Cincinnati Reds’ Rebuild: Making sense of the ‘Todd Frazier trade’

Mar 4, 2016; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds left fielder Scott Schebler (43) swings the bat against the San Francisco Giants during the fourth inning at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2016; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds left fielder Scott Schebler (43) swings the bat against the San Francisco Giants during the fourth inning at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Rebuild. Reload. Roster renovation.

However you want to label it, the Cincinnati Reds’ vision is clear: they’re looking to the future and specifically the near future.

The Redlegs finally gave in last season, submitting to the inevitable rebuild that had haunted them since former manager Dusty Baker had three 90+ win seasons in a four-year span from 2010-13 … but were bounced in the first round of the playoffs in both of their postseason appearances.

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In-season trades of No. 1 and 2 starters Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake last season put the final stamp of approval on the rebuild that began the offseason prior with trades of another starting pitching duo, Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon. But there was one common theme between the four trades: The Reds acquired close-to-Cincinnati talent. Latos was dealt for Anthony DeSclafani, a decent prospect without the upside that Latos had as a prospect, but who ultimately opened the season as the Reds’ No. 3 starter and tossed a season-high 184 2/3 innings among rookies. John Sickels of SB Nation ranked DeSclafani sixth in his 2015 preseason Reds organizational prospect rankings and added this blurb to his “B-” rating…

"“…I think the Marlins may have cut bait too quickly here, three-pitch mix with decent control could make him a steady number four starter. Nice pickup for the Reds.” — John Sickels"

Needless to say, the Reds targeted proximity, not long-term upside. That held true when they dealt Simon to Detroit for Eugenio Suarez. Sickels, nearly identical to DeSclafani, rated Suarez eighth in the Tigers 2014 (Suarez’ final year as a prospect) prospect rankings, also assigned him a “B-” grade with this additional blurb…

"“Very effective in A-ball, had some contact issues in Double-A but I still like the total package here including solid defense and a chance to hit for average with more pop than many middle infielders.” — John Sickels"

Cincinnati stayed par for the course when it dealt Cueto to the Royals on July 26 and Leake to the Giants on July 30. Between the two deals the Reds acquired five players including Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, Cody Reed, Keury Mella and Adam Duvall.

Finnegan, the Royals’ first round pick out of TCU in 2014, had already seen major-league time with seven September innings before pitching six postseason innings including two appearances in the World Series. Lamb, a former top-20 prospect according to baseball hubs Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, suffered a career derailment when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season. But by 2013 Lamb was back in Triple-A before spending all of 2014 and 2015 there. He then got a 10-game taste in Cincinnati to end the ’15 season. Duvall, never a Giants’ top-10 prospect, was deemed the organization’s best power-hitter in 2013 by Baseball America, and earned 77 plate appearances in ’14 before another 72 PA’s with the Reds last season. Reed and Mella have yet to reach the highest level, but Reed was a 22-year-old in Double-A and now in Reds’ camp as a non-roster invitee. And Bryan Price, even if Reed doesn’t break camp on the 25-man roster, is excited about Reed potentially making an impact this season and Mella is a promising 22-year-old expected to start 2016 in Double-A with an outside chance at a September call-up. Bernie Pleskoff, a former MLB scout and current columnist, wrote about Mella after his trade to Cincinnati last season ultimately say he “has a bright future” and is “promising.”

Enter oft-discussed and critiqued offseason trade of Todd Frazier.

FlavaFraz21, as he is known on Twitter, was on a torrid pace in the last season’s first half, hitting at a .284 clip and swatting 25 HR. He earned his second consecutive All-Star appearance and ignited a home crowd during a memorable Home Run Derby at Great American Ball Park. His value has arguably never been higher, the Reds were all but out of the playoff race and the time to trade him, was, for simplicity: perfect.

Cincinnati, though, elected to retain Frazier through the race deadline and into the offseason. But with the rebuild essentially in full-swing and already attempting to deal now former closer Aroldis Chapman, the Reds made the biggest offseason splash. With 2015 WAR as the unit of measurement, Frazier, despite an array of prominent names being traded, was the best player to be dealt this offseason, in a three-team shocker that sent Frazier to the White Sox, and a prospect trio to both the Reds and Dodgers.

