Like the air slowly seeping out of a once vastly filled balloon, the Cincinnati Reds playoff chances just took a significant hit over the last week.
It was exactly one week ago that the Reds had entered the Bronx for the opening series coming off the All-Star break. How things can change in the span of a week.
The club would go on to lose all six games they would play in both New York and Milwaukee, dropping from seven games above the .500 mark, to just one. In that same span, the fan base went from optimistic, to complete pessimism. It may be only a five and a half game deficit, but with the current roster, this Reds club seems unlikely to make a legitimate push.
Being a Major League general manager is a job that comes with a lot of heady territory. As Moneyball depicted, the job can be at times ruthless, pragmatic, and even borderline psychotic. In the case of Walt Jocketty, he has pressed all the right buttons over the past half-decade to even get his club in this position, yet he has been befallen by injuries, and more injuries.
After the worst week of the season, the Reds now have exactly seven more days to decide if this is something they should attempt to salvage. Does jettisoning a top-level prospect for the services of Ben Zobrist or Daniel Murphy really help if neither Brandon Phillips nor Joey Votto will return for a significant period of time?
Luckily, the Reds do possess a top pitching prospect in Robert Stephenson. (In fact, should this slide continue, it would not be outside the realm of possibility to see Stephenson up with the Major League club before the season is all said and done.) On the horizon, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Mike Leake all need new contracts. Whether or not the Reds can afford all three men (they can’t—barring Mr. Castellini winning the Ohio Lottery) depends on their desire to ship off Stephenson.
Would swapping Stephenson-for-Zobrist be a logical decision? Not a chance, in my mind. Although fans have become enamored with this “win immediately” strategy, even if Zobrist is added to the fold, there is still simply too much damage already done. If both Phillips and Votto were healthy, this may be a different story. But alas, this is the position the Reds are in.
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So does this make the Reds sellers? John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer has made in known via the Twittersphere that he cannot see Mr. Jocketty and Mr. Castellini agreeing to “sell” come the deadline. While we cannot claim the type of personal relationship that Fay has with these individuals, we can present some basic baseball logic to the case.
Alfredo Simon’s value is never going to be higher. The Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, and New York Yankees are all desperate for starting pitching help down the stretch. Simon has team control for the rest of this season and the next before becoming a free agent in 2016. Teams may be wary to part with any sort of top prospect, but a few mid-level, high-upside risks can absolutely be taken in the case of Simon, considering the Reds did not ever believe he would turn out to be this advantageous to them.
It was a move that went under the radar last week, but the Reds acquired Dylan Axelrod from the Chicago White Sox. Axelrod tore through the minor leagues with the White Sox before having a horrific year last season up with the big club. He scuffled through 2014, clearing needing a change of scenery. While there would need to be 40-man roster issues ironed out, Axelrod could be a suitable replacement should the organization still want Tony Cingrani to stay down in Triple-A and iron out his secondary pitches.
Cingrani himself is another interesting aspect of the equation. If the Reds believe Cingrani projects as a starter for the future (personally, I see his true value lying in the bullpen), they have to see his ability to consistently get hitters out at the Major League level.
Then there looms the biggest trade chip of them all: Aroldis Chapman.
More than just a closer, Chapman is a show. He is the type of pitcher you enter a ballpark on the oft chance you will get to see him pitch. When the Reds travel to opposing towns, fans hope Chapman will enter the game, even at the expense of seeing their team trailing. He is an enigma, a lightning rod, a 105-MPH fastball flinging novelty. But he is also moveable.
It may be an abomination to even mention moving Chapman, but let’s be serious for a moment. Aroldis Chapman admitted that when he signed on with the Reds, he had never heard of Cincinnati, nor knew where it was on a United States map. He did not choose the Queen City because he was a Big Blue supporter, or he loved chili, or he thought he’d have a great working relationship with Jeff Brantley; he chose Cincinnati because that was where he was directed.
At the exact moment Chapman becomes a free agent, his value is going to sky rocket. The Reds do not have the money to re-sign a closer they seemingly refuse to use in anything but a save situation.
In the past week, the San Diego Padres fetched back three of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s top-five prospects in exchange for Huston Street. The Detroit Tigers sent two of their top-five prospects to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Joakim Soria. (Granted, none of any of the prospects that were moved are considered elite prospects, but that is still a hefty price.)
Whether or not a team like the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics or even Milwaukee Brewers would make a significant push for the Cuban Missile is completely speculator, but all of whom could use his dynamic arm in the ‘pen.
Selling off Chapman would not only return some extremely high-level prospects, but it would also more than likely earn the Reds back some Major League talent. At the beginning of this year (without Chapman or Jonathan Broxton), many Reds fans thought quite highly of their bullpen.
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Just a week remains before the Trade Deadline. The Redlegs sit at 51-50, with three teams to jump in the National League Central Division. The only incoming cavalry would have to come via a trade. Things are quite bleak, but the games will still be played on the field. One way or the other, 2014 will be a year that fans will not soon forget.