Championship Changes: Rotation Reload

In our ongoing quest to determine the off-season moves the Reds must make to return to the Promised Land, starting pitching continues to be the focus. Last month, the Reds made the decision to begin transitioning Aroldis Chapman into the role of a starting pitcher. As I wrote at the time, moving Chapman to the rotation is a necessary, albeit obvious, move for this team. The Reds certainly hope that Chapman can develop into the “ace” starting pitcher that they’ve lacked for years. However, there is still work to be done to improve the rotation if the Reds wish to become serious World Series contenders in 2012.

Even if we make the rather lofty assumption that Chapman can pitch well as a starter next season, it is unlikely that Chapman will be able to shoulder an entire season’s workload as a starting pitcher. Since joining the Reds organization in 2010, Chapman has pitched a total of 172 innings over two seasons, including minor league appearances. In 2011, Chapman missed some time due to injury and accumulated just 63 innings pitched. Thus, it’s highly unlikely that the Reds will ask Chapman to work a full season as a starter.

Needless to say, the Reds will have to look at options outside of the organization to significantly improve the rotation. Free agency is unlikely to be a viable option. With a limited payroll and starting pitching in high demand, the Reds are unable to afford the kind of starting pitcher who represents a significant upgrade over the in-house options. Making a trade for a starting pitcher seems much more likely.

Taking a look at the pitchers who might be available via trade, there are several options that could help the Reds. According to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports, the pitchers “known or thought to be available in trades,” include: James Shields, Wade Davis, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Jair Jurrjens, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Chad Billingsley, and Wandy Rodriguez

Of those players, James Shields and Jair Jurrjens are the two most intriguing. While the price tag, in terms of prospects, will likely be very high to obtain Jurrjens or Shields, both pitchers have the ability and recent success to provide a significant upgrade to the Reds’ rotation. The question is, can the Reds put together the kind of package needed to obtain one of those pitchers in a trade?

The Reds are blessed with a surplus of young talent and prospects. That surplus of young talent is heavily weighted in position players. In addition, many of those prospects are basically “MLB ready,” with nowhere to play on the Reds big league roster.  Yonder Alonso is a perfect example of the Reds’ young talent surplus. With Joey Votto, the 2010 NL MVP penciled in at first-base for the next two seasons, and Alonso’s apparent inability to play any other defensive position, Alonso’s value for the 2012 Reds is limited. Alonso’s biggest contribution to the 2012 Reds could be his value on the trade market.

While Alonso seems like the most obvious trade chip (for multiple reasons) the Reds are in position to put together a strong package of prospects if they decide to go after a big name starting pitcher. None of the following players figure to contribute significantly to the 2012 Reds success, and would all peak the interests of potential suitors – Yasmani Grandal, Billy Hamilton, Yorman Rodriguez, Daniel Corcino, Robert Stephenson, Neftali Soto, Ronald Torreyes, Didi Gregorius – just to name a few.

On top of that, the Reds could include more proven players such as Chris Heisey, Todd Frazier, Juan Francisco and Chris Valaika in a trade package, without significantly diminishing the MLB roster.

When you put it all together, the Reds have the pieces to create a strong trade package. Sure, they’d likely have to give up some highly coveted young players, with the fear of “mortgaging the future.” But the Reds have a window of opportunity to be a very good team for the next couple of years, and that window is closing fast. It is entirely possible that the Reds will not have Joey Votto or Brandon Phillips on their roster when spring training begins in 2014. However, in 2012 the Reds will have their services to spearhead a group of position players that can score plenty of runs while playing terrific defense. For now, starting pitching is the only major ingredient that is missing.

So the Reds could hold on to all their prospects and hope that the rotation will fix itself – a good move if they’re content with a .500 team. But I say, “go for it, win NOW.” Put together a package of prospects that the Rays or Braves simply can’t refuse, solidify your rotation, and return some rings to the riverfront.

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