[This post was submitted by loyal Nation member Matt Habel. If you remember, Matt wrote about Billy Hamilton last week. Thanks, again Matt.]
Don’t think if it as giving up. Think of it like multi-tasking. Rebuilding while rebooting. While the Reds currently sit a game behind St. Louis for first place with an 18-15 record, they face a potential dilemma of competing this year or staying true to the rebuild. There is a lot of baseball still to be played, but they just might be able to see this season through into a playoff push. There are, however, some good players with trade value who do not seem to have a place on the next Reds playoff team. Let’s think about some potential deadline trades that could help continue to build organizational depth while maintaining the team’s chance at some late season magic.
Drew Storen as of now has pitched 15 innings with a 3.73/3.66 FIP/xFIP, not quite on par with his solid career line of 3.26/3.54. Storen started out the year very well but ran into trouble in his last outing, allowing two earned runs and hitting three batters in one inning against the Yankees. Maybe that was just a fluke, seeing as it was just the 31st time in MLB history a pitcher plunked three batters in an inning, or maybe Storen’s hot start was too good to be true.
The whole reason I wrote this piece is because I saw a tweet noting that the Nationals have a bullpen problem, following their 6th blown save in 16 chances. I checked into it and found the National’s bullpen has the 3rd worst FIP at 4.92 and the 15th best/worst xFIP at 4.22, all adding up to a -0.7 WAR (I do not miss those days). It took me a minute (and a comment from WVredlegs) to remember Storen came from the Nationals and a reunion would be highly unlikely. Another destination would probably not be much of an issue though, seeing as teams with even decent bullpens can still stock up on arms at the deadline.
Storen’s value at the deadline really depends on how he performs the next three months. The Reds signed him to a one-year, $3MM contract this winter, which is exactly the type of contract teams are looking for in deadline trades. If he can get back on track and bring his numbers closer to his career averages, a team in contention with bullpen problems might be more willing to part with a more promising prospect. As a pure rental though, anything too close to league average will not bring much value back.
Tim Adleman has been the definition of adequate, a word Chad brought to light regarding Adleman’s most recent start against the Yankees. He currently owns a FIP of 5.28 but an xFIP of 4.03. Including last year, he has given the Reds almost 100 innings of slightly above replacement level starting pitching. Definitely nothing to write home about, but he could be a player somebody might want to take a chance on as a fifth starter or a long man in the bullpen. Given the Reds deep pool of pitching talent that is slowly surfacing to the major league level, it does not seem there is room for the 29 year-old Adleman going forward.
Ideally, the Reds could flip Adleman at the deadline and try to profit from said adequasity. A trade we can look at for comparison would be Mike Montgomery, who the Cubs picked up last July in return for a 2011 2nd round pick Dan Vogelbach, currently a poor man’s Kyle Schwarber. Statistically, Adleman doesn’t quite have the results Montgomery has, but his peripherals are pretty close, especially to pre-trade Montgomery. Montgomery, like Adleman, still had five years of team control which was probably another reason he appealed to the Cubs, who may end up moving him into their rotation as a 4th/5th starter at some point.
Consider too the Dan Straily trade (who also had five years of team control) the Reds made this past winter where they managed a very promising return, including Luis Castillo and Austin Brice. Adleman has not been outperformed by too much against Straily’s 2016 season, and another haul like that or the Mike Montgomery trade would go a long way to enhancing the rebuild.
It really hurts to put Zack on this list but this is not the list we deserve, it is the list we need. Enough cannot be said about Cozart’s year so far and I am really happy for the guy. However, given that he will become a free agent at the end of the season it seems likely that he will be in the trade discussion come July. Next year will be his age 32 season, and based on the market value of similar shortstops, Cozart will expect something close to a three-year contract worth $35-40MM. That type of contract would not favor the Reds.
If the Reds wanted to try to keep him throughout the year and still add value from his departure, the qualifying offer is the next logical step. However, with the new CBA agreement, the compensation pick the Reds could receive might not be as valuable, depending on the team that would sign him. There is also no guarantee Cozart would decline a one-year, $17MM contract, depending on what other offers he had. Teams will certainly be considering the possibility of a quick decline given his age and position.
