Fellow Cincinnati faithful, here we are, a mere week away from the August 1 trade deadline. It’s been a wild ride on the Redlegs roller coaster this year, hasn’t it? Continuing to defy expectations, the Reds will be buyers instead of sellers, and it’s safe to say no one could have imagined that at the outset of the season. As a wise man once said: What a time to be alive.
The big questions are whether the Reds will make any substantial moves and to what extent GM Nick Krall should be aggressive. The answer is, yes, they obviously should go for it. The Reds find themselves in the thick of the race in one of the weakest divisions in baseball. But what does “go for it” mean?
For his part, Krall has indicated that the Reds will be buyers. A month ago, he said: “We’re looking to win. That’s our goal. I think we want to do whatever we can for this team.” Then, this week, he added, “Yeah, we do have financial flexibility to add (players).” So, in theory at least, the Reds will be looking to improve the roster.
So who should they look to add? Well, the most pressing issue is pitching, of course. Reds starters continue to perform the Houdini routine, pulling wins out of their hats with smoke, mirrors, and maybe a heaping dose of luck. I wouldn’t count on this sleight of hand to continue. The rotation sports the third-worst ERA in all of baseball (5.42). Hopefully Graham Ashcraft is returning to form and rookie Brandon Williamson is improving, but expecting the Reds to continue winning consistently with starters like Luke Weaver (7.20 ERA in 17 starts) is just wishful thinking.
Some have argued that the Reds should be patient and wait on the cavalry to swoop in and save the day; starters Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo and reliever Tejay Antone are projected to return in August and/or September. Yes, if Greene returns and if Lodolo returns and if Antone returns and if all of them are healthy and if they’re all productive down the stretch … well, that could work out well for the Reds. But that’s a risky game to play, and what happens until those guys return? Closer Alexis Diaz is already exhausted from shouldering the bullpen burden. Baseball isn’t a waiting game; it’s a seizing-the-day kind of sport.
I know what you’re asking: Who should the Reds be targeting? There are a number of names I’m interested in. A guy like Dylan Cease is ideal—think young, controllable pitchers—but the Reds should also be kicking the tires on Marcus Stroman, Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Jack Flaherty, and even Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander. But only in the right deal. Krall shouldn’t be eager to overpay.
The next step in this analysis is who the Reds should be willing to trade away. Cincinnati’s trading block should be wide open, with only Elly De La Cruz sitting safely off-limits. Literally any other player in the majors or minors should be fair game in the right trade. Of course, it’s difficult to imagine any deal involving any of Cincinnati’s young stars at the big league level. Except for one, perhaps.
It’s not necessarily a surprising twist, but rumors are swirling around 2021 NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported this week that the Reds have told other teams they’re willing to trade India for young, controllable starting pitching. India is a fan favorite and one of the leaders of this fun young team, but there are a number of reasons Krall might be willing to part with him.
First of all, the roster and the prospect ranks are filled with a cadre of talented infielders, all of whom are hitting better than India at the moment and all of whom are better defenders. As Ken Rosenthal noted, India entered Monday ranked 30th among second basemen in Defensive Runs Saved and 34th in Outs Above Average. That’s not good, my friends.
Of course, India’s defensive inadequacies are also the reason he may not be as attractive on the trade market as Reds fans might expect. But he’s still young, only two seasons from a remarkable rookie campaign, gets on base and has some pop, and India is under team control for three years after this one. I like having him on this roster, but it definitely makes sense for Krall to explore moving him.
This is heresy among some fans, but Krall should also be open to trading from his reserve of prospects. As great as it is to see the farm system brimming with talent, it might be prudent to consider how they could be used to improve Cincinnati’s more immediate needs on the mound. If they don’t have room in the order for a guy like India, how are they going to have room in the lineup for all of the infielders still in the pipeline: Noelvi Marte, Cam Collier, Edwin Arroyo, et al?
That’s not to say Krall should give away the farm for a quick fix, a rental who will be around just for the rest of the season. But if he can secure a good pitcher—Dylan Cease, I’m looking at you again—who will be a long-term asset, he has to consider it.
Finally, let me address the idea floating around that the Reds shouldn’t be aggressive at the trade deadline because they’re “ahead of schedule.” It’s time to toss the so-called schedule out the window. Whatever we thought the schedule was before the season is irrelevant at this point. The Reds aren’t necessarily in the driver’s seat with 60 games left, but they’re very close. Yes, the future holds promise, but it also holds uncertainties. Again, baseball is a game of now, a game of seizing the moment.
The Reds should be good in coming seasons, but with the Cubs and Cardinals presumably improving over the winter there’s no guarantee the Reds will be in this position next year—or any year in the future, for that matter. The Reds have a shot at glory now, and, as we’ve seen in recent years, anyone who sneaks into the playoffs has a chance to win the whole thing.
Krall’s goal should not be to scrap the plan but to evolve it, given the new realities of Cincinnati’s situation. Improve the rotation. Improve the bullpen. And give this incredibly fun group of kids (plus Joey Votto) a chance for Cincinnati immortality.
Chad Dotson helms Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His newsletter about Cincinnati sports can be found at chaddotson.com. He’s @dotsonc on Twitter.