Despite the success against Washington over the weekend, the Reds still feel like a fire sale waiting to happen, and the Marlon Byrd injury didn’t help the cause.
If the Reds are going to begin a rebuild (which I believe—barring something miraculous—is the only realistic option at this point), it should start with pitchers Aroldis Chapman and Johnny Cueto.
This is a contract year for Cueto, and Chapman is a free agent after next season. Assuming Cueto leaves after this season, a likely scenario, the only reason for letting him walk rather than trading him is if you’ve got a legitimate shot at the playoffs. (Again, not looking good.)
And with Cueto on his way out, it makes absolutely no sense to keep Chapman around, especially considering that the Reds’ minor-league cupboard is starting to look as bare as the one at my college apartment. It could use a shiny new prospect or two, and the market for the best closer in the game figures to be strong.
So just how shiny of a prospect could Chapman or Cueto fetch? It’s hard to find comparable trades when relating to Chapman, because it’s not too often that dominant closers hit the trade market. But one recent deal could provide some insight.
Craig Kimbrel is one of the few closers in the same tier as Chapman, and he was traded to San Diego prior to the season for a package that included pitcher Matt Wisler, who is listed as the No. 34 overall prospect by Baseball America. The Padres also took on Melvin Upton’s massive contract.
The Kimbrel trade isn’t a perfect comparison because he’s signed through the 2018 season, and wasn’t dealt at the deadline. But even though Chapman will be entering a contact year in 2016, contenders might be desperate enough by midsummer to offer a similar package to what the Braves received for Kimbrel.
The market for Chapman will be widespread, with the Dodgers, Mets, and Astros the most rumored destinations. Each destination make sense when you look at their rich farm systems.
The Mets are in need of help at the back end of their bullpen and possess seven players on Baseball America’s 2015 list of the top 100 prospects. Would they be willing to part with stud southpaw Steven Matz (No. 34, 6-3, 1.98 ERA in 11 appearances for Triple-A Las Vegas)? That might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s not like there’s a ton of room on the big-league club, considering the Mets are already using a six-man rotation. Brandon Nimmo, a 22-year-old outfielder, and 21-year-old middle infielder Dilson Herrera also rank among the top 50.
The Dodgers might be even more loaded, with three prospects making the Baseball America’s top 10. Maybe the Reds could package Chapman and Cueto to land one part of the Dodger trio? Prized shortstop prospect Corey Seager and rookie outfielder Joc Pederson are likely out of reach, but perhaps 18-year-old lefty Julio Urias could be in play.
If dealt alone, the return on Cueto might not be as much as Reds fans would hope. A dominant pitcher no doubt, but Cueto comes with a fairly extensive injury history and will be only a rental for the rest of the year.
The best recent comparison might be Zack Greinke, who was traded to the Angels in a contract year just before the deadline. In return, the Brewers added Jean Segura (Baseball America No. 55), as well as a pair of Double-A pitchers.
Boston is in desperate need of a starter, and might be in the best position of any team looking to add one. The Red Sox possess seven of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects. Are they desperate enough to part with left-handed pitchers Henry Owens (No. 44) or Eduardo Rodriguez (No. 59)? Perhaps outfielder Manuel Margot (No. 72) would get the job done.
The Astros and Blue Jays also make sense as landing spots for Cueto. The biggest favor Cueto can do for the Reds at this point is to remind contenders what he’s capable of with a few commanding outings.
Whatever the Reds are able to add, it will be better than the compensation pick they’ll be stuck with if they let Cueto and Chapman walk.