I know, it seems incredibly premature to be talking about the July 31 trade deadline just a week after Opening Day. Right now, the Boston Red Sox are 2-6, while the Seattle Mariners are 7-1. Compared to the rest of the season, practically no baseball has been played yet with still so much left to go. But if you’ll hear me out, I think this year’s deadline may be one of the most important trade deadlines the Reds will go through, and I think it’s crucial to define the goals and expectations for this year’s team and the teams of the future now, so that we can act with clarity and guidance in July. With an enormous amount of talent on this roster set to leave at the end of the season, and a team projected to compete on the outer fringes of the National League, the Reds have a wide range of options in how they move forward, and the decisions they make could improve the team dramatically or come to haunt them for years.

But First, A Note About Being “All-In”…

I’m not the first to point out that the common notion that the Reds are “all-in” in 2019 is misguiding. Steve Mancuso wrote a great piece about how the Reds went “in” this season, but not “all-in”. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

No, the Reds are not all in. They’re just IN. Being all in would mean trading several of the top five prospects to win in 2019. The Reds didn’t come close to that. IN feels like all in because it’s the first time since Shin-Soo Choo the Reds have tried. We’ve forgotten the difference.

Had the Reds truly emptied the tank to go win-or-bust in 2019, Nick Senzel would be in Cleveland right now and Corey Kluber would have pitched in Cincinnati on Opening Day. If they had sold out for wins this year, Taylor Trammell would be taking reps in Miami’s farm system while J.T. Realmuto received the new battery of Reds pitchers. If the Reds had no consideration for their future past 2019, they would have emptied the piggy bank somewhere in the free agent market for Dallas Keuchel, Bryce Harper, Craig Kimbrell, or any other of the numerous big-name players available this past winter. But as it stands, the Reds doled out only one major league free agent deal – to lefty reliever Zach Duke – and traded none of their top 5 prospects (and only 2 of their top 10), and their farm system remains one of the ten best in baseball. Their payroll is the highest in team history, but only if you don’t account for inflation, and after 2019, over $60 million in salary will come off the books. The Reds still have Nick Senzel, Hunter Greene, Taylor Trammell, Jonathan India, and Tony Santillan. If the Reds had “sold out” for 2019, they would have been able to bring in even more major league talent – massive amounts, in fact – at the expense of that young and cheap talent they have so carefully collected in their rebuild cycle.

The reason this is important is because we need to define what the objectives for the 2019 season were to begin with, before we forget later this year. The Reds are trying to win, yes, and perhaps more so for the short term than they have in previous years. But winning as many games as possible was never the primary objective this season. With that in mind, let’s turn our focus to…

The Mid-Season Trade Deadline

This past offseason, the Players Association and Major League Baseball agreed to a number of cosmetic rule changes, one of them being the elimination of August waiver trades in favor of a single, July 31st midseason trade deadline. There are several consequences of this, including not having to try and figure out how on earth waiver trades work anymore, but the most important result of the change is that teams will no longer be able to exchange players after July 31, which decreases the time and increases the urgency with which teams have to decide the fate of their season, and their strategy going forward.

This is especially interesting for the Reds, who have a glut of players on the last years of their contracts, and are expected to compete mostly on the fringes of the National League this year. Of the 5 major leaguers the Reds acquired in trades this winter, 4 of them – Alex Wood, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Tanner Roark – are free agents at the end of 2019, with only Sonny Gray inked to a long term extension. Throw in second baseman Scooter Gennett as well as relievers Jared Hughes and David Hernandez, and the Reds have plenty of potentially valuable assets to move at the deadline, should they chose.

And that may be a hard choice to make: the Reds are expected to compete only at the fringes of the National League this year. While you can squint and see the team overperforming expectations, if things fall our way – Luis Castillo blossoms into an ace, Sonny Gray returns to his Oakland self, Joey Votto is again an MVP candidate, the team sends an entire infield to the All-Star game – it is much more probable that the Reds will finish at or just above .500 on the season. I picked the Reds to win 84 games this year, which is on the optimistic side of realistic, but still unlikely to be enough to get them to a Wild Card spot. Especially considering the immense competition they face in the National League: it isn’t hard to imagine the Pirates, Reds, Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, Mets, Phillies, Braves, Nationals, and Rockies all finishing between 80 and 90 wins this year. In a situation like that, 84 wins is unlikely to get you even close to the Wild Card.

