As the Cincinnati Reds approach the All-Star break, they find themselves embedded in a three-team race for the National League Central championship. One game past the midpoint of the season, the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place at 46-37, the Reds are second at 45-38 (one game back) and the defending World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals, are third at 44-40 (2.5 games back). And maybe we shouldn’t completely write off the fourth-place Milwaukee Brewers who are seven games back at 39-44, but have a talented roster if they can get somewhat healthy. Just doesn’t seem like the Brew Crew’s year, though.
What Do The Reds Need To Do?
It’s very simple in theory but difficult to pull off: They need to make a trade for an outfielder that is going to be able to step right in and help boost the offense. Either a leadoff hitter, or someone to better protect Joey Votto (which would allow the Reds to move Brandon Phillips from cleanup to leadoff). But the second part of the equation is the complicated part. The Reds need to make said trade without breaking the bank and without giving a king’s ransom of prospects in return.
We’ll get to who the Reds should target on the trade market in a moment.
I think a great candidate for the Reds to trade away is Double-A shortstop Didi Gregorius who unquestionably has decent value on the market. Gregorius, 22, is batting .280 in 304 at-bats for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and has a reputation of being a fine defensive player. Many teams in MLB need a shortstop of the future and Gregorius could be attractive to a few clubs out there.
The Reds have their SS of the future and present in 26-year-old Zack Cozart who is piecing together a fine rookie season offensively and in the field. It’s not unreasonable to assume Cozart will be the Reds’ starting shortstop for nearly the next decade. Is he great? No. But he’s already better-than-average and will only get better with more experience.
It’s one of the reasons I think the No. 1 prospect in the Reds’ organization – speedster Billy Hamilton who already has 103 stolen bases on the season at High-A Bakersfiled – will end up being a centerfielder for the Reds. Another big reason I believe “Slidin’ Billy” is headed for CF is because Drew Stubbs is horribly pathetic, but we’ll get to more of that later.
Anyway, Gregorius is expendable and Cozart is here to stay. Gregorius and another solid prospect could be enough for the Reds to get an outfielder that can help them get over the hump.
Who Could They Get?
Let’s start out with the bad news: The market isn’t that great in terms of outfielders on the trading block. We’re talking San Diego’s Carlos Quinton, Minnesota’s Denard Span, guys like that (or worse). That’s right, there’s no Carlos Beltran-type player openly available this year. Quinton is the best overall OF on the trade market, but Span is a true CF/leadoff hitter, which is exactly what the Reds need.
The good news is it shouldn’t take too much to get Quinton or especially Span (or someone else we’re not even talking about in this space). And if the Padres and Twins are expecting a team to give up a great prospect for one of those guys, good luck with all that. The Reds’ and Pads’ front offices already have a good working relationship after consummating “The Trade” that sent Mat Latos to Cincinnati for Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger and Edinson Volquez in December. So, that’s definitely a situation to keep an eye on.
If the Reds did trade for Quinton, they could move Chris Heisey permanently to CF … which isn’t ideal, but is still a hell of a lot better than running Stubbs’ sorry ass out there (almost) every game. A radical idea (but perhaps a good one) would be to go with an everyday starting OF of Quinton in LF, Jay Bruce in CF and Ryan Ludwick in RF (or Lud in left and Quinton in right, even though Ludwick played RF during his two glory years with the Cardinals). Then Heisey would be the No. 4 OF – which is his best role – and Stubbs would be in Triple-A Louisville – which is where he belongs. Maybe he and Paul Janish could tell fireside stories about how they were actually once starters on a contending MLB team despite the whole sucking at baseball part. Not many can pull that off, you know. It’s a select few.
While the Reds have played frustrating baseball of late, not counting Bronson Arroyo's 3-hit shutout of the Padres on Friday in a 6-0 win, the bottom line is that they are smack-dab in the middle of the race for the NL Central title (or perhaps a Wildcard spot). They definitely need to do something to improve the team, but they have a solid club and it should be a fun race the rest of the way.
UPDATE: ESPN's Buster Olney is now reporting that the Reds are showing interest in Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Juan Pierre. Interesting. If a Pierre trade comes to fruition, that would mean he could bat leadoff and Cozart could bat second where he belongs. The Phillies won't be able to get a top prospect from anyone in MLB for Pierre, so this is something to definitely keep a close eye on.
Pierre, 34, is having a very good season for the Phillies. In 234 at-bats, he's batting .312 with 20 stolen bases. Most-importantly, he has an on-base percentage of .349. Stubbs' OBP is a paltry .287 (.214 batting average).