Cold Stove

More swings and misses

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.

68 thoughts on “More swings and misses

    • I agree with this. My bottom line is that I find it hard to believe the Reds couldn’t come up with something to offer either modest help for this year and into next year, (at a modest price), or a bigger boost for next year, even if it meant paying a little more without giving away the house. … But who knows? The recent run of inactivity is, however, a bit hard for me to understand.

  1. The front office must feel that the future return of Votto and Phillips is enough to get the Reds a playoff berth in 2014. I can’t see Bob Castellini giving up on the season with two months to go.

    • I believe it’s possible, and now even probable, that neither Votto or BP will see the field again this year. BP probably has a better chance than Votto who should be totally shut down right now.

  2. I’m trying to see the bright side and maybe Broxton will make it through waivers to be dealt. However, I think it’s much more likely that a team puts in a claim just to torpedo another team’s intentions. So, it will be winter before Walt can unload that particular contract. Unfortunately, I doubt seriously that they will get anything of any real worth in return and it is likely they could have gotten something today.

    There will still be a market for Simon this winter, of course. That is, unless he struggles during the last two months. If he does, Walt blew a true opportunity to get something back for him.

    When it comes to Cueto, I have to wonder…..Would Tampa’s return have been nice for the Reds?…..

    • Well Franklin could have helped this year until BP got back and then he would have been good to have at shortstop after that. A lot of people are starting to say that Tampa essentially gave Price away though… So it’s hard to say and would Detroit and/or Seattle have made the same trade for a pitcher not named Price?

      • Yeah, I’m not sure but Smyly is only 25, makes the minimum, and is worth 2-3 wins per year (he’s no Johnny Cueto, but he’s also not Jeff Francis). Franklin also makes the minimum , is 23, is a switch hitter, and plays middle infield. Maybe he would have beaten out Cozart in the spring. Who knows? The SS prospect is only 18 and has only recently attracted a bunch of attention. However, the Reds would have also saved $10 million that could have been spent elsewhere (maybe one of the Cuban FA OFs).

  3. We missed out on an excellent chance to enhance our 2015 chances buy not trading in an overpriced sellers market. Simon & Broxton could have fetched a young power hitting outfielder, a utility infielder and other minor league dept.

  4. If Simon continues to excel as a starter, his value will be even higher this off season. There won’t be any more doubt about his durability. He could still be regarded as a fluke, though.

      • If, if, if, if. I swear there are supposed Reds fans who seem to be praying that Simon fails just so they can be right. Can we just enjoy this season and hope that he can continue with his quality starts?

        • I surely don’t hope for Simon to fail and I hope I am dead wrong. I hope the Reds beat the odds, run off fifteen in a row, and sweep through the playoffs and World Series and come back in ’15 and repeat. However, there is no track record with Simon when it comes to this many starts in one year. Hence, the logic in “selling high.”

  5. Tough spot right now. If the Price trade had gone through a couple of hours earlier, you might have seen Latos become the hot topic. But with only 12 minutes or so to go, it was hard for an appropriate bidding war. And that’s fine. I’d rather have Mat Latos than a poor value move at the deadline just for the sake of a move. It’s unfortunate the Reds couldn’t get a deal for Broxton, as his contract and season make this the only time an interesting deal could’ve been made. But Simon still has value as a bullpen arm going into next season. Broxton was the only guy I felt the Reds HAD to move, and it isn’t the end of the world that they didn’t. I’d just like to see Donald Lutz get some more playing time than less in the next few months.

    • Broxton makes a lot of money, perhaps they think they can put together a trade with someone up until the end of August. I agree that Lutz needs to play more to see if he is the back up plan for Votto or maybe he gets his chance in LF.

      Great evaluation of the situation, balanced, nuanced, thoughtful.

  6. Steve, this would be an interesting exercise for one of the RedLegNation editors, or maybe even a team project for several of them. Now that the trade deadline has passed, and we know which players were moved, it would be interesting to to try and come up with a plausible trade scenario involving the Reds and some player or combination of players from that set of players that would have either improved the Reds this year or in 2015. In other words, what deal shoulda/coulda Walt pulled off? I know it is the absolute worst case of second guessing, but I still think it would be an interesting exercise.