This will put the Reds in a particularly tough decision making spot come mid-season. I’ll ask you now, in April: if in July, the Reds are in third place, 7 games back of the division; and 5 games out of the second wild card, with three teams ahead of them, would you buy, sell, or hold at the deadline? Right now, in April, it’s easy for me to say that those Reds should sell. But in the moment, it might not be so clear: if we’re coming off a streak of winning 20 of the last 30 games, after having just sent four players to the All-Star game, and with the Cubs and Brewers faltering, you might be able to talk yourself into thinking that we have a shot in the second half of the season. I know in that situation, I would absolutely feel that urge. And the Reds front office has felt it before, too.

Though I’m sure many readers here need no reminder, it is worth retelling the sad tale of the Matt Harvey debacle. Acquired in May of 2018 from the Mets, Harvey was a reclamation project, a troubled pitcher on the last year of his contract hoping to turn it around with a change of scenery. He entered Cincinnati with a 7.00 ERA in 8 appearances that season, but steadied himself nicely, pitching to a 4.44 ERA in his next 14 starts with the Reds. He appeared to be an obvious trade chip, but the Reds were in the midst of an Era Of Good Feelings, having gone 36-29 in their last 65 games before the All-Star Break. Despite being 13.5 games behind in the NL Central with clearly no hope at a postseason appearance, the Reds held on to Matt Harvey through the deadline, saying they wanted to keep the “positive momentum” going through the rest of the season, and trading away good players would hurt in that goal. The Reds, of course, went 19-36 after the trade deadline, another last place, 90-loss finish that Harvey could not have helped (the Reds went 6-7 in his 15 starts after the deadline). Matt Harvey walked at the end of the season, eventually signing a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels, leaving Cincinnati with nothing to show for his tenure here other than an 11-13 record in 24 starts in a 90-loss season.

Though it’s an isolated example, it shows exactly how easy it can be to make poor decisions when your goals are not clearly defined and your decision making is motivated by short-term results. Matt Harvey had value to the Reds only if they had serious intentions of, and a realistic chance of, doing something meaningful with their 2018 season. But that was never a possibility, and by holding on to Matt Harvey for the remainder of the season, they lost 95 games instead of perhaps 97, and missed the opportunity to cash in on some prospects who may have had a chance at helping the Reds in more meaningful seasons to come.

Making the Right Moves

This is not to say that the Reds have to sell all their last-year players this July in order to properly navigate the trade deadline. There are certainly scenarios in which it would make sense to hold on to players like Yasiel Puig and Scooter Gennett, and potentially even scenarios in which they should add to the team mid-season as well.

The crux of this argument is that the criteria used to determine which route to take must be made well before hand, without the emotion and excitement of the moment to cloud those decisions. I don’t know what those criteria should be – I have my ideas, but your mileage will vary depending on who you ask. What do you think it would take to make the Reds buyers in 2019? Being within 3 games of the wild card? Being over .500? Both? There aren’t exactly wrong answers here, what makes the playoffs realistic depends entirely on how much you believe in the Reds and disbelieve in their competition. But I would urge you to consider that question now, and not later. And if the Reds front office is reading, (and why wouldn’t they be? I’m sure this would be the best use of their time) I would urge them to do the same.

34 Responses

  1. matthew hendley

    The Matt Harvey story is missing the piece where we were offered next to nothing for him. There should never again be a Brandon phillipseste trade. If we are out of it by July the reds will pull the trigger on everyone they do not want on the team in 2020. So if Puig, scooter or someone else is still there AUG 1, then assume the reds are talking a long term deal. If the Reds are close however, some pickups should be made. Too early to tell

      • CI3J

        Are you from the future? You already know how today’s game will turn out?

      • ToBeDetermined

        Gaffer & CI

        It just feels like 1 – 6 or 1 – 7 …

        No, I’m going to be positive. The Reds will Win…

        pretty soon

  2. Gaffer

    Harvey is not the Sole example, as Cozart will attest to. Heck and even Frazier and Chapman should hav been dealt at the July deadline and not the offseason.

    • matthew hendley

      Cozart was ironically injured during the Trade deadline, I do believe there was a deal in place before the injury. All star break 2014 the Reds were still competitive

  3. Fish

    Wood, Roark & Gennett have to go period. Even if the reds are leading the division, they’re unlikely to even make the playoffs over 162. I do think Puig is worth an extension if he’s open, possibly worth the qualifying offer for a year.

