As we head toward trade season, the Cincinnati Reds find themselves at 39-37, two games out of first place. But since they’re trailing both Milwaukee and St. Louis, it’s always more difficult leapfrogging two teams than just one, and with the Braves playing well in the East, the odds of a wild card berth aren’t that great. So, while the Reds are certainly contenders, they also can’t sit on their heels and hope a division title lands in their lap.
No team in baseball, however, is in a better position to make a blockbuster, season-altering trade than the Reds. The Reds have more talent in Triple-A than several teams do in the Majors, and they have depth on the Major League roster they can move as well. Having multiple interesting young players at every position is nice, but it’s time for the Reds to turn some of that excess into the best big league player(s) they can acquire.
Yonder Alonso is a decent prospect, but he’s a first baseman trying to make his way in left field because the organization has some guy named Joey Votto. He won’t have much defensive value in left, and the bat isn’t so good that it will make up for a lack of range. Alonso has more value to other clubs than he does to the Reds.
Louisville is also home to Todd Frazier, a shortstop-turned-left-fielder-turned-third-baseman who has some thump in his bat and the versatility to appeal to a lot of different teams. The Reds don’t seem interested in using him as a utility man, but at 25 he doesn’t have much left to learn in Triple-A, and there are a number of teams he could improve immediately.
The Bats also have a good glove in shortstop Zack Cozart, a defensive specialist who is also hitting pretty well himself. If the Reds believed in his offensive improvement (they probably shouldn’t – it’s BABIP driven), they likely would have promoted him to the Majors by now, since it’s not like Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria are providing a strong roadblock at the position. The Reds’ lack of faith in Cozart’s bat is understandable, but given his defensive abilities and the need for shortstops in baseball, several rebuilding teams would certainly love to give him a chance to see what he can do.
An Alonso/Frazier/Cozart package would be a pretty nice offering, but that’s just the excess prospects that they could move from Triple-A. They Reds could really sweeten the offer by including some of their depth from the Major League roster. For instance, Travis Wood was just optioned back to Triple-A to make room for the newly-returning Homer Bailey, who will take over the final spot in the rotation for now. Wood isn’t a future ace, but he’s a 24-year-old left-handed pitcher who has put up 3.2 WAR in 196 Major League innings. Wood could crack the rotation for almost every team in baseball, but since the Reds are overloaded with guys who fit in well at the back-end of a rotation, he’s getting squeezed out in Cincinnati.
The Reds also have real depth at the catching spot, another position where many teams have significant issues. Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan have done terrific work splitting the job at the big league level, but top prospect Devin Mesoraco is showing that he’s ready for a promotion. Hanigan is probably the one with the trade value as he’s under contract for two more years at bargain prices, but he’s never going to be more than a part-time player with the Reds, especially with Mesoraco knocking on the door.
If the Reds put Wood, Hanigan, Alonso, Frazier, and Cozart on the table, they could probably have any potentially available player in baseball that they wanted. The Mets would have to listen to an offer for Jose Reyes if those guys were involved. The Orioles would likely be willing to move both J.J. Hardy and Jeremy Guthrie to get a selection from that group. The Reds have the ability to add whoever they want this summer, and they should go for it.
All this depth is nice, but what the franchise needs more than an excess of young talent is an energized fan base that is buying season tickets and generating revenue for years into the future. Despite having a quality team and the reigning NL MVP, the Reds are averaging just under 26,000 fans per game, and they rank 16th in average attendance in the majors. How much does a deep playoff run help a franchise in attendance? Ask the Rangers, who are up 10,000 fans per game over last year, and have already put nearly an extra 400,000 people through the gates this year.
Jose Reyes would make the Reds clear favorites in the NL Central and would give them a real chance to go toe-to-toe with any team in baseball. If the Mets don’t want to move their shortstop, getting Hardy and Guthrie from the Orioles would be a similar improvement, even if the names aren’t quite as sexy. The Reds could move from good team to great team, and give themselves a strong chance to play deep into October.
With all due respect to guys like Alonso and Frazier, they’ll never have more value to the Reds than they do as trade chips right now. Sure, losing a guy like Travis Wood hurts a bit, but it’s time for the Reds to go big or go home. They have some pieces of a championship team in place – now they just need to add the missing parts and try to win a championship. They have the ability to do so, and should capitalize on their stockpile of prospects while the window is still open.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.