Starting as a season of inactivity among baseball operations at Great American Ballpark and a large helping of discontent from fans, the Cincinnati Reds have erased all their 2011 offseason transgressions and definitely moved to make 2012 better than the year prior.
After completing a 4 player swap for one Mat Latos, according to Foxsports.com, the Reds are now embarking on an effort to enhance the weakest part of their team and are on the brink of acquiring left handed reliever Sean Marshall in exchange for left handed starting pitcher Travis Wood. While fans (and bloggers like myself) were far from reticent when it came to wondering when a move by General Manager Walt Jocketty might be made, these latest developments have certainly diminished the criticism if not outright muted it.
And if the trade were to go through, it could have great impact on the landscape of the Reds pitching staff.
First the good. Marshall has been fantastic as a reliever the past two years with the Cubs, posting a 2.65 ERA in 2010 and improving the mark to 2.26 in 2011. He’s had 169 strikeouts in 150.1 innings over the past two years and his WHIP has remained around the 1.1 mark. While there is little talk of moving Marshall into the closer’s role at the moment, it would have to be considered as Marshall is scheduled to make $3.1 million in 2012 and the Reds are reportedly throwing in two extra minor league players to get the deal done. Marshall’s salary would be a marked increase over Wood’s, so s completed trade would eat into some of the Reds leftover budget, but it’s probably less than a comparable reliever would command on the open market. While salary should never be a hard and fast determinate of what role a player fills, it’s hard to see the cash strapped Reds give up so much and pay that salary to a middle reliever, notwithstanding the special circumstances that surrounded Aroldis Chapman‘s similar situation.
That also leads into the couple of negatives about such a deal. Marshall’s aforementioned $3.1m contract takes him only through 2012 and he would be a free agent for the 2013 season. The way this deal makes the most sense is if the Reds are confident in a trade-and-sign proposition and they can get Marshall locked up for 2 to 3 years. Most relievers have a notoriously short shelf life, so signing him longer than that would be somewhat risky, but if you don’t get a least two years of service for giving up a starting pitcher and some prospects, you lose a lot of the value in what you hoped to obtain.
Even a starting pitcher as unproven as Travis Wood, who has looked phenomenal in some starts and mediocre in others, is a hard thing to give up for a reliever, certainly from just a player-worth standpoint. But in addition to just the economic value of the trade, it also affects the Reds greatly from top to bottom of the pitching staff. If the rotation is locked in with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo, and Chapman, then it was going to be Wood and Homer Bailey battling it out for spot starts in the case of injury and to be the eventual replacement after Chapman is shut down in the middle of the season. Battling it out is perhaps the wrong term because in reality, only one of the two fit into that role.
The bullpen would be of little match with Bailey’s notoriously long preparation ritual and he doesn’t have any options left to send him down to the minors. Meanwhile, Wood worked in the bullpen last year and also does have remaining options for assignment to AAA. And while it’s a possibility to send Chapman down to the minors to work on becoming a starter, he will be on an innings limit in 2012 and does little to help the big league club by using up those innings in Louisville. The Reds have precious few pitching candidates in the farm system who are close enough to make an effective starting rotation appearance should any of the pitchers find themselves on the DL, but there is always Sam LeCure, who could be looked to as a spot starter even though it would be at the expense of a consistent arm in the bullpen.
Sean Marshall is a fantastic reliever and the potential trade is very appealing on that basis alone. More than anything, the move may symbolize that the Reds are not content with only these two acquisitions. While Marshall and Latos may end up being the two biggest moves of the offseason, the Reds will likely still want to buy an insurance plan with a pitcher who can fill in as a starter on short notice. Beyond the obvious baseball benefit, a trade for Marshall may prove to be the harbinger to a few more moves, smaller in scale, but no less interesting in the makeup of your 2012 Cincinnati Reds.