    The only conditions are:

    (1) That the player(s) received must be from the pool of players moved this season prior to the deadline because we know they were available and being shopped (preferably in the last two weeks because that is when, in the prevailing opinon that the Reds “tanked”)

    (2) Any Reds player can be on the table

    (3) The deal must reasonably fit into the estimated Reds salary/budget constraints

    (4) The deal must, in the editors best judgement, improve the Reds either this year or in 2015.

    I would like to do this but I have neither the expertise or the resources and I’m going out of town for a 4-day weekend and on top of that I am too lazy.

  7. Missed Opportunities, the story of the 2014 season. It has now spread from the dugout to the front office. Complacency, fear, and inaction are staples in Jocketty’s front office. And now add in a breakdown of the evaluation process, an inability to properly read the market for players, are clear enough examples that show the Reds front office needs a serious overhaul.
    Bob Castellini should be tremendously ashamed of his GM. The fans should blow up the talk radio phone lines DEMANDING Jocketty’s resignation. The Castellini’s, Jocketty, Williams and Miller have let the fans down in a very bad way.
    Next Wed. night is Jay Bruce bobblehead night. It also should be Fire Walt Jocketty Night.

    • OMG…really? Where were the Reds pre Walt and Bob? I am so tired of people whinning and complaining on something they have little true knowledge about. Relax. ..enjoy the rest of the season. ..

    • As per you … “Complacency, fear, and inaction are staples in Jocketty’s front office. And now add in a breakdown of the evaluation process, an inability to properly read the market for players”

      Well written, I love good fiction. Care to back up the “fear”, “breakdown of the evaluation process”, and the ” inability to properly read the market” with some facts?

      Fear? Really?

      Steve — well written and balanced article.

      • The “breakdown of the evaluation process” and “the inability to properly read the market” came from the article. And I concur. The fear is multi-faceted. Fear to be bold. Fear of failure. Fear to dare. Fear of pulling the trigger. Fear of answering the door when opportunity knocks. Fear to institute the “Accountability” that was promised. Etc., etc.

        • So I ask you to back up the “fear”, “breakdown of the evaluation process”, and the ” inability to properly read the market” comments with some facts, and you come back with: well the 2nd and 3rd comments came from the article. Wow, strong argument. Especially because one of the two comments that you said was made by Steve was as follows: “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.”

          Steve was praised by many here for writing a balanced article, and that comment was part of the con, as opposed to the pro. And I would argue his point, when he talks as if WJ was maybe one of the best GM’s as late as even 2010, but perhaps no more. That sentiment ignores WJ landing the international free agent Aroldis Chapman on 1/11/10 to a very team friendly contract (I guess Billy Beane and Brian Cashman were asleep at the wheel). It ignores Walt trading for Matt Latos on 12/17/11 in an extremely favorable trade for the Reds. It ignores WJ making yet another very bold move in the one year rental of Choo on 12/11/12 in another favorable trade for the Reds.

          Yeah, a year and a half later Walt is somehow “fearful”. Of course most of the National League GM’s must also be fearful because Florida and St. Louis were about the only teams that did anything big. Milwaukee did next to nothing, and Pittsburgh did nothing. It must be fear, or incompetency to blame there too.

          Florida traded away couple of top 100 prospects and a high draft choice for … Jared Cosart and extras. Yeah, their GM wasn’t fearful, maybe just stupid.

          St. Louis went in “strong” as a buyer to land two so-so starters. They traded Joe Kelly and Allen Craig at perhaps their lowest value, for a 35 year old John Lackey and his 4.02 career ERA. They traded away their 2012 first round draft choice, who will be starting with Cleveland in AAA, for Justin Masterson and his 5.51 2014 ERA (career 4.16). The Cards remain a flawed team after blowing valuable assets for mediocre pitching.

          Meanwhile, three names linked to the Reds:

          Alex Rios had several teams interested in him – and he was not traded.

          Marlon Byrd had several teams interested in him – and he was not traded. Apparently Philly was asking for far too much in return.

