Francisco, so we’d be remiss not to at least compile a competitive offer.

We are prepared to make Christian Arroyo, Steven Okert, and Keury Mella future Reds, and to send two international signing slots to supplement your budget.

Arroyo gives you a refined infield prospect hitting well at High-A who could eventually fill the shoes of Phillips and make an excellent no. 2 hitter. Okert is a nice left-handed reliever who would fit into your bullpen as soon as this summer, and certainly by next year. Mella is a talented High-A pitcher about whom we’re very optimistic; it takes a major leaguer of Cueto’s ilk for us to consider including such an electric arm in a trade package.

Having already blown past our allotment to sign Bahamian shortstop Lucius Fox, we also propose sending to you two of our international signing slots, which would put us deeper into the tax penalty but supplement your ability to spend on the teenagers who’ve slipped through the cracks to this point in the signing period.

Please let us know where we stand. Thanks.

Best,
Bobby Evans (Daniel Rathman)

***

Bobby,

Mom and them are fine.

A reliever and two lottery tickets?

You stand over there.

Hugs,
Walt Jocketty

Kansas City Royals
Hey there Walt,

Dayton Moore here to offer you Kyle Zimmer, Hunter Dozier, Foster Griffin, and Zane Evans for Cueto and Jay Bruce.

Zimmer hasn’t been able stay on the mound, but he is healthy now and reminding everyone of his front-line potential. Griffin is a big-bodied lefty with potential to develop three 55 pitches and your organization seems a little light on southpaws. Dozier … well, there’s no denying he’s struggled at Double-A but there is still untapped ability in that stick and Todd Frazier won’t be a part of the next great Reds team. Evans is coming on strong as he continues to make the transition to full-time catcher; if it doesn’t work out, he can still throw 95.

I hate to give up first rounders from each of the past three years and a catcher that can hit but we have the pitching depth and badly need an ace for October. With Gordon out for a while, Bruce’s bat could slot right in and hedge against the possibility we don’t re-sign Alex next year.

–Dayton (Greg Wellenmeyer)

***

Hey Dayton,

It’s generally not a good sign when you start a paragraph with “hasn’t been able to stay on the mound” because we would need Zimmer to do exactly that. Three of the four guys in this deal come with a lot of risk/reward, either because they’re so young (Griffin), hurt (Zimmer), or learning a new position (Evans). If this was a big ol’ teardown, I could envision this sort of package because I’d probably be getting 10 new guys into the system, and could afford if one of them went bust.

–Walt

St. Louis Cardinals
Hi Walt,

How are things? Everything in St. Louis is pretty much the same.

I know how apprehensive you might be about dealing Cueto in the division, but I think you should, and I’m willing to pay a pretty penny to show him off to the BFIB (patent pending).

We’ll send you Steven Piscotty, Rob Kaminsky, Magneuris Sierra, and Chris Perry for Cueto.

I struggled to include this much for a player we’re going to lose at the end of the year, but gosh dang it we want another ring. Piscotty is ready to hit in the big leagues right now; he has a 60 hit tool and improving power that can certainly hold its own in a corner. Kaminsky has been sensational in the Florida State League, and he’s not doing it with smoke and mirrors: He’s a southpaw with three big-league pitches, and the curveball flashes plus-plus in some starts. Perry will be ready to help your bullpen next year; a reliever with a 60 fastball and 55 curveball is nothing to sneeze at, especially when he’s the fourth-best prospect in the deal.

The toughest name to include here—and the one I think you should be the most excited about—is Sierra. Yes he struggled in the MWL, but he’s a teenager, and he’s a guy who could have four 60 tools when all is said and done. Maybe you call him a lottery ticket, but call it a lottery ticket that already has two cherries scratched off.

We hope you find this proposal to your liking, and we look forward to you saying yes in the near future.

John (Chris Crawford)

***

Hey John,

Things are beautiful in the Queen City. We’ve got the All-Star Game. Okay, that’s about it.

Not messing around, eh? Piscotty. Check. Kaminsky and Sierra are both babies with some promise. I wouldn’t normally consider a deal with guys who are that far off, but the fact that Piscotty is headlining the deal makes it a little easier to start making those calculations.

This is very good deal. I’m surprised you’d be willing to give up this much, but I get that Cueto would go a long way toward replacing Adam Wainwright in the rotation and tightening the screws on everyone else who wouldn’t be able to get Cueto for themselves.

It would be a hard sell for me to the fans though. I really do believe in Piscotty, and he’d look lovely in left field for us, but he’s not a pitcher. Plus, I’m probably going to trade Leake as well. So next year, my starting rotation would be … Anthony Desclafani on Opening Day? Wasn’t he the lead singer in No Doubt?

But, I’m not saying no right now.

Walt

New York Yankees

Hey Walt,

It’s Brian . How’s it going? Bad, I bet, because you guys suck this year. Lol, just kidding, but not really, because you do.

It would be downright selfish and strategically unwise to keep Cueto around, especially in his walk year, because he’s pretty and a lot of teams want him. Like us! I feel like we’re a good starting pitcher away from pulling away in this junky division, so you should give him here!

Here’s what I’m offering you: Prospects, because we’re old, and positional depth isn’t exactly our . I’m going to give you Jorge Mateo, who’s , and a shortstop, and pretty good. (Albeit a bit raw.) You don’t see Suarez or Cozart as a franchise pillar there, do you? Give Mateo two years. He’ll be

I’ll also give you Ian Clarkin, a projectable lefty who has performed in High-A this year. You know who he reminds me of? Jose Quintana. Yeah, that Jose Quintana. I’ll pause so you can catch your breath.

