Will the Reds Be Buyers or Sellers?

The team has lots of options as the trade deadline approaches, including (unfortunately) standing pat.
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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of the Cincinnati Reds, it is my pleasure to welcome you aboard Flight 2019 with service to the July 31 MLB Trade Deadline and continuing service to October and playoff baseball. Federal regulations require that carry-on items are stowed prior to closing the aircraft door. At this time, the pilot thanks you for your attention while some important information is reviewed.

 

As you know, baseball’s trade deadline is upon us. The Reds have had the bumpiest flight of any team in 2019—sometimes soaring, sometimes choppy—so it should come as no surprise that they’re also the most interesting team to watch as the deadline approaches. Cincinnati management will have difficult decisions to make, decisions that could shape the future of the franchise.

Every analyst (and every fan, for that matter) has an opinion as to whether the Reds should be “buyers” or “sellers” at the trade deadline. I’m here to tell you that this is the wrong way to look at the decisions facing the Reds over the next few weeks. It’s too simplistic. After all, Cincinnati is in a unique position, thanks primarily to two factors: The Reds have an uncommonly high number of players with contracts expiring at the end of the season; and they’re actually in the playoff race for the first time since, I dunno, 1990 or something (or so it seems).

Over the winter, Cincinnati acquired a number of players who weren’t bound to the club after this season: Tanner Roark, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and Jose Iglesias. In addition, some key holdovers from previous Reds teams will be free agents at the end of 2019: Scooter Gennett, David Hernandez, and Jared Hughes (though the Reds have a $3 million option on Hughes for next season). Ordinarily, you’d expect the club to be actively shopping some or all of those players in order to get something in return rather than just letting them walk at the end of the season. So the Reds are going to be “sellers,” right?

Well, no. At the All-Star break, the Reds—with an ace who made the American League All-Stars look silly in the Mid-Summer Classic—stood just 4.5 games out of a playoff spot. It’s been an up and down season, certainly, but Cincinnati is still in the mix, still with a shot at playing in the post-season for the first time in nearly a century (or thereabouts). So the Reds should be “buyers,” right?

Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign. Please be seated and check to see that your seat belt is securely fastened.

It’s complicated. The fact of the matter is that the Reds simply can’t be “sellers,” as the term is traditionally used, because this town would absolutely revolt. Cincinnati is eager to support a winner, and a sell-off of expiring contracts would cause much consternation among the fan base. It would look like the Reds were restarting a rebuild that we were assured was on the verge of bearing fruit.

Plus, take a look at that list of impending free agents above. With the exception of Wood, who may be the most talented player of the group but hasn’t thrown an inning for the Reds yet, those guys are all important players on a team fighting to remain relevant in the National League playoff race. You can’t just deal those players away if you want to try to contend this season.

Ultimately, GM Nick Krall, President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams, and the Reds front office team should be pursuing trade opportunities more aggressively than just about any other franchise. But they need to have a different perspective than most teams making deadline deals. The Reds shouldn’t make a single trade with the objective of picking up a guy who can help the team just for the rest of this season; that’s the typical trade deadline move, and it would be silly for the Reds to operate that way.

But if the Reds can acquire a player who could be a key member of the team for the next two-plus seasons—Francisco Lindor, anyone?—they should be ready to deal anyone away. And I’m not just talking about trading the guys who are going to be free agents soon; the Reds should be looking to make a big splash by trading even their top prospects like Jonathan India and Taylor Trammell if the right deal comes along to improve the team for more than just the next couple of months.

Yes, the Redlegs need to improve the lineup, but only in a way that will last beyond this season. It’s unlikely that a player who fits that mold will be available for a Puig or a Roark on their own. So Cincinnati needs to be creative and aggressive, and try to use this opportunity—when a lot of teams are going to be willing to talk—to swing a big trade.

But what do I think will actually happen by the July 31 deadline? Not much, to be honest (and much to my dismay). There’s a relatively decent chance that Roark will be traded. He’s been effective and has proven to be dependable over the course of his career. It’s unlikely the Reds will sign him to a contract extension past this year, and that dependability might interest another team who wants a reliable arm down the stretch. Don’t expect Roark to bring much in return, unless he’s packaged with other assets.

Otherwise, none of the other names seem like good trade candidates. There may be some interest in Puig, but if he’s traded that leaves a Wild Horse-sized hole in the outfield. Plus, trading him would be a public relations disaster. Unless they’re overwhelmed by an offer, the Reds might be wise to let Puig help the club fight for the playoffs while wooing him with a contract extension to keep him in town for the next few seasons. And if Puig decides not to re-sign with the Reds, the team could make him a qualifying offer—essentially a one-year deal likely in the neighborhood of $18 million—and accept the compensation when he signs elsewhere.

Who else?

Iglesias: He’s a fine fielder, but the Reds just signed him to a minor league deal three months ago, so he has no value on the trade market.

Wood: That guy can pitch, but I’d be surprised if any team wanted to take a flyer on a lefty with back problems that have prevented him from pitching all season.

Gennett: He’s also been injured all season, so it would be surprising if there were any trade market out there for him, especially given the soft market for second basemen over the last couple of years.

Hernandez: Sure, someone might be in the market for two months of a reliever, but can you see another team giving up very much for that reliever?

Ultimately, all of these guys are probably more valuable to the current Reds than they would be as trade assets. Unless, of course, one or more can be packaged—along with other assets (i.e., prospects)—for a controllable hitter who can be expected to remain in Cincinnati beyond this season. Either way, don’t expect a fire sale; these Reds intend to stay in the race as long as they can.

If the Reds play their cards right, Cincinnati’s estimated time of arrival on the playoff scene just might be October 1, 2019. We can always hope that arrival won’t be delayed, right?

In preparation for departure, be certain that your seat back is straight up and your tray table is stowed. Make sure that your carry-on items are placed completely under the seat in front of you. Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated. Our flight is ready for departure.


Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. He wrote about the 1970s Reds as part of the magazine’s “10 Events That Shaped Cincinnati” package. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.

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