Walt Jocketty, general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, is known as a crafty wheeler and dealer who makes moves that seem almost bizarre on the surface but work out in the end. Considering the completion of the Sean Marshall trade, many a Reds fan are hoping that the reputation that precedes him holds true.
In completing the trade that lands the Reds left-handed reliever Sean Marshall, the Reds are shipping over the previously reported Travis Wood, left handed starting pitcher who worked his way between the minor league and majors in 2010 and 2011 and even chipped in with bullpen help in 2011, and the newly revealed utility outfielder Dave Sappelt and a second base prospect in Ronald Torreyes.
As if mirroring the success the overall team had, Wood had a lot of it in the 2010 campaign even coming within a few outs of a perfect game. He found his sophomore return a lot less smooth and was quickly shuffling back to Louisville. Upon a return to Cincinnati, he was slotted in a bullpen spot, perhaps to see if that would be in his future. After a couple lackluster appearances, the Reds must have apparently come under the notion that he was a starting pitcher first, foremost and probably for good. In that sense, using him and his potential as a trading chip makes a lot of sense. He’s blocked on the major league level by either entrenched starters or interesting and unfinished potential. However, a starting pitcher alone, whether he will ever project to a top of the rotation guy or just another arm fighting for one of the bottom spots, is a tough thing to give up for a single reliever who is a) not a closer and b) doesn’t factor into the plans of the closing duties. Wood wasn’t an overpowering pitcher, instead mixing in a slider, curveball or changeup when he wasn’t relying instead on his two-seam or cut fastball which averaged out around 90 mph.
Dave Sappelt spent the better part of Spring Training in 2011 lighting up just about every offensive number you could gauge him by. There were quite a few people both in baseball and simply observing from a fan’s point of view that thought he should have made the club for Opening Day. When he finally did arrive later in the season to a club that was all but out of the playoff race, he struggled mightily. There were times he’d swing at every first pitch he saw in the game and it would usually result in an out of one kind or another. But when he showed patience, he did find a bit more success. Nothing to match the meteoric performance he had before the real games started, but there were times when things looked as if they had clicked. And then he’d return to the plate for a one pitch popup. In his 118 plate appearances with the big league club, he had a stat line of .243/.289/.318. Nothing you’d lament losing if you didn’t think of him as a 24 year old work in progress. Additionally, his arm was a weakness in his game but since he saw most of his time in LF and probably would have seen the same had he remained for the 2012 season, it wasn’t generally seen as too much of a liability.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the trade was the Reds handing over Ronald Torreyes. A second baseman prospect, he’s a newly minted 19 year old kid who looks every bit the scrawny part you associate with the young’uns. He’s listed as 5’9″, 140 lbs and while the weight may meet the eye check, it’s said by some that the height doesn’t. Regardless of his diminutive size, his ability to flat out make contact, rack up hits and find his way on base with a terrific regularity made him one of the more interesting prospects the Reds had in the farm system. He had a good amount of time before he reached the big leagues, still does probably, even in the Cubs system, but he seemed to be a gamer you could look at and wonder “How does he do it?” His short size, his small frame, his excellent defensive ability and his knack for putting the bat on the ball recalls a poor man’s Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox. A write-up by Fansided’s Seedlings to Stars projected him as a Jeff Keppinger-type player and ranked him as the 93rd best prospect in baseball, but he did have that “Spark-plug” kind of mystique about him.
Overall, the trade itself makes the Reds a better team in 2012 and were that all we cared to consider, the move would be a great one. But knowing that you can never have enough starting pitching, that the left field of Great American Ballpark is just begging to have someone plant their stakes in its ground and that Brandon Phillips will eventually find Father Time, this trade seems way too much given for way too little return. Consider that Marshall is a free agent after this season, the deal looks virtually unfathomable. But even if Marshall were to sign an extension for two to three years, he’s still going to be used as a setup man with anywhere from 60 to 80 innings and probably around 70 appearances. Not many have forgotten that the role of setup man, previously filled by Nick Masset, needed a fresh suitor and that the bullpen in general needed bolstering, not to mention an arm from the left side. But the overall price was simply exorbitant.
As a corollary to this topic, it is possible that Brandon Phillips will be extended some time in the near future, but the movement of Torreyes would, at first glance, appear to have little effect on the matter. He was far enough away from the major league roster, that the Reds probably wouldn’t have felt confident in going into 2013 with just him and Chris Valaika. So regardless of the long term options at second base, the short term of 3-5 years were going to need to be addressed.
The more interesting path this trade leads though is the left field situation. With one less option as a roaming “fill in” for the outfield, it will be interesting to see if the Reds go after a player that will fulfill Sappelt’s backup role and battle with Chris Heisey and Todd Frazier for playing time. Or will they relegate Heisey to the backup role by finding a true starter? Walt has bolstered the starting rotation and the bullpen while still looking to find a closer, so it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone in the least if he’s trying to find a guy that can turn the left field platoon into his own one man show, prospects at the minor league level be damned.