Should the Reds Pursue Free Agents or Look for Trades?


In the wake of today’s trades involving Arizona, Oakland and Miami, the off-season clock for teams has already started ticking. Barely more than two weeks after the regular season has ended and the dealing has commenced.

And now the question will undoubtedly emerge: When will Walt make a deal?

Maybe the better question: Which avenue will Walt pursue, free agency or the trade route?

If last preseason can be used as an indicator, the answer is both.

Known for historically shying away from big deals (aside from the Francisco Cordero moment), the Reds pulled a shocker by singing Ryan Madson to a one-year, $6MM deal with a mutual option ($11MM) for a second year. The buyout of that option is $2.5MM. Madson never saw the GABP mound under game conditions as the story is now well known.

(Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE)

Walt also bought in Ryan Ludwick for a mere $2MM. Ludwick recently declined his portion of a $5MM mutual option (which means if Ludwick does leave, he receives $500k as a parting gift and a thousand thanks from Reds fans), but the door for him to return is as wide open as any player who ever been in his position in the past. I doubt anyone would dispute what he brought to the team this past season.

Jocketty landed Sean Marshall in a deal with the Chicago Cubs for Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torreyes. Not as much attention was paid to this trade as the “other one”. Marshall played a vital role in what many term as the best bullpen for the 2012 season. He was also awarded a new deal prior to the beginning of 2012. Hindsight, nice deal.

The big one was the package put together to snag Mat Latos from the Padres. Heading to San Diego were Edinson Volquez, Brad Boxberger, Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Gandal. After his normally slow start, Latos developed into ace #1A especially during the second half of the season. The question surrounding this deal, albeit not receiving a lot of mention, is did the Reds include the wrong catcher considering the struggles of Devin Mesoraco.

Yes, I’ve read that question posed a time or two since the end of the season.

The area which needed to largest improvement prior to this past season was the focus: the pitching staff. The Ludwick signing was the only deal that addressed any means of aiding the offense. While Ludwick had a terrific 2012, it was not enough as the Good Guys struggled to score runs.

Something I have heard Jocketty say in the past, and kind of a general statement if you think about it, is that he will always look to improve the ball club. He also adds that it must be deal (trade or free agent signing) that makes sense for the organization. That’s not saying he will make a trade for a big name or sign a big name, high-priced free agent (e.g. Josh Hamilton), but in the past, the organization has usually shied away from such.

That all said, don’t completely dismiss such a thought. We saw that last off-season.

As a bit of a side note. One subject that is a yearly discussion is that of the payroll situation. Over on Red Reporter, RijoSaboCaseyWKRP has constructed a handy worksheet for you payroll junkies. If you have yet to see it, I highly suggest heading over there and giving a look-see. Read the corresponding post as well.

After the dealings Jocketty made previous to 2012, some opined that the Reds farm system was not as stocked due to the trades. As the season wore on, we were given reasons to believe that it might not be a bare as we were led to believe. The Reds do have pieces if they were to explore a trade. They have some young arms that all the other 29 teams would love to have in their farm system: Tony Cingrani, Daniel Corcino, Robert Stephenson.

Most likely there isn’t the financial flexibility to go for the higher priced free agents. For all you Josh Hamilton fans, I see the chances of him making a return to Cincy somewhere less than one percent. Owner Bob Castellini has generally permitted a modest increase in payroll, but with the raises due and the arbitration processes that lie ahead, modest may be the best case scenario.

Seeing something similar to the Madson deal is far more likely. And take Madson’s injury out of the picture (and I realize that is asking a lot), and that signing isn’t bad at all.

(Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE)

For example, ask yourself this…What if the Reds were unable to sign Ludwick? There are a few bats available, and there could be a player or two that would agree to a similar deal that brought Madson to the Reds. And don’t just think outfield either. You can think third base (that list isn’t all that much though) because of Todd Frazier and the many gloves he carries.

Frazier’s “tools” could allow for that very thought process to enter into any trade talks as well. Knowing Frazier can play multiple positions could make third base a trade target with the ToddFather manning left field.

With this narrative, you can see that Walt and his staff do not need to be solely targeting one player for a certain lineup spot. Yes, a lead-off guy that can get on base is #1 on the wish list.

But just don’t give in to the tunnel vision. During the non-waiver trade deadline, Walt inquired about bats, but couldn’t get what he wanted. He took the step of adding another bullpen arm in an attempt to improving a strength of the team.

So where are we to look?

Answer: everywhere…by every means.