The Reds need to build for 2017.
The Cincinnati Reds are stuck in baseball purgatory. The team sits in fourth place in the NL Central at 22-28 entering play on Wednesday night. The team’s current core has had some success; they have made the playoffs in three of the last five years, but have never advanced past the NLDS.
As a result of this success, the Reds have locked up several of their core players to long term extensions. Joey Votto signed a 10 year, $225 million extension in 2012. Jay Bruce signed a six year, $51 million extension in 2010. Brandon Phillips signed a six year, $72.5 million extension in 2012. Homer Bailey signed a six year, $105 million extension in 2014. The Reds have a lot of money tied up in this core and the only player meeting expectations is Joey Votto.
The amount of money the Reds have tied to these players is problematic for the short term. The last two years, the Reds payroll has consistently been $115 million. The Reds already have $82 million committed to next year’s payroll. That does not take into account arbitration raises. Additionally, Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto are both going to become free agents at the end of the year. Given monetary concerns, it is unlikely they will be able to retain both and highly unlikely they will be able to retain Johnny Cueto. Signing him to a market contract would add another long-term contract to the already bloated Reds payroll.
Couple these facts with the reality that Billy Hamilton has yet to live up his potential. He has hit just .247 with an OBP of .289 in 210 Major League games. What you have is a Reds team that seems bound to a string of fourth place finishes in the coming years.
The Reds have an average to slightly above average farm system, but most of these prospects are still a year of two away from reaching the Major Leagues. As a result, the Reds should begin building up the farm system with an eye towards contending again in the 2017 season. There is no better way for them to add to their farm system than trading Johnny Cueto this summer.
Cueto will be one of the few aces available this summer. He and Cole Hamels will be the best starting pitchers on the trade market. Teams with playoff aspirations should be lining up to talk to the Reds about what it will take to get Cueto out of Cincinnati.
While Cueto’s value is high, it is diminished because he is only under contract for the rest of the season. The Reds can boost his value by packaging Aroldis Chapman with him. Chapman has one year of arbitration left after this season and is among the game’s top-five relievers. The Reds will not need a closer of his caliber in 2016 because they do not project to be a contender.
Cashing in this trade package of Chapman and Cueto should bring tremendous value back to the Reds, something like two top-100 prospects and maybe even three. There should be no shortage of interest in this package. The Dodgers have lost Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu for the season. The Red Sox are scuffling, but the American League East is very winnable right now. The Pirates could make a strength even stronger by adding these two players.
While the Reds do not have a good short-term outlook, the long term outlook for the team can be strong if the Reds are proactive. Despite the numerous extensions the team has given out, they only have money committed to four players in 2018. Additionally, with the potential acquisition of several prospects in trades this summer paired with the 11th overall selection in the upcoming draft the Reds could add four or more highly regarded players to an already strong group of prospects. The Reds aren’t winning anything in the short-term, but this summer is vital to the team’s long term success. Trading Johnny Cueto is important to the long term success of the Reds.
Edited by Emily Berman.
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