With all the trades and promotion of prospects it’s surprising that the Reds are still rated among the middle of the pack of MLB teams in most evaluators of talent in the minor league systems. Many of the top rated prospects are still in the lower levels, but then again when you retain most of the personnel from a 97-win season there’s not a lot of immediate need to dip into the farm for help. They retained three top rated prospects that will begin 2013 in AAA: Billy Hamilton, Daniel Corcino, and Tony Cingrani. They’re counting on Hamilton to be ready for CF when Choo is eligible for free-agency and you never have too much good pitching, especially with 36 year-old Arroyo making $10M+ in the final year of his contract. Cingrani may end up getting an early call to provide another lefty reliever alongside Marshall. If not, it’s a luxury to let them continue developing instead of fast-tracking them to the big leagues too early like they did Cueto and Bailey.
There’s no reason to go into details of the painful memory of Reds fans have about how barren the farm was before Krivsky took over as GM. It’s no coincidence that recent success has come after he and Jocketty re-stocked it with talent. In my projected 25-man active roster I have twelve of them products of the Cincinnati farm system. It’s my projection and of course I’m not the one making the final decision, so it’s open to speculation. However, with a stable roster that speculation is limited to only a few spots for periphery roles.
Anyway the farm has provided almost half of the active roster, but it doesn’t stop there. Six more of them came into the organization from other home-grown players that were traded. I’ve included Latos who technically cost three draft picks and Volquez. Volquez was kind of a throw-in and the Reds got him for a rule 5 pick-up (a very good pickup, but at least Hamilton did not cost a lot to acquire him). That raises the total to 18 players from the farm directly and indirectly. Broxton fits into this list even though they had to spend some money to keep him, similar to extending Votto and Phillips before last season. Decisions on which players to retain are important, but a different topic because you first have to obtain the talent before you can keep it.
Of course there are really only three main avenues to build up talent for a MLB roster: farm, trade, and free agency. That leaves the final seven players from the big handicap for small market, free agency.
I think free agency can be broken down into two types. First of all there are the high profile ones like Pujols, Fielder, and Hamilton who are generally excluded from the Reds considerations. Somewhere down on the list lower rated players appear that are available to most teams. It’s not reasonable to expect a small market farm to not only develop 25 MLB ready players but to also have them distributed in a well-rounded roster. The low-budget FA’s are where they can go to add in the final pieces. The FA’s I’m expecting in the remaining seven spots can be considered low budget.
Ludwick was on the way out of the league before the Reds got him with a one-deal. I’m sure he was grateful to Jocketty and Cincinnati for an opportunity to resuscitate his career and they were able to keep him around. Arredondo was damaged goods after missing a year to TJ surgery and he was rarely trusted with a close lead his first year with the Reds. Hannahan cost a little more but they needed infield depth and his deal would be pocket change for a large market. Simon was picked up off waivers. Paul, Izturis, and Parra were picked up with minor league contracts and are hardly locks to make the opening day roster. Only Ludwick and Arredondo have essential roles on the team.
One thing I notice the Reds doing, and other teams could be doing the same thing, is increase the talent level in their drafts by going after players with signability issues in late picks. A couple of examples are Kyle Waldrop and Sal Romano who appeared college bound when the Reds selected them. They went over slot to ink them with big bonuses and got early round talent with late round selections. They might not turn out, but Ramono is 6’5” with a mid-90’s fastball as a teenager and I look for Wadrop’s HR total to jump in the Cali League ala Steve Selsky. It takes a long time to thoroughly build up the organizational depth needed and the way Jocketty deals prospects a case could be made that there’s never too much.
Which brings me to another line of thought: We’re in a good position when we can obtain veterans for prospects. Sure, some of the youngsters will turn out to be good players. However, as we all know the problem with prospects is the risk factor because it’s often difficult to tell which ones won’t. When he puts them in a trade package he ships out the risk with them. He converts them into lower risk veterans used to address immediate needs. Alonso might turn out to be a great hitter but his defense locks him into first base. Now there are doubts about his power so San Diego is probably a better place because when fewer home runs are hit overall it’s less noticeable when the first baseman doesn’t have many of them if he’s still adding a lot of extra base hits. Grandal had a good first season and it will be interesting to see how he comes back from a drug suspension. Meanwhile Latos has improved our rotation immensely while the Padres wait on the final verdict of our former prospects.
It’s pretty obvious, talent level in the pipeline is important, especially for small markets. They may cost a little money, but they’re cheaper than established veterans. Also, they can allow a team to let free agents go easier and pick up supplemental picks as a bonus. One year ago Ramon Hernandez was coming off a good season and Mesoraco’s projections made him expendable. I think we’re better off now with Gelalich and Winker instead of him and Coco. Years ago we got Todd Frazier for losing Rich Aurelia. We didn’t have to do anything except say goodbye and save some money.