Know When to Hold ‘Em

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Reds general manager Walt Jocketty claims he is trying to find a bat to insert into the middle of Cincinnati’s less-than-potent lineup. Well, to be more precise, Jocketty is attempting to find a player who can swing said bat with might and authority. I doubt any of you would object to a good hitter joining the ol’ Redlegs.

Here’s the problem: George Foster ain’t walking through that door.

There have been rumblings that the Reds, along with the Yankees, Mariners, and Giants, are in the mix for Texas outfielder Alex Rios. Hey, he’s a two-time All-Star! He must be better than Ryan Ludwick and Chris Heisey, right?

Meh.

Yeah, Rios has had a pretty good career, and he might be better than what the Reds are currently trotting out to left field on a daily basis.  If so, it’s a marginal improvement. First of all, Rios is 33 years old, so it’s not like he’s a spring chicken. Then again, Ludwick just turned 36, so we’ll chalk this one up in Rios’ column.

Let’s look at the offensive side of the ledger. This season, Rios is hitting .299/.328/.426 with 4 homers and 43 RBI (107 OPS+). All of Cincinnati’s left fielders, combined, have hit .266/.318/.385 with 7 homers and 36 RBI (93 OPS+). So yes, that’s an improvement over the production manager Bryan Price has gotten from his left fielders. Not a particularly huge improvement, but it’s something.

On the other hand, over the last two months (this line of inquiry prompted by the indispensable Twitter feed of Joel Luckhaupt; it’s almost as indispensable as mine or my editor, Justin’s), Rios is hitting just .264/.290/.346. He’s hit one homer in two months. Over the final two months of the season, Rios is projected to hit .281/.315/.420. This is supposed to be the guy that is going to return the Reds to playoff contention?

But Chad, what about defense? Good question, dear reader. There was a time when Rios was among the best defenders in baseball. Those days are long gone. As noted by fielding expert John Dewan, Rios saved an MLB-best 76 runs in right field from 2004-2012, but has been ten runs below average over the past two years. Heck, even Ryan Ludwick has only been seven runs below average over that time.

In stark contrast, Chris Heisey (who has been platooning with Ludwick in left field) has a pretty good glove; he’s been eight runs above average defensively this year alone, with spotty playing time.

Let’s be generous, however, and say that Rios represents a small improvement with the bat and a small improvement with the glove. Even if he were a substantial improvement…does it matter? Does anyone believe that the incremental benefit that Rios would represent is going to be enough for the Reds to be able to catch the Cardinals and Brewers and Pirates? That’s not to mention all the wild card teams that are still in the race, and who the Reds will have to outpace in order to qualify for the playoffs.

Let me be clear: this is not to say that Rios isn’t a good player. He is. But I have a difficult time believing that one player—especially if that one player is Alex Rios—is going to turn the Reds into contenders all of a sudden. Perhaps if the Reds were going to acquire Giancarlo Stanton to play left field, I would reevaluate my position. There seems to be little chance of Walt Jocketty acquiring such an impact bat; anything less seems like a fools errand.

Even worse, I can’t imagine that Jocketty will be giving up irrelevant players to acquire the likes of Rios. Do you really want the Reds to give up a real player (such as Robert Stephenson, for example) for a guy that will help the Reds win 83 games instead of 80? (Now, if the Reds wanted to trade Alfredo Simon in such a deal, I could live with that.)

Here’s the issue: If the Reds acquire a guy like Rios—a slight upgrade over the current personnel—he’ll be joining a team where Skip Schumaker and Kris Negron are playing second base, with Jack Hannahan and Brayan Pena getting the lion’s share of the playing time at first base (apparently). It’s going to take much more than Alex Rios to fix this club. There have just been too many injuries over the course of the season, and it has finally caught up with the Reds.

Let me repeat myself: Jack Hannahan will be getting most of the at-bats at first base. The same Jack Hannahan who has a career slash line of .232/.315/.348. Playing a corner infield position. For a supposed contender. Really?

The point is that injuries have hurt the Reds so badly this season that a marginal improvement at one position isn’t going to be nearly enough to turn this club into a legitimate playoff contender. Over a long baseball season, the pretenders are weeded out; given all the roadblocks that have been put in this team’s way (many of them unpredictable, and out of Jocketty’s control), it’s hard to see how they can pass all the teams ahead of them to win the division, or earn one of the playoff spots.

Baseball is a funny game, and I’m not saying that it isn’t possible. I’m just saying it isn’t likely, and the idea of giving up a trade asset—and especially an asset who could contribute to the next good Reds team—for a short-term, minimal improvement to the 2014 roster doesn’t seem like good business.

On the other hand, it would be a good idea for Jocketty to explore the trade market for Alfredo Simon and Jonathan Broxton. The trade value for those guys will likely never again be higher than it is currently, and Jocketty may be able to acquire some pieces that will help the Reds over the next couple of seasons. He’s not likely to get an impact player for Simon or Broxton, but if you are looking to make marginal improvements that will help the team in 2015 and beyond, trading two guys who aren’t a good bet to ever be this good again seems like a good idea.

The biggest concern that I have is that Jocketty is going to be pressured to make some kind of trade to appease the masses that want the Reds to do something, anything. I understand that. I just hope he doesn’t make a trade that will make it more difficult to put a competitive team on the field in 2015 and beyond, when the team will (hopefully) be healthy again. Jocketty shouldn’t make a deal just to make the Thom Brennaman Fan Club happy.

The next few days will be very interesting. Let’s hope the Reds don’t do anything silly.

Chad Dotson is a contributing writer to our Reds Blog. He is also the founder of Redleg Nation and a contributor to ESPN’s SweetSpot blog.

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