And you know what, just because I like you, I’ll throw in Jacob Lindgren. A bullpen of him, Michael Lorenzen, and Nick Howard doesn’t sound too bad, eh?

So give us Cueto—and Skip Schumaker, because I said so—and you’ll get all that. Sounds pretty good to me! I mean, I’d take it if I were you. (Which thankfully I’m not, because your team is .) Whaddya say?

(Ian Frazer)

***

Brian,

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Walt

Walt Jocketty Sitting Quietly At His Desk
One thing that gets lost in all of the trade proposals made on fan message boards is that it’s easy to go to a Top 10 list of your favorite team’s prospects, pick a couple names that you don’t recognize and proclaim that one of them was really gut wrenching to include in your package, especially because you don’t actually have to do it. That’s the fun of armchair GMing. You don’t actually have to face the music. There’s more to consummating a deal like this.

Consider the position that Jocketty is in right now. He went out and got Byrd, presumably because he believed that the team that won 90 games in 2013 and 97 games in 2012 was still in there somewhere. But now that it looks like it was the 76-win 2014 team that returned this year, trading Cueto is just what you have to do because 2015 is effectively over. But what of 2016? Is that 90-win team still somewhere?

The Reds do have some talent. Votto and Frazier are real All-Stars. Chapman throws faster than the speed of light. Phillips and Bruce are competent major leaguers. But as mentioned above, the starting rotation, given that Cueto would be gone, is looking very thin. If they could somehow infuse the team with a bit of MLB-ready talent, perhaps a three-win player in this deal and somehow signing a two-win upgrade somewhere else in the offseason, they could pull back much of Cueto’s value. And if you pretend that this really is a 90-win team, it’s tempting to look at a Cueto trade as a reload, rather than a rebuild, trade. That’s really the first question that Jocketty has to ask himself. Is 2016 worth another run?

To frame the question a different way, why not play for 2016? Why always be thinking three years ahead? I think people are very quick to push the “blow it all up” button. If Cueto brings back a piece that is MLB-ready and cost-controlled, try again in 2016, and if that doesn’t go well, Aroldis Chapman will still have trade value. Maybe you damage your chances in 2019 and 2020 a bit because you won’t get as much for Chapman with half a year left on his deal as you would with a year and a half, but by 2020, Jocketty might not be the GM of the Reds any more. (He’ll be pushing 70 by that point after all.) Even if he is, who would really want to go through the three years of painful losing that a complete teardown would require?

Still, there’s a very real case to be made for the thought that chasing 2016 glory probably isn’t a good idea, with the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs all in the same division. At that point, why not just cash in on Chapman, Bruce, Frazier, and Phillips, get what you can, and start again in 2017 or 2018? And if someone would take Votto’s contract off your hands a la the Dodgers and Adrian Gonzalez a few years ago, all the better. Nothing against Votto. Everything against having one guy making such a huge chunk of your payroll.

Looking over these deals, if Jocketty is interested in 2016, a trade like the Blue Jays’ offer of Stroman would look reasonable. The Angels offer of Skaggs would also look tempting. Both are injured, but both already have an MLB track record and are cost-controlled. There’s no guarantee that they’d become Cueto-level pitchers (or perhaps even a better than 50 percent chance of that happening), but it’s at least hope that Jocketty could sell to the fans, and like it or not, that really matters.

And then there’s that Orioles’ offer of Gausman or Bundy (or Harvey). But they also want Phillips. Can’t say I blame them. But trading Phillips opens another hole in the roster, and at that point, it’s a slippery slope down to unloading Bruce and Chapman. The luxury the Reds have is that they do have a number of players in their system who profile as solid, everyday players. They also have Stephenson. So reaching for one guy—if it’s a really good one—might make sense too. In 2017, he could have the dream of a rotation headed up by Gausman and Stephenson, backed up by Votto, potentially Frazier, and perhaps Billy Hamilton if he ever figures out the on-base thing, plus the rest of the prospects the Reds might pull in from the other trades and their own homegrown stuff. That could be a good team.

But then there’s the Cardinals’ offer. Piscotty is a nice piece, although as mentioned, not a pitcher, and it wouldn’t be fair to expect him to come to the majors next year (or even in 2017) and be a three-win player. Maybe it happens, but maybe Kirk Nieuwenhuis has another three-homer game in him. Really, it would leave the Reds needing to sign pitching help. There are a lot of really good starters floating around this offseason, but it’s hard to envision the Reds taking on another $20 million pitcher. Or they would have to admit that the next couple years will be rough until the cavalry starts to show up. There’s a lot of talent in that deal, and it’s hard to envision it paying off any time soon, but when it does, it aligns nicely with a new Red Wave.

If I were behaving perfectly rationally, I’d take the Cardinals up on that offer. Next year probably is a bridge too far. If this current group is a 75-win team, why would they be better a year older? Piscotty is not an injured pitcher like Stroman or Skaggs, but would have the most immediate impact, plus you get a couple of lottery tickets for down the road. The Reds do have some pitching depth coming. You trade Chapman now while his value is highest, along with Leake (and Byrd, if someone wants him), and go into “active listening mode” on Phillips, Bruce, Frazier, and even Votto.

But the reality is that an offer headlined by Stroman would be hard to turn down, because it means holding on to this incarnation of the team (and hope) for one more year. (Plus it’s not like four cost-controlled years of Stroman is anything to sneeze at.) And we forget that while one course of action might be the best thing to do in a vacuum, baseball isn’t played in a vacuum. There would be no air for the fans to breathe and they wouldn’t come to the stadium. You may not like that it matters, but it matters.