Will the Reds take the easy way out when Emilio Pagán returns from the IL?

The Reds will have a very interesting decision to make.
Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Emilio Pagan (15) delivers a pitch. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Emilio Pagan (15) delivers a pitch. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports / Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Reds are headed out west for a three-game series with the Colorado Rockies. Don't let Colorado's win-loss record fool you — the Rockies have been on a tear of late and have been playing very good baseball.

But the Reds will have a few extra bodies on the plane ride to Denver. Justin Wilson returned to the Reds roster over the weekend, and Cincinnati made the decision to option Alex Young back to the minor leagues. In addition to Wilson, Reds fans will be happy to hear that Emilio Pagán will be back soon as well.

But Pagán's impending return brings a difficult decision for the Reds' front office — who will be removed from the 26-man roster in order to activate last winter's free agent pickup? Conventional wisdom would suggest that one of the three relievers with minor-league options would be sent down to Triple-A. But it's not that simple.

Which Reds reliever will be ousted when Emilio Pagán returns from the IL?

Minor-league options allow teams to shuttle players between the major and minor leagues throughout the season without exposing them to waivers. But there are limits to how those options can be used.

If a player is out of minor-league options, he must be designated for assignment, removed from the 40-man roster, exposed to waivers, and then outrighted to the minor leagues. This, of course, would mean that teams could lose players if another club submits a claim or if the individual elects free agency.

The Reds roster isn't exactly teeming with players who have minor league options available — especially among the eight relievers. That trio includes Sam Moll, Fernando Cruz, and Alexis Diaz.

Will Sam Moll, Justin Wilson, or Buck Farmer be removed from the Reds active roster?

There's no way that either Cruz or Diaz will be sent down to the minors. Cruz has been the Reds' best reliever this season, and Diaz is Cincinnati's closer. That leaves Moll as the lone pitcher who could be sent back to Triple-A in favor or Pagán.

The Reds do have another option, but it's less than ideal. Cincinnati could choose to designate a reliever for assignment, but that would likely mean the end of his tenure with the Reds organization. The two players that come to mind should that occur are Wilson (who was just activated) and Buck Farmer.

Wilson is one of three left-handers, so the Reds could choose to part ways with the veteran in favor of keeping Moll and fellow lefty Brent Suter in the organization. Cincy also has Young — a left-handed pitcher — down in the minor leagues.

Perhaps more likely would be DFA'ing Farmer. The right-hander had success with Cincinnati last season, and after a shaky start, has returned to the type of pitcher Reds manager David Bell has come to depend on. But Farmer isn't necessarily a high-leverage pitcher, though he has certainly carved out a role on this ball club.

There could, of course, be an IL stint for any one of the Cincinnati relievers. That would open a spot for Pagán. There was a time when teams would use "phantom" IL stints to help balance out the roster, but after former New York Mets GM Billy Eppler was placed on MLB's ineligible list, that practice is sure to draw more scrutiny and perhaps even investigation from Major League Baseball.

Reds President of Baseball Operations Nick Krall does not have an enviable task this week, but with Pagán readying to return to the active roster, something's got to give. Will Krall take the easy way out and option Moll back to the minors, or make the difficult decision to cut ties with one of Cincinnati's veteran relievers?

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