Looking at the numbers, we can see why Zack would be a great rental for teams with playoff run aspirations. Cozart currently leads all MLB shortstops in wRC+, OPS, BB% and is second in ISO to Franky Lindor. He has been more impressive than Xander Bogaerts, Corey Seager and arguably Lindor as well which is as good as it gets. Defensive metrics show some decline but still positive production at short. It goes without saying that he is increasing his trade value mightily.
One team that stands out to me as a potential suitor is the Orioles. J.J. Hardy has been with the team since 2011 and had some very nice years, after which he signed a 3 year deal worth $40MM. This year, however, he is sporting a .196/.232/.252 for a wRC+ of 29. According to the stats, his defense has also taken a step back too. That is not going to get it done for a playoff contender in the AL East. The problem with the Orioles is they have a poor farm system and they might not be able to provide enough value for the Reds to deal Cozart, especially if Zack keeps up his current production. A team that does have a deep farm system and is currently not getting production at SS is the Rockies. After Trevor Story stormed onto the scene last season with a 120 wRC+, he has come down to earth with a 66 wRC+ in his first 33 games. If the Rockies keep up their strong play and Story’s struggles continue, they might be interested in Cozart.
If we assume at least some regression for Zack before the trade deadline, a conservative trade comp would be Asdrubal Cabrera in 2014. In 97 games in his contract season for the Indians, he slashed .246/.305/.386/.692 with wRC+ of 94. Not close to Cozart’s production right now, but Cabrera did produce several seasons very similar to Cozart’s career prior to 2014. Cleveland received a 2010 9th round draft pick in Zach Walters (currently with the Louisville Bats), who hit .300/.358/.608/.965 at AAA in 2014 before the trade and also had a full year of 117 wRC+ at AAA in 2013. He did not pan out for the Indians, however, and only has 170 major league at-bats since 2013. The Reds would hope to do better than that if they were to part with their veteran shortstop.
Now, assuming the Reds were to trade the aforementioned players, what would they have to do to remain competitive this season?
In the cases of Storen and Adleman, the most likely source of replacements would be from within the organization. The Reds have a good collection of pitching talent, some which has been able to produce in the big leagues, some that has not seen success yet and some that has not had a real opportunity. Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan and Tony Cingrani are all on the DL. Cody Reed, Rookie Davis, Ariel Hernandez, Sal Romano and Lisalverto Bonilla have all seen action this year and could be called on. There really are too many unknowns to name exactly who would take the spots but there are definitely enough viable options to stock a full pitching staff. The point is, if the Reds do catch a break and can get everyone healthy come August, they would have no trouble letting go of a couple arms.
Replacing Cozart would be a tougher task. There are two options that I will discuss but that is definitely not to say there are no other possibilities. The first and simplest option would be to move Jose Peraza to shortstop and have Scooter Gennett become the starting second baseman. Scooter has produced a career wRC+ of 97 while sporting a below average glove. However, he currently holds a 112 wRC+ in 59 at-bats and his career average was severely affected by a poor 2015 of 77 wRC+. He appears to be a player who could hold his own and give the Reds slightly average production, while also adding in a bit of the grit factor (I’m joking, I promise).
The second option would involve a lot more moving pieces and rely heavily on player versatility. Given Adam Duvall was a third baseman before last year, the Reds could move Duvall back to third base, move Suarez to shortstop and bring up Jesse Winker to fill in the OF. It would be a calculated risk given Suarez’s defensive improvement at 3rd base this year and Duvall’s Gold Glove Finalist defense in LF. The Reds would also be hoping that Winker can find the power that has eluded him since his wrist injury (.082 ISO in 2016, .051 ISO in 99 ABs this year). Without that power, Scooter Gennett would be a comparable offensive addition and would result in fewer guys moving around.
This can all change so much in the coming months depending on the standings and injuries. The Reds interest in selling off pieces will fluctuate based on how many of their pitchers can stay off the DL. It is a little early to be thinking about, especially with the Reds currently playing exciting ball. But we cannot ignore the fact that the rebuild is not yet complete and this year’s trade deadline could prove important for future Reds teams.