Cincinnati Reds: Restructure, But Don’t Completely Rebuild

The title of this post might seem odd, given that the Cincinnati Reds just swept one of the best teams in the majors this weekend, the Washington Nationals. But let’s be realistic, they’re still 10.5 games back in the division, despite playing quite well over the weekend. While the Reds are only five games back in the wild card, there are eight teams ahead of them. Is it worth it to try to go all in for one game, probably on the road? Or should they sell in July, dump some salary and plan for the future? These are the hard questions coming for the Reds’ upper management, but I think they should avoid the complete fire sale and instead just restructure the team.

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When I use the word “restructure,” I’m talking about keeping the players who have just reached their prime and won’t become free agents for a few years, while selling the players who will be free agents after 2015 or already command a large contract. The Reds can build around Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco. Both players are still in their 20s and just last year have started to show how good they can be. I would also keep Joey Votto because 1) he probably has a no-trade clause somewhere in his contract, 2) it would be hard to find a team to take a chunk of his salary and 3) he’s one of those players who would be an excellent example to younger players coming up with the team.

As for the pitching staff, the Reds have three rookies in their rotation right now. Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen have all shown flashes of brilliance in their short career and all three are players the Reds could build a rotation around in the future. The Reds also have #1 prospect Robert Stephenson and a host of potential major league pitchers in the minors. Add Homer Bailey to that mix late next year and into 2017 and the Reds rotation could be very similar to the one they had in 2012.

The Reds, however, need some good hitting prospects. The minor league system is a little depleted of solid position players with major league talent. Currently, the best hitters are two career minor leaguers, Ivan De Jesus and Irving Falu, at Triple-A Louisville. The best young hitters having really good seasons are still in the lower tiers of the system. Alex Blandino is hitting .307 at High A-Daytona and Kyle Waldrop is hitting .281 at Double-A Pensacola. Jesse Winker, their best hitting prospect, is struggling at Pensacola so far this year with a .229 average.

As long as Johnny Cueto is healthy (*fingers crossed*), he should be traded in July for a couple of top prospects.

Brandon Phillips would be an ideal player to trade in order to dump salary, especially given the solid season he’s having this year, but he has a full no-trade clause as a 10-5 player and loves playing in Cincinnati. It would be hard to trade Phillips, but possible if they try to trade him to a contender.

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The Reds also should think seriously about trading Aroldis Chapman. His contract is through 2016, but trading him right now would be considered selling high. Teams still in contention come the trade deadline might be willing to give a top prospect or two for a flamethrower like Chapman.

Trading Jay Bruce would not be selling high, but a contending team might take him, especially if they can send him in a package deal with either Cueto or Chapman.

Mike Leake is the interesting one. He will be cheaper than Cueto on the free agent market and the Reds might want to keep him around in hopes they can sign him, but he might also be able to net them a good return at the trade deadline. If I had to guess, I’d bet the Reds keep Leake through the season and if he walks, they’ll take the compensatory draft pick.

I think the Philadelphia Phillies are a little like the Reds a couple years ahead. The Phillies didn’t know (and you could argue, still don’t) when to sell high in order to retool for the future. If the Reds can restructure their team now, they can be legitimate contenders again in 2017 or 2018, as opposed to completely tearing it down and doing a long-term rebuild like the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs have been doing. The Reds don’t need to do what the Astros or the Cubs did, but they don’t want to wait too long to sell like the Phillies have. If they can cut ties with some players now while their price is high and get some solid prospects in return, this team could be back to being what they were in 2012.

Next: Could Todd Frazier break the Reds' single-season HR record?