Cincinnati: Go Big Or Go Home

As we head toward trade season, the Cincinnati Reds find themselves at 39-37, two games out of first place. But since they’re trailing both Milwaukee and St. Louis, it’s always more difficult leapfrogging two teams than just one, and with the Braves playing well in the East, the odds of a wild card berth aren’t that great. So, while the Reds are certainly contenders, they also can’t sit on their heels and hope a division title lands in their lap.

No team in baseball, however, is in a better position to make a blockbuster, season-altering trade than the Reds. The Reds have more talent in Triple-A than several teams do in the Majors, and they have depth on the Major League roster they can move as well. Having multiple interesting young players at every position is nice, but it’s time for the Reds to turn some of that excess into the best big league player(s) they can acquire.

Yonder Alonso is a decent prospect, but he’s a first baseman trying to make his way in left field because the organization has some guy named Joey Votto. He won’t have much defensive value in left, and the bat isn’t so good that it will make up for a lack of range. Alonso has more value to other clubs than he does to the Reds.

Louisville is also home to Todd Frazier, a shortstop-turned-left-fielder-turned-third-baseman who has some thump in his bat and the versatility to appeal to a lot of different teams. The Reds don’t seem interested in using him as a utility man, but at 25 he doesn’t have much left to learn in Triple-A, and there are a number of teams he could improve immediately.

The Bats also have a good glove in shortstop Zack Cozart, a defensive specialist who is also hitting pretty well himself. If the Reds believed in his offensive improvement (they probably shouldn’t – it’s BABIP driven), they likely would have promoted him to the Majors by now, since it’s not like Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria are providing a strong roadblock at the position. The Reds’ lack of faith in Cozart’s bat is understandable, but given his defensive abilities and the need for shortstops in baseball, several rebuilding teams would certainly love to give him a chance to see what he can do.

An Alonso/Frazier/Cozart package would be a pretty nice offering, but that’s just the excess prospects that they could move from Triple-A. They Reds could really sweeten the offer by including some of their depth from the Major League roster. For instance, Travis Wood was just optioned back to Triple-A to make room for the newly-returning Homer Bailey, who will take over the final spot in the rotation for now. Wood isn’t a future ace, but he’s a 24-year-old left-handed pitcher who has put up 3.2 WAR in 196 Major League innings. Wood could crack the rotation for almost every team in baseball, but since the Reds are overloaded with guys who fit in well at the back-end of a rotation, he’s getting squeezed out in Cincinnati.

The Reds also have real depth at the catching spot, another position where many teams have significant issues. Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan have done terrific work splitting the job at the big league level, but top prospect Devin Mesoraco is showing that he’s ready for a promotion. Hanigan is probably the one with the trade value as he’s under contract for two more years at bargain prices, but he’s never going to be more than a part-time player with the Reds, especially with Mesoraco knocking on the door.

If the Reds put Wood, Hanigan, Alