To Deal or Not to Deal?

Now that 2012 is in the books it's time for teams to try and strengthen franchises for the future. The Reds are in an enviable position of having most of their personnel return from a 97-win season. Now there is speculation of further improvement before they defend their division championship. GM Walt Jocketty has shown he'll make the big deal and here's the results of recent transactions.

After completion of a season, fans often speculate what personnel changes are in store as their team prepares for next year. Offseason personnel moves often impact a club as much or more than decisions made during the season. Because of deals struck after the last season Reds fans have reason to think that another blockbuster looms within the realm of possibility. They're not likely to see anything of the same magnitude this time around because most of the talent from a 97-win campaign is still under contract. Still, there were some holes, most notably the leadoff spot, and GM Walt Jocketty has shown that he will pull the trigger if he feels the deal is right.

Actually, the Reds may have already determined they have their leadoff hitter in Brandon Phillips. The NL's top second baseman hit .375 with 7 RBI during the five-game divisional series against the Giants. The big question with Phillips is if the rest of the lineup will allow him to stay at the top or pull his bat into the middle to drive in more runs. A lot of that has to do with the ability to re-sign Ryan Ludwick. His 2012 season raised his market value above the second year option of his contract so it was no surprise that he declined it. No doubt the Reds would desire to have his name penciled in the cleanup spot come opening day 2013. The 34 year-old revived his career in Cincinnati after lackluster stints in San Diego and Pittsburgh and his relationship with Jocketty goes back to their days in St. Louis so there's reason to believe that he would like that scenario too.

Often a team's fans want to see some action. Pressure is on the front office of small market teams to use limited payrolls more precisely to put needed talent on the field. The Reds were successful at doing that in 2012 so now the task is maintaining and improving if possible. Being satisfied with status quo may turn out to be the best option but then again it may give opportunity to the competition to pull off a deal that could give an edge. Perhaps a strong consideration a fan should keep is how successful their front office has been in recent deals. Here's a recap of Jocketty's track record over the past year:

Juan Francisco for J.J. Hoover

This deal for prospects was motivated by pre-season injury. The Reds needed bullpen depth after losing Ryan Madson and Nick Masset. Francisco had reported to spring training out of shape and the Braves wanted him when they started the season without Chipper Jones. He finished the year at Atlanta by striking out in over one third of his 205 plate attempts and had an on-base pct below .300. There were some questions regarding his glove at the hot corner and he did not leave them behind in Cincinnati as he finished with a .935 fielding pct. and six errors in 42 starts. Meanwhile Hoover added the depth the Reds sought while splitting time between Louisville and Cincinnati. His 2.05 ERA across 28 MLB appearances likely has his name mentioned somewhere in the conversation on next season's pen as they decide on whether or not to move Aroldis Chapman into the rotation. Given the opportunity the Reds would not take this one back.

Jeremy Horst for Wilson Valdez

After Paul Janish was unable to take ownership of regular shortstop duty in 2011 the job went to Zach Cozart. With a rookie in the starting lineup management likely preferred having more veteran infield depth which made them willing to part with LH reliever Horst. Valdez was successful at winning the utility infielder spot on The Opening day roster and kept it all season. He was helped when Janish suffered a broken wrist after a strong start at Louisville. Eventually Cozart nailed down regular duty and Janish was traded. Meanwhile Horst pitched well at Lehigh Valley and made a couple of appearances with the Phillies. Valez's .206 average was nothing to write home about, but given the depth of the Cincinnati bullpen, 27 year-old Horst didn't figure to get much action. Perhaps the Reds might have been more interested in keeping him if they'd known that injury would derail Bill Bray's season but they have no complaints on their 2012 pen. Losing their 2007 21st round selection did not compromise their overall effort and they did get a year of service from Valdez who is now a free agent and likely a stop-gap while Didi Gregorius was developing. Not knowing the availability and prices of other options, this trade looks good.