The Reds’ return was scoffed at by many.

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  • Brandon Dixon, the tertiary piece, is probably nothing more than organizational depth at second base, although he did display a lethal power/speed combo — albeit as a 23-year-old in High-A and Double-A. But despite the other piece being routinely disregarded, Cincinnati has a chance to turn the Frazier trade into two full-time starters by season’s end.

    Jose Peraza, the ‘prized piece’ of the trade, was ranked No. 54 by Baseball America in last year’s preseason top 100 prospects. He jumped to No. 26 on their midseason list with this added blurb:

    "“Scouts worry how much impact a slap hitter who doesn’t walk can have, but they love his speed and defense.”"

    Peraza has “been around for a while,” but after debuting in the Braves organization at age 17, he earned his MLB debut in 2015 as a 21-year-old. He isn’t a power hitter, but could he be the prototypical leadoff hitter than the Reds have hoped Billy Hamilton would become? Yes. While he is almost certain to start the year at Triple-A, he has positional flexibility with time at shortstop, second base and center field, and could see time at any of the three in Cincinnati later in the year — especially if Brandon Phillips has a change of heart and approves a midseason trade to a desperate contender. Ultimately, think Juan Pierre. Not an All-Star player, but a dynamic leadoff hitter with a chance to change a game’s complexion for a World Series winner.

    “Battling with a plethora of other options for the starting left field gig on opening day, Schebler has done little to veer Bryan Price away from selecting him for the job.”

    And Scott Schebler. The final overlooked piece of the Frazier trade is currently making a strong impression in Goodyear, Arizona. Battling with a plethora of other options for the starting left field gig on opening day, Schebler has done little to veer Bryan Price away from selecting him for the job. Schebler ranks highly in a number of Reds’ Spring Training stats among players with at least 15 ABs this March. He ranks third in slugging percentage (.652), is one of only two players (the other being Peraza) with at least two stolen bases, is tied for the most HR (2), has the second most RBI (5), ranks 10th in average (.304) and has a respectable three walks to just four strikeouts — a prominent issue with his game dating back to his days in L.A.

    Others legitimately in the left-field conversation include rule-five selection Jake Cave, a piece of the return package from the Leake trade in Duvall, and a pair for former Reds first-round picks Phil Ervin and Jesse Winker. Potentially an issue for Schebler is that the other four aren’t particularly disappointing this spring. Ervin (.391), Winker (.333), Cave (.320) and Duvall (.304) are each hitting the ball as good or better than Schebler. But the quartet has the same three walks to 16 strikeouts. However, only Ervin can match Schebler’s two HR, five RBI and a slightly better .692 SLG. Ultimately, Duvall may be forced to settle for a bench role backing up both left field and third base. Winker, the long-term solution for Cincinnati in left field — something it hasn’t had since Adam Dunn was traded in 2008 — will almost certainly return to Triple-A Louisville for some more seasoning, and if nothing else, to manipulate his service time.

    That leaves Schebler in a competition with Ervin and Cave. Ervin, much like Winker, could use some more minor-league seasoning, especially with exactly zero ABs above Double-A. Cave will prove to be his stiffest competition. If their ST production is similar, and even if Cave’s is faintly worse, Cave could have the upper-hand. As a rule-five selection, Cave is required to remain on the Reds’ 25-man roster for them to retain his rights. If he is not kept on the active roster, his rights would shift back to the Yankees. This may not always be a deciding factor, but Cave has been considered as a legitimate prospect, whether that’s as a role player or a full-time starter. John Sickels had this to say about Cave in his 2015 organizational prospect rankings giving him a C+ grade…

    "“…something of a tweener perhaps without huge power or speed but featuring decent pure hitting skills, hustle, outfield versatility. Fourth outfielder profile.” — John Sickels"

    It remains to be seen how the left-field job will shake over the final two weeks, but Schebler has firmly placed his name near, if not at the top, of the candidate list. Pair that with dynamic prospect Jose Peraza and Cincinnati’s trade of fan-favorite Todd Frazier should begin paying dividends sooner rather than later — right on cue with its dreaded attempt, but consistent approach at a rebuild.