Free Agent or Trade Route?

With the Cincinnati Reds having what appears to be a couple of positions up in the air, you might ask which route is the best for the Reds to pursue, via trade or free agency?

Depends on what you want. Or shall I say who.

We all know the Reds don’t dabble in the “high rent district” as far as free agents go. They generally pursue to lower end guys, try to get more bang for the buck. And they don’t exactly go for that blockbuster trade although GM Walt Jocketty did inquire about Cliff Lee before the deal with the Texas Rangers was made.

Two positions in which there is a bit of question is shortstop and left field.

On the shortstop line, the Reds have been rumored to possibly bring Orlando Cabrera back, but not at the mutual option of $4 million. He made a touch over $2 million in 2010. As you scan the name of free agents, the list is short…very short. Throw Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins out right now. Too pricey. I had mentioned Cesar Izturis (very briefly) but he possesses nothing the Reds could want except if there’s no other available options. His bat is non-existent…at best.

J.J. Hardy could be a possibility. His offensive numbers are slightly better than OC’s. His glove is pretty much the same. The difference is the ability to handle the bat. Cabrera does have a history while Hardy’s doesn’t. All of this means nothing unless the Twins refuse to go to arbitration with Hardy. It could happen as Hardy made $5.1 million last season. Despite giving Joe Mauer what they did, I doubt they would be willing to pay another $5 million for Hardy’s services.

What about Christian Guzman? Nice bat. He can hit leadoff (.319 with 75 plate appearances). He doesn’t possess the speed he once had. He hasn’t stolen more than 10 bags in a season since 2004. The bigger question would be can he still play short. He was primarily a second baseman this past season in D.C. before being dealt to the Texas Rangers. Well, that move was to make room for Ian Desmond.

There could be someone available through the trade route, Jason Bartlett. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says the Rays will entertain offers for Bartlett, James Shields and B.J. Upton. Bartlett and possibly Upton could garner interest from the Reds. Bartlett struggled with the bat this past season after posting a .320 average to go along with 14 homers and 66 RBI. Bartlett also received an All-Star nod in 2009. Why would the Rays look to rid themselves of Bartlett? He’s arbitration eligible and made a salary of $4 million in 2010. Plus, he’s a free agent after 2011. We know how free agency is going to hit the Rays.

B.J. Upton is a particularly interesting name to hear. There’s the attitude, but all the talent. He could be the biggest enigma in baseball period. He could also be a virtual 20 (HR)-40 (SB) machine. And despite the perceived knock on his defense, he’s an above average fielder (.988 compared to AL average of .986 for CF). Upton netted $3 million last season and is also arbitration eligible. And yes, he’s a free agent after 2011. Maybe it’s just time for a change of scenery. The two issues are the attitude and could he play left? Hmm…

I ask that last part because the Reds also look to bring back Jonny Gomes (at $1.75 million). But you have to check out all options if you’re not 100% sure. Gomes did significantly contribute with the bat. It’s the other side of the coin…the D. But here’s a part of Gomes that may be irreplaceable, his hustle. He lies on the other side of the spectrum from Upton on that.

Free agents? Nothing really to speak of there. Well, one name. If you want a leadoff guy, Scott Podsednik will be out there if the Dodgers decline a $2 million option. He can be bought out for a mere $100,000 and hit the market. Podsednik was excellent as a leadoff hitter in Kansas City last season (.310). After being dealt to the Dodgers, he struggled (.262). Add the fact the Podsednik will hit 35 before the season begins may cause the Reds brass to hesitate on a potential deal. He’s not particularly a web gem waiting to happen either and his arm is a bit on the weak side. Still, he does still have great speed and can cover more ground that Gomes. Ah, that speed. Podsednik stole 35 bases last year…at 34 years old. For his career, Podsednik hits .281 as a leadoff hitter and holds a .341 on-base percentage. For the last two seasons, the Reds have struggled with the leadoff spot (2010: .244/.306, 2009: .254/.302).

Let the conjecture begin. Your views?