Paul Janish for Todd Redmond

Injuries in the Atlanta infield created an opportunity for Janish to return to the big leagues where he failed to hit .200 in 186 plate appearances with the Braves. Cincinnati was seeking depth to their rotation and found Redmond blocked in the Atlanta pipeline behind more highly regarded prospects. Had the Reds known that their opening day rotation would incredibly not miss a start all season they might not have felt a need to add depth. But then again, who could have predicted that? Redmond made his MLB debut with a rough outing in a doubleheader against the Cubs and had a mid-three ERA in 26 International League starts. The 27 year-old is a good man to have on the farm in case he's needed. Meanwhile Janish was replaced on the Bats by the promotion of Gregorius. This deal did nothing to damage future projections for the Reds infield and returned a good minor league pitcher. Pitching depth beyond the rotation is kind of like a spare tire, one hopes they never have to use it, but are grateful it's available when the need arises.

Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulburan for Jonathan Broxton

This was a trade deadline deal to add bullpen depth and like most trades with prospects it's still too early to tell if it was a good one or not. The Reds did get good service from Broxton in 26 appearances and he filled in at closer while Chapman was put on the shelf to shake fatigue problems. That is no surprise to either of the teams that made the deal and it will be interesting to see if the Reds retain his services now that he's completed a one-year contract. Chapman's future as a starter will have a big impact on that. The big wild card is Joseph, in whom the Reds invested a third-round draft selection which is quite high for a reliever. The southpaw was considered one of the top arms in the system until he got hammered by AA hitters in 2011. This season he returned as a dominant closer for Pensacola and earned a midseason promotion. His 1.4 WHIP suggested he was lucky to keep a sub-three ERA in 18 games at Louisville and he was over four in 11 appearances at Omaha. Sulburan entered 2012 as one of the Reds top rotation prospects. He'd come off a season with a 4.60 ERA in the hitter-friendly California League and had a decent 4.04 with Pensacola to start the year. He's only 22 years old, so there's still time for development, but right now he projects as a back-end rotation guy at best. The jury is still out, but Joseph is now 25 years old so he should have a MLB debut sometime next season.

Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt, and Ronald Torreyes for Sean Marshall

To get a proven major league pitcher a team has to give up something and the Reds parted with Travis Wood after he followed up a solid rookie season with a sophomore jinx in 2011. He eventually secured a spot in the Cubs rotation with a low-four ERA in over 150 innings. Teams improve their success through trade by dealing from areas of depth and as it turned out the Reds had pitching depth. The 25 year-old southpaw's performance this season would have gotten him a lot of innings in Reds rotations of years past but he would not have cracked it in 2012. He may yet return to the form he showed two years ago but if still in the organization he would not figure prominently in their immediate plans. On the other hand Marshall provided the bullpen with the same solid performance that the Cubs enjoyed after he was moved from closing to his familiar role as a lefty set-up man. After the trade the Reds removed contract concerns by signing him to an extension. Sappelt spent most of the season in AAA and had a .275 AVG/.351 OB% in less than 100 AB with the Cubs. Before leaving the Reds some may have considered him an answer for their leadoff spot enigma but the team must have felt Phillips a better option and remained committed to Drew Stubbs in center field. Another area of depth in the Cincinnati organization was middle infield prospects which made Torreyes expendable after he torched Midwest League pitching for a .356 average at Dayton in 2011. He came back down to earth for Chicago's high-A affiliate this season and finished at .256. A huge contributor to the Reds success in 2012 was their bullpen and Marshall was a big part of that.

