Will the Reds Be Buyers, Sellers, or Neither?

As the trade deadline approaches, the Reds are still in contention for a playoff spot. The front office must decide if it’s willing or able to improve the club.

In a season filled with surprises, some good, mostly bad, chalk up yet another one: Jonathan India hit .526 last week with, I dunno, a thousand doubles or something and was just named the National League’s Player of the Week. Two weeks ago, he was hitting .235/.348/.326; he was getting on base at a decent clip but literally everything else about his offensive performance was a drag on the Cincinnati offense. As the calendar flips to July, however, India is on a heater like we’ve rarely seen in Cincinnati. Ain’t baseball a funny game?

India extended his hitting streak to 12 games on Sunday; even better, he set a new Reds franchise record by hitting a double in eight consecutive games. If he can collect a double on Tuesday against the Yankees, it’ll tie the all-time MLB record set by Bo Bichette in 2019. Over the last two weeks, India has hit .489/.549/.822 with 22 hits and 12 doubles in 12 games, while scoring 11 runs. He’s now hitting .278/.381/.410 on the season, and his 123 OPS+ is second-best on the club behind Elly De La Cruz. What a difference a couple of weeks make.

So are we happy now that the Reds didn’t trade India last winter? If you’ll recall, there was plenty of chatter during the off-season that the Reds needed to deal him, given the glut of young infielders in Cincinnati. I discussed it here last October. The Reds did not trade India, but given his recent hot streak with the July 31 trade deadline approaching, similar chatter has emerged again. Should the Reds be shopping India now that he presumably has more value?

First things first: The Reds shouldn’t be making decisions about anyone or anything based on two weeks of data. The calculus for trading India now vs. last winter remains largely the same. A bigger question, in my mind, is whether Cincinnati should be buyers or sellers at the upcoming trade deadline.

The Redlegs outscored St. Louis 20-11 over the recent four-game weekend series but emerged with just a split. That was Cincinnati’s 10th loss in their last 15 games, and they enter July six games under .500, a half-game out of last place in the NL Central, 11 games behind first-place Milwaukee. More embarrassingly, we’re more than halfway through the 2024 season and the Reds are 1.5 games behind the Pirates. The Pirates!

For most of recorded baseball history, this would have meant that the Reds were finished, playoff hopes largely dashed. But this is 2024, when the playoffs have been expanded and pretty much every team still has a shot at making the postseason. So, as it stands, the Redlegs are just 4.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot. Never mind the fact that they’d have to climb over six other teams to qualify or that Cincinnati has the fourth-worst record in the National League. There’s still a chance!

Since the Arizona Diamondbacks barely snuck into the playoffs last year as a Wild Card and then went on a run to the World Series, there’s some validity to the idea that you just have to qualify for the playoffs to have a shot in this new era of baseball. The postseason has always been a bit of a crapshoot, and that’s never been more true than the current day. That argues for the Reds being buyers at the trade deadline, right?

Maybe? If the Reds want to be buyers, they’ll have to contend with this fact: With more teams potentially trying to improve their club, there are fewer sellers. I’m no economist, but this is simple supply and demand. With fewer players available in trade, the price for those players rises. It complicates things, and the Reds have never been the type of club to overpay for players.

Another complicating factor: Who do the Reds have available to trade in a deal that would improve the big league roster? Many fans went gaga over Cincinnati’s minor league system over the last couple of years, and that’s fair, but go take a look at the current state of the farm. It’s not nearly as deep as you think, after so many prospects graduated to the big leagues across the past year. There just aren’t very many names that would be particularly appealing to other clubs. Never mind the fact that Reds President Nick Krall has been loathe to trade any prospects whatsoever during his tenure.

So if the Reds aren’t going to be buyers, will they be sellers? I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense either. Who would they sell? Perhaps India has improved his stock, but by and large big league general managers are too smart to be fooled by two hot weeks of hitting. Jeimer Candelario, with two years left on his contract, may be a trade candidate, but he’s 30 years old and wasn’t exactly a hot prospect on the free agent market over the winter. Who else? Frankie Montas and his league average stats? Perhaps. Maybe Fernando Cruz, but he’s a reliever and can’t be expected to bring much of a return in trade.

My best guess: The Reds will do nothing at the trade deadline. I will readily concede that this isn’t exactly a bold prediction. It’s what the Cincinnati Reds do pretty much every summer. You just need to remember last year, when the Reds were in first place at the trade deadline and yet sat on their hands and refused to improve the team. We know how that turned out.

“We can’t keep doing what we’re doing,” India said on Sunday. He was talking about the players, not the front office. Because there is every indication that this front office will do precisely that—the same thing they’ve been doing year after year after year after year. Trust Reds management at your peril.

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.

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