          Ben Zobrist – he’s still in TB. It seems like TB had no real interest in trading him.

          Repeating the word fear over and over again is not an argument, at least amongst adults.

    • I don’t think it has much to do with complacency or fear. Jocketty placed a big bet on Latos. I don’t think he was afraid to gamble there. Hoover was a diamond in the rough that paid off for a while. (Francisco still isn’t anything to write home about.)

      Or maybe GMs simply don’t like him.and jam him given the chance. Or maybe he’s made a couple hauls and people don’t trust him (like Yonder Alonso).

      Whatever the reason, I think we can say at least say two things it’s not: (1) a too-tight market (see all the deals and especially Yankees), and (2) Walt being afraid to put some chips on the table. To Steve’s point, maybe he’s just not good at working the market anymore.

  8. I am starting to feel that Big Bob Castellini is becoming more like Mike Brown. Trying to be the “defacto” GM and not letting the baseball people that he has hired do their jobs and make the sound baseball decisions. I get the felling that the front office would have made more moves that this GM wanted to do but have been vetoed from above. Correct me if I am wrong but wasn’t it Bob that insisted that Dusty be hired against the wishes of the GM as well as signing the big contracts that are now “hamstringing” this club?

    • I agree with this. From what I understand, the Reds have some really smart guys on the quant/sabr side of things. Some of the stuff Walt has pulled could not have come from these guys. I have to think that some combination of Walt/Bob is just hamstringing the club with silly contracts, emotional (ex-Cards, BP contract, etc.), moves, and inaction in the face of an obvious call to action by virtue of an extreme sellers’ market.

  9. As an interested, outside observer, with fair experience and a keen interest in organizational behavior, I have to postulate that the Reds seem to be very conservative, with “NIH” tendencies. Not Invented Here leads to fear of change, and overvaluing past practices and decisions. Our guy are the best prospects and players, after all we drafted them. Sometimes you think you know a lot, but unfortunately, you don’t know what you don’t know.

    The Reds seem to be the last at the party to stop wasting outs thru sacrificing, defensive shifts, etc. Just not a nimble outfit. How good is their analytical Department, if any?

    • I think they are good. I just think they are simply overruled at every turn in the classic “old guy/young kid” scenario. If they would only listen to their Jonah Hills…..

  10. Well written and put together Steve. Does anyone know or can list what the contract status or when the contracts run out for Cueto, Latos, Leake, Simon, Broxton, and Chapman? Also, I believe that Ludwick’s contract runs out after this year? And also Marshall’s contract is up after next year I beieve?

  11. It’s a good piece Steve. The only problem I have is this: “selling off pieces like Chapman and cueto for prospects would jeopardize a 2015 playoff run.” I don’t think that’s necessarily true at all. As good as Chapman is, he’s only going to pitch around 60 innings the way the reds use him. And a good chunk of those innings aren’t even high leverage innings. If they could have gotten a top 50-75 type prospect who could possibly be ready by June of 2015, then they could have been better off in 2015 and beyond. The way the reds use him, Chapman is a 1-2 win player. It’s not hard to see how they could have gotten better next year by trading him. But maybe the deal wasn’t there.
    Cueto is a similar situation as David price. The rays could have had price next year. Did they give up on 2015 by trading price? Of course not. It just seems like the reds are setting up 2015 to be an all or nothing year with a rebuilding period coming after. Three-fifths of the rotation would be eligible for FA after the 2015 season. I think signing Latos or cueto long term would be a bad idea because of the bailey, votto, and Phillips contracts already taking up a huge chunk of the payroll. Letting all of them walk for draft picks would make 2016 a definite rebuilding year. It just seems like a no brainer to try and get some good young players for one of them.

    • This is what I can’t understand. The Reds are unlikely to be able to keep both Latos and Cueto post 2015 and may not be able to keep either. Starting pitching is what was the commodity today. It would have made a lot of sense for the Reds to trade one of them when they are at their peak value to contending clubs. We could have shored up a LF situation and maybe even improved an infield (SS) bat.

      Now, maybe the clubs interested didn’t have anything available that the Reds need, but its no shock the Ryan Ludwick worm was never bitten.