The Big One

Not much needs to be said of Mat Latos's performance other than he came into form and provided the Reds with a second ace behind Johnny Cueto by the time they entered the pennant stretch. Some are now projecting Yonder Alonso as more of a line drive hitter and scrapping an experiment to convert him into a left fielder locked him into first base. Teams playing in hitter-friendly confines like Great American Ball Park typically need a long ball threat at that spot which the Reds were fortunate enough to already have. Alonso manned the position all season long with the Padres and finished a respectable rookie campaign at .273/.348 OB while slugging slightly below .400 with nine homers. It may turn out that the spacious PetCo Park is a better fit for his stroke. The Reds had two former first round selections for candidates to take over the catching spot that the departed Ramon Hernandez split with Ryan Hanigan. They opted for the more experienced Devin Mesoraco and included Yasmani Grandal in the trade package. The switch hitter eventually took over as the Padres' regular in the second half of the season and hit around .300 in almost 200 AB. It has since been announced that his career will be interrupted by a 50 game suspension from testing positive for the use of a testosterone. Edinson Volquez also served a suspension for PED use concurrent with his time on the DL following Tommy John surgery. He was included in the deal after a season that saw him begin as the team's opening day starter before being demoted to Louisville due to ineffectiveness. Volquez put together a decent stat line for the Padres in 2012 with 11 wins and a low-four ERA. However, much of that was a creation of his home venue as his road ERA was more than 2.5 runs higher than what he allowed at PetCo and he surely was not going to have that advantage had he remained in Cincinnati. Rumors at the time suggested that the final hurdle in the deal was cleared when the Reds agreed to let go of former supplemental first-rounder Brad Boxberger. If that was the case he rewarded the Padre persistence with a 2.60 ERA in 24 appearances out of their bullpen. His 1.45 WHIP was a higher than what would be expected with such a low ernie.

With three top prospects changing uniforms still more time is needed to fairly evaluate who got the better deal. Right now it appears both sides were winners. The Reds had to like what they saw of Latos and proven young pitchers of that caliber come only at a premium. Meanwhile the Padres were in the process of following up a 91-loss season with a 76-86 record in 2012 so they needed multiple prospects more than an individual. It will be interesting to see how removing the performance enhancer affects Grandal's game but if the 24 year-old Mesoraco gets back on the path that's projected there won't be much concern over losing the other catcher. His disappointing rookie season was offset by underrated veteran Hanigan who continued to show solid on-base skills and provide stellar defense behind the plate. When it comes down to it, the prospects received by the Padres might turn out to be blocks in their rebuilding effort down the road. Latos on the other hand has already put a solid season in the bank for the Reds and is not eligible for free agency until 2016.

Prior History

Previous to last season Jocketty's big deal as Reds GM was in the 2009 season when he brought in Scott Rolen. There were many skeptics at the time wondering why a rebuilding team would sacrifice two young arms for a 34 year-old third baseman. Roenicke was on his way to earning a spot in their bullpen and Stewart was causing even more excitement as he shot up their system by dominating hitters at lower levels. Eventually Roenicke was unable to establish himself as a reliable reliever and was waived in 2011. Last year at the age of 29 he landed in Colorado and kept an ERA under four in 63 appearances. Much of the luster is gone from Stewart after the Jays tried unsuccessfully to convert him into a starter in 2011 and included him in a trade package the next season. He's still only 25 and continued to have trade value when the White Sox sent him to Boston in the Kevin Youklis deal.

Meanwhile Rolen turned in a strong 2010 and was selected to the All Star team while manning the cleanup spot during the Reds first successful postseason run in fifteen years. His glove was recognized with his eighth gold glove at a position that had previously been defensively deficient in Cincinnati. Oddly enough, of all players involved the forgotten one at the time is now the one making the most impact. Edwin Encarnacion pounded 42 HR/110 RBI for the Jays in 2012. In 09 he was hitting .209 with the Reds and it was obvious his glove was always going to be a handicap. He'd worn out his welcome and has since been moved to first base in Toronto where he also often occupies his more natural position of DH. Many forget that the A's picked him up off of waivers after an unimpressive 2010 and then granted him free agency that allowed him to return to the Jays. As Rolen now ponders retirement while Encarnacion was in the top eleven vote recipients for AL MVP, a strong case can still be made that the Reds have been more successful since that trade than they would have been without it.

Final Assessment

There is no shortage of attention given to the disadvantages of fielding a baseball team with the payroll limitations of a smaller market. GM's have to take risks to get production from players obtained without getting into bidding wars against wealthier teams. On the other hand, one bad decision could haunt them for years. Jocketty is no stranger to the challenge after experiencing a successful tenure in St. Louis. It is unreasonable to expect any GM to obtain players that provide major impact without giving up anything in return. Even if someone were shrewd enough to do that, eventually everyone else would stop trading with him. Given the results of the immediate impact on the major league team of talent going in and out of the Reds fans have good reason to agree on one thing: Keep ‘em coming Walt.

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