    I think the reds HAVE to take their lumps with a half season of stephenson in the rotation, they should also figure out if Sims is anything.

    • Alex Reds

      Alex Wood and Puig are strong contenders for qualifying offers if they perform. Wood especially as his sub 4 career ERA is very impressive and he has been a top pitcher – yet injury prone and innings limited. Not great for a long term contract, but perfect for a qualifying offer (with 1 year contract risk or get a sandwich first round pick if he signs elsewhere) assuming he pitches well this year.

      Therefore, Wood and Puig likely are only traded if you get more value than a sandwich late 1st round pick back, which is on the level of Jeter Downs, for whom they traded to get Wood anyways. Which, is likely why they made the trade in the first place since they can get the value they traded for him right back in qualifying offer. But, if he stays injured, that can backfire.

  4. Old-school

    A slow start or mediocre start can be overcome. A bad start with a deep hole cannot. The reds need to get back to .500, playing good baseball by late April to even talk about 80+ wins.

    To get to 85 wins and shouting distance of a wildcard race, the Reds now need to go 84- 73 the rest of the way. Better start winning.

    • Michael E

      agree

      If you can package a few of these contract players and maybe lesser prospects to add a couple of prospects to our top 6 or 8, DO IT! If you can get a 1st or 2nd year MLB player that has good potential but it struggling (change of scenery) for rentals, DO IT!

      In the case of Kemp, maybe just getting his salary off the books to a team in need of a 4th OF or DH, is all you can hope for…return would be puny (unless we add a prospect to maybe upgrade a bit in potential).

  5. Steve Schoenbaechler

    It all depends upon how they stand. Going like this, they are going to be dealers. If they offense gets going, with how this pitching staff is going right now, they may be buyers.

    (with the following, I’m not considering any injury news)
    All I do know is this. There are 2 reasons for prospects: 1) to eventually play on the big club, and 2) tradebait. Prospects like Senzel (so, I’m not only talking about him but all prospects like him) are ready for the big leagues. So, I believe, the longer we and/or more often we don’t play Senzel, the more value we lose in him.

    I mean, seriously, you can’t keep sitting on a AAA pitcher until they win the “Cy Young of AAA” or a hitter until they win the “Silver Slugger for AAA”. At some point in time, you have to bring them up or trade them off and get some value.

    • Alex Reds

      The most value you can get out of Senzel is to keep him in the minors for two weeks adding to his value as tradebait and adding to his value to the club with another year of service.

  6. Scott C

    I am of the opinion that if the Reds do not think there is a “realistic” opportunity to at least win a wild card berth, then they should sell and pick up either prospects or even possibly a young controllable player who is MLB ready. I do not wish to see them hang on to players in order to finish in third pace in a division where even the second place team is not going to the playoffs.
    That being said there may be a lot of fans that would prefer to finish third at 85-77 than fourth at 82-80. Just because it “seems” better. That may put more fans in the seats this year and next and the front office may take that into consideration.
    Again, personally I am of the Ricky Bobby school, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

  7. B-town fan

    This is absurd to be having this conversation at this point in the season.

    • ToBeDetermined

      B-town fan
      What are we going to talk about if this team is in sell mode in a couple of months if we have already talked about it now. There has got to be something better to talk about currently.

  8. Redsgirlatheart19

    Isn’t it obvious that things are going south with Scooter being off the team? It would be sheer insanity to get rid of him…

    • BigRedMike

      The Reds team was way south the past two seasons with Gennett on the team.

      • greenmtred

        It was, certainly, but wasn’t that mostly about the pitching? They hit pretty well. It still might make sense to try to trade Scooter but, like almost the entire batting order, he’s not establishing any value right now.

  9. Bill J

    It seems that some years just before the trade dead line they get hot and the FO thinks we can’t trade now then things go in the tank. If there is a move to make, make it. If, it’s a big IF, the Reds could have moved Scooter when he was hot we wouldn’t had on IL now, with little trade value when he comes back.

  10. matthew hendley

    Just a statement, Homer Baileys Opening effort with the Royal’s was equal to or better then two of the pitchers we brought in.