      • I think a lot of people are still stuck in the “steroid era” mentality. Ten years ago, you could always find decent hitters but good, young pitching was a rare commodity. But now the game has completely changed. We are at offensive levels that are the lowest since the late 60’s. The game is filled with good, young pitchers and even the average pitchers are still good enough to win with. The rare commodity these days are good, young hitters. But people still think that you can’t trade off good pitching.

      • Send Ludwick,Cozart,& Simon to Colorado for Tuliwitzki & Gonzales ; Send Cingrini, Heisey & Lutz to Tampa for Price & Zorbist

  12. Thank you TODDALMIGHTY for the salary info. I save that link you gave to my favorites. The ARB in the orange block or orange box, I am sure means arbritration, so after next season or the 2015 season, all those specific players contract ends and they are unrestricted free agents or restricted free agents?

  13. Billy Beane gave up Cespedes for Lester and Johnny Gomes. Which of these two would you have given for Cespedes. Johnny C. or Matt L. I doubt Leake would have Gotten the deal done. All players have only one year left on their contract. I’d of done the deal for the one I doubted I could resign. I’d have traded Homer too, but Billy never take on that contract. He is a bit too smart for that.

    • I would have given up Latos in a New York minute for Cespedes. Latos is a great pitcher and he is just 24. But the Latos of 2014 is not the Latos of 2013 either. His velocity has not yet returned and he does not have the endurance built up yet in his arm. Maybe 2015 he bounces back maybe not but based upon my observation this year his stats are more luck than Simon’s. I wouldn’t think twice about it for Cespedes who still has plenty of room for future growth. He would put up beastly numbers in GABP

      • Only problem I see is what kind of monies is it going to take to keep him around for more then just a season or so.

  14. I can only guess that the Reds determined that without injuries this was the best team in the division. If that is true, or if that is their perception then I completely understand why they did nothing…. banking on a healthy return in 2015.
    There are no guarantees though that Votto ever returns to form, and it is also reasonable to expect further aging of Brandon’s star next year.
    I would be shocked though that if one of our starters is not moved from now until next year. We have so many young pitchers moving up the system. Maybe the timing is to promote late 2015 our young guys? If that is the case does it mean that the Reds are really going to make a big move for 2016?

  15. Late comment, but explain why the Reds didn’t try to get Bonifacio and Russell from the Cubs. all the Braves had to do was trade a catching prospect.

    • Eh, I feel Bonifacio is only helpful if Billy is hurt or in AAA. Otherwise, why have two of such a similar player profile? Positional flexibility with Bonifacio yes, but not worth trading for at this point.

  16. To me, it is starting to look like hitter’s value are rising. To be equivalent to what Boston gave up for Cespedes, the Reds would have had to trade Cueto and Heisey. I’m not sure I do that deal if I am the Reds.

    • No, it wouldn’t have been Cueto and Heisey. Lester and Gomes are both FA’s after this year, Cueto is signed through 2015 and Heisey is arbitration-eligible in 2015 and 2016 and a FA in 2017. Not even close. Perhaps Alfredo Simon and Heisey, but that still seems to benefit the A’s.

      I think a more comparable trade to what Boston gave up to get Cespedes would be Latos, Ludwick and some cash for Cespedes, the draft pick the A’s gave up and possibly both teams trading a prospect to the other (slightly weighted to the Reds: Reds getting a higher ranked prospect than they give up).

  17. What we don’t know is if any deals were on the table or pulled. I know for a fact the Giants and Rays were “this close” to pulling off a Price deal with Belt part of the package. Tigers made a better offer or Giants backed out. Same can probably be said for Jocketty/Reds. I’m sure deals were discussed but the “price” too high, not a right fit or not enough in return.

  18. At least right now, I would think a plus for Walt Jocketty is that he didn’t give Choo what the Rangers did. Homer’s pitching has started to even out as the season has gone on to the plus side.

    I got to think the Reds got a shot at signing Leake and one of two between Cueto and Latos. Those guys with who is locked up and coming says the Reds could have a good rotation for a few years. That keeps you in games.

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