Let’s be honest—no one really cares about Reds games right now. That is, they don’t care about wins and losses. We’re all thinking about next year and trying to figure out who’ll contribute and who’s about to get traded and who might get an extension. We all know Cueto is gone, for instance. Leake is probably gone. Bruce is maybe gone. Frazier is going nowhere. Votto is close to untradeable. It’s these last three I want to use to build the post and talk about all the cognitive dissonance going on both in the Reds organization and among fans right now.
Generally speaking, a lot of fans are on the same page as the organization. They’d like to see Bruce gone and Frazier extended. Votto, they’re maybe happy to have, but the conventional wisdom has become that he’s not the player he used to be and that he has a “bad contract.” But if we really look at the players, none of these thoughts makes sense.
Let’s start with the idea that Frazier should be extended and Votto was a mistake. Votto signed his contract at the dawn of the 2012 season. His OPS numbers in the three year before he signed were .981, 1.024, and .947. He was 28 years old. In the four years since that extension was signed, his OPS has been 1.041, .926, .799, and .925. Injuries aside (especially last year), nothing about those numbers should be unexpected. Votto has been one of the ten best hitters (at least) in baseball for something that is very quickly approaching a decade. He is about to turn 32 and will, of course, decline, but the Reds backloaded the contract such that he has been grossly underpaid compared to market value at this point.
Todd Frazier is currently 29. Any extension signed would be signed as he prepares for his age-30 season, though he is already controlled for both next year and the following year. His OPS numbers in his four full seasons (including this one) have been .829, .721, .795, and .903. He is already under control for next season and the season after, meaning that any extension wouldn’t go into effect until Frazier is older than Votto is right now. And Votto, right now, is a better hitter than Todd Frazier. Never mind how much better Votto was than Frazier when he was Frazier’s age.
Given that, how is it possible to simultaneously think that Votto’s contract is bad, but that Frazier should definitely be given an extension? Unless you know something I don’t know about Frazier offering a serious discount, you are saying the Reds should pay a lot of money for someone who is not as good as the player fans are upset that the team is currently paying a lot of money, even though said player is older than a not-exactly-young Frazier.
And then there’s Jay Bruce. Who is, apparently, on the market. Now, I really like Jay Bruce, but I also completely understand that it makes sense to shop him. After a disastrous 2014, he’s rebuilt his value this year, and he’s under control for two more years. He should bring a pretty huge return if he is traded. It’s also clear that when he is healthy, he can be counted on for an OPS over .800 like my children can be counted on to be grumpy before breakfast. In other words, take it to the bank. So, yeah, if you’re looking to seriously rebuild, trade Jay Bruce, who will be 31 whenever his next contract starts. However, if you are seriously looking to rebuild, you don’t extend Todd Frazier, who will be 32 when his next contract starts. You trade them both for all the prospects in the world and then you wait a couple of years for everyone to grow up.
I think what has really happened is that a cult of personality has developed regarding the very likable Frazier that is causing many—including those within the organization, it would seem—to be stuck in a mire of cognitive dissonance wherein Frazier = Good and Bruce/Votto = Bad. This is problematic, because all of the following statements are unassailably true based on current evidence:
- If Votto’s contract was ill-advised, Frazier should not be extended.
- If Frazier is being extended, it indicates a desire to contend soon, thus Bruce should not be traded.
- If Bruce is traded, Frazier should also be traded because in order to rebuild properly, it is important to commit fully to the rebuild.
And yet, what seems the most likely path will lead the Reds to a strange middle ground that, as far as I can tell, will lead to a bunch of mediocre teams and, in about four years, a whole lot of people being grumpy about Frazier’s contract and talking about how the Reds should have traded him when they had the chance.