Last year, the Cincinnati Reds were the only major league team that didn’t make a single move in July or August. Today, they once again failed to complete a trade before the expiration of the non-waiver trade deadline. That’s not as terrible of an outcome for the team as last year, but it’s still plenty disappointing.
Before their recent losing streak, the Reds had rumored interest in Alex Rios, Ben Zobrist and Marlon Byrd, none of whom ended up being traded. But as the Reds’ fortunes on the playing field began to dictate a different strategy, reports indicated the Reds had switched their focus from 2014 to 2015. Specific rumors appeared to confirm the selling mode, indicating the Reds were floating Ryan Ludwick and Mat Latos.
It was right for the Reds to give up being an aggressive buyer for 2014. While an acquisition might have provided a much-needed morale boost (as general manager Walt Jocketty himself suggested in a radio interview ten days ago), it would likely have been a futile and wasteful gesture.
And the Reds also wisely declined to engage in an all-out fire sale of players like Johnny Cueto or Aroldis Chapman. Enough pieces are already in place for a strong team next year, once everyone gets healthy. Improvements are still needed and obvious. But selling off players like Cueto or Chapman for prospects would have jeopardized a 2015 run.
The status-quo outcome today isn’t the worst end result. On the other hand, it does represent a missed opportunity to make moves with an eye squarely on 2015. For example, I proposed the trade of Jonathan Broxton and Alfredo Simon, who are both at their peak value. Similarly, finding a taker for Ludwick would have been a positive (and surprising) development. By reaching those agreements today, they could have freed up salary for future maneuvers or acquired players that would have helped on the field next year.
But keep in mind the non-waiver period is one of several opportunities to trade. The Reds still have the month of August to deal, assuming the relevant players pass through waivers. And of course, Broxton, Simon and the others can be moved in the off-season. The Reds may decide to trade one of their core starting pitchers for an impact bat, especially as they work to stay within their payroll limits. But a star-for-star trade is more likel to occur in the off-season than at the trade deadline. On the other hand, they may decide to hold on to Cueto, Latos and Leake through 2015. Expect at least one of them to sign an extension this off-season.
Regarding the other teams in the NL Central:
Of all the NL Central teams, the St. Louis Cardinals made the biggest changes to their team at the deadline. They cashed in their surplus of position players to acquire two solid starting pitchers, John Lackey from the Boston Red Sox and Justin Masterson from the Cleveland Indians. Their rotation, even without the return of Michael Wacha, is formidable – Wainwright, Lackey, Lynn, Miller and Masterson. Masterson, who had a strong 2013, has been injured and/or struggled for much of 2014. But if the Cardinals pitching coaches can perform their magic on him, Masterson will be a tough #5 starter. The Cardinals did trade a good pitcher in Joe Kelly and OF/1B Allen Craig. Craig has been an integral part of the Cardinals offense the past few years, with clutchiness numbers that make Brennamans swoon. But after batting over .400 with RISP in 2012 and 2013, Craig’s intangible strengths have apparently up and vanished this year. Craig’s departure from the Cardinals will pave the archway for the much-touted but yet unproven Oscar Taveras.
The Milwaukee Brewers picked up Gerardo Parra – who has been a defensive specialist OF with an average-at-best bat. It’s hard to see how he cracks the starting outfield of Ryan Braun-Carlos Gomez-Khris Davis other than as a late-inning replacement for Davis. Maybe Braun will move back to left and Parra will start in right. Davis (wRC+ 113) has a substantially higher projected offense than Parra (wRC+ 95) for the rest of 2014. And the defensive metrics have Parra in the negative numbers this year, after his Gold Glove season of 2013. He’s a great bat to have come off the bench, though, and used to that role with the D-Backs.
The Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t make any moves. They were reportedly active in negotiations for elite starting pitching right until the end. And it wouldn’t be surprising for them to make important acquisitions in August as they did last year. In what might be their final season as sellers, the Chicago Cubs traded James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio to the Atlanta Braves. They had previously traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland for an elite SS prospect. Pretty soon, Theo Epstein will start spending the Ricketts Family’s ample cash stacks on great young pitching. Then, look out. But not today.
In conclusion, it’s overly simplified to complain that Walt Jocketty was asleep at the switch this year. He and his staff were certainly working hard to make trades right up until the end. Jocketty has a long, if not recent, history of completing successful trades for several organizations including the Reds.
But it’s equally simplistic to dismiss today’s missed opportunity by saying “it takes two” to make a trade and put the blame on the other side or budgetary restrictions.
The real skill in making a deal is in correctly evaluating the market, genuinely understanding and appreciating the needs of your trading partner, and finding an idea that is mutually beneficial and works within your budget. Just because you’re one of the best at doing that in 1994, 2004 or even 2010, doesn’t mean you necessarily are in 2014.
The Reds’ repeated swings and misses – whether buying or selling – indicate that part of the creative and evaluation process has broken down. By 4 p.m. today, dozens of other teams had figured out agreements, despite widely varying budget restrictions, personnel situations and the dreaded constricted market caused by two Wild Card teams in each league. Those general managers and their staffs came up with ideas that worked for each other and their owners.
But tonight the Reds will report once again that not a single trade concept they had come up with or was presented to them was satisfactory. You have to wonder how well their front office is doing at reading the market and valuing players, the underlying bases for any agreement.