Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price (38) visits starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) during the 5th inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. (Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports )

Your Cincinnati Reds: Prospective Buyers or Should-Be Sellers?

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When it comes to this Cincinnati Reds ball club, one thing seems to be a good indicator of future decisions: past decisions, or lack thereof. Much of the focus has circled around the looming non-waiver trade deadline coming less than one week away, next Thursday at 4 PM EDT. This focus logically leads to one central figure: Walt Jocketty.

With the exception of a couple seasons ago when Walt acquired Jonathan Broxton from the Royals for a pair of prospects (Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulbaran, both of whom have done little to-date for their new organization over the past couple seasons), we haven’t really seen the Reds utilize the trade deadline for much of anything in recent years.  It has been multiple years, in fact, since they even acted as sellers – involving both Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn in 2008 as soon-to-be free agents – in the first season Jocketty was GM.

All signs point to the likelihood 2013 was a precursor to 2014, when the team chose to “stand pat” and not make a single move. With the exception of signing occasional free agents or released players (which Walt has seemingly done with regularity in “reclamation” type projects at the lower levels), this team is probably not going to make a big splash in any form.  What the last six games in consecutive sweeps at the hands of both the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers has shown is the reserves have their limitations and this team is starved for their offensive weapons.  Sadly, back in April when this lineup was closest to complete, it wasn’t performing all that well, either … which might lead many to believe the off-season was the missed opportunity to at least try to find another bat.

A very solid June, on the backs primarily of Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco along with the legs of Billy Hamilton, was what led to optimism. What that time period also included was a healthy Brandon Phillips (now on the DL for at least another month) and a hobbling Joey Votto – who was somehow getting on base but contributing little else. The quality of the opponent definitely factors into the surge that continued in July up to the All-Star break, when four of five games were won against the Chicago Cubs. Unfortunately, BP was lost at the end of that series, along with Skip Schumaker at least temporarily with a concussion.  This was foreshadowing that at least a break was desperately needed.

The current record for the team, despite the six-game slide, at one game over .500 says the team shouldn’t completely give up, but one has to ask if one acquisition (i.e. another bat) would be enough to fix all that ails this team at present. Frazier and Mesoraco have both come out of the break swinging cold bats, in their own mini-slumps, which the team can ill afford. Jay Bruce has had a miserable 2014 season in total, and one of his historical “hot streaks” would be huge literally right now. Without Votto or Phillips, the team goes as Bruce goes for lack of anybody else. If Todd and Devin somehow come back home, wake up their bats to something pre-ASG that we had seen, and the offense clicks again, the race is far from over.  But two guys alone don’t make the team … at least they shouldn’t be.  At any given time, history says a guy or two can carry the rest for a handful of games, but it rarely is sustainable.  Ryan Ludwick will be fondly remembered for carrying the load in 2012 after Votto’s knee surgery, but even he couldn’t hope to find that former self these days.  His bat speed is showing his age since last year’s shoulder surgery sapped much of the power this team once enjoyed.

Can any combination of the current regular / reserve mixed offense produce enough to matter going forward? Can they survive and challenge without BP for another month and possibly Votto at least that long if not the rest of 2014? The Votto absence right now is bigger than anyone may be willing to admit because his OBP typically near half the time is missed. People criticized his lack of power (obviously attributed to his continued leg problem) while ignoring his refinement and control as a pure hitter. What seems obvious is that an everyday lineup that includes backups like Ramon Santiago, Skip Schumaker, and Brayan Pena on a regular basis just isn’t enough.  They all have done respectable in short bursts, even keying the offense at times, but their respective histories show why they’ve become backups.

Jul 19, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Alfredo Simon (31) pitches against the New York Yankees during the first inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve stepped around the original topic of this article – buyers or sellers – only as a backdrop to the situation that dictates that question.  Realistically, the situation of a lost season looms with an opportunity to improve immediately anticipating what 2015 will bring. While it’s short of waving a white flag on 2014, values of certain guys (Broxton, Aroldis Chapman, Johnny Cueto, Alfredo Simon, to name a select few) probably couldn’t be higher.  If you want to move some payroll and maximize what you might receive, waiting until the off-season to work those same trades may yield a lesser result.

All things considered, this 25-man roster will look exactly the same by 5 PM next Thursday, whether or not it should.

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