    • ToBeDetermined

      matthew
      If I recall Homer Bailey’s Opening effort from 2018 was awesome if I recall.
      But, I think the Reds still lost that game, again if I recall.
      But, then things started going downhill after a few starts.
      Still was a good trade in MHO

      • matthew hendley

        I assure you, I was being…. whats the word, sardonic?

  11. Steven Ross

    I know, it seems incredibly premature to be talking about the July 31 trade deadline…

    True that! Maybe we can win another game or two before we start talking trades.

    • Alex Reds

      Or lose another game or two, and really talk more about trades.

  12. Indy Red Man

    “What do you think about your teams execution?”

    “I’m in favor of it”

    John McKay

  13. Armo21

    “With an enormous amount of talent on this roster set to leave at the end of the season, and a team projected to compete on the outer fringes of the National League, the Reds have a wide range of options in how they move forward, and the decisions they make could improve the team dramatically or come to haunt them for years.”

    I have to completely disagree with statement.

    Unless someone has a huge need for pick one: Gennett, Puig, Wood, Roark how is this going to haunt them for years? These guys may have some value but will not bring impact prospects. They are average cost with no long term commitment and have flaws (age, attitude, etc.) The value in these guys then becomes do you offer them to get one year at $18m+ so you can get high prospects in exchange for what you gave up to the Dodgers. So that leaves the Reds with 2 choices (no real market for Gennett, Kemp but there might be for Roark at deadline and will not get $50m on the open market) that leaves Puig and Wood as to what to do with them. Extend, trade or qualifying offer. The reality is, the best “value” for the Reds maybe what these players give them this year on the field and that is it. Let them walk, there maybe no real future value to the Reds on any of these guys on the last year of their current deal and none could maybe worth a qualifying offer. That is OK, you have Senzel, Irvin, Trammel in the pipeline for position players that can replace Gennett and Puig for 2020 and beyond. Fill in with older cheap free agents just like they did this year with Iglesias and Dietrich and look to sign a FA pitcher or Trade for one….The Reds have a very good core of players that are controllable for the next 5 years: the starting pitching core Castillo, Gray, Disco (through 2020), Mahle. The position group: Winker, Senzel, Peraza, Suarez, Votto, Barnhardt with Trammell, Siri and India on the near horizon.

    So I just don’t see how the Trade deadline is really that big of a deal.

    • Indy Red Man

      “These guys may have some value but will not bring impact prospects”

      You’re most likely right, but the Reds have to catch lightning in a bottle! They have no choice if they want to compete. Their draft picks never seem to do much? Or they get hurt….and stay hurt?

      Alfredo Simon was washed up, but still brought Suarez
      Dan Straily was nothing special but he brought Castillo
      Todd Frazier brought Peraza. Is Frazier even still playing? He’ll be on the bench if he does play.
      Junior Griffey was completely washed up and brought Nick Masset. Masset was one of the top relievers in the NL for a few years.

      Stranger things have happened. The Reds absolutely need to catch some breaks to catch up to everyone else. If Disco makes a decent run then I would consider trading him too. He’s always hurt. Let someone else speculate and assume the best case scenario.

      • matt hendley

        Fraizer is currently on the IL, will be the Mets 1B when he gets off of it

  14. Armo21

    Indy

    Good points you make on Catching Lightning in a Bottle and where the Reds have in the past. The point I was making is that the Trade Deadline is not a make or break it for the Reds as the author alludes. So you are right they may catch lightning in a bottle get some other teams that have needs for Gennett, Puig, Wood, Roark or Kemp and pay the Reds in prospects that are Suarez like….and they may still win the division this year (lightning in a bottle). Which I still hold out hope they can win this year, especially with the pitching we have shown so far……

  15. Eric the Red

    I’m less concerned with whether we trade the rentals than I am with us catching Wildcard Fever and losing the discipline of protecting the prospects. “We’re only 5 games out of the Wildcard….let’s trade Trammell for a setup guy!” I hope we’re 10 out at the deadline, and then catch fire with our future core intact.

  16. Kong

    Doesn’t matter. Dick Williams is running the team and has demonstrated zero feel for putting a team together that can compete at any level or have the ability to navigate a trade that has the Reds benefiting.

  17. Alex

    Not that he’s ever been successful as a GM but Dick Williams will lose whatever credibility he has left with me if 2019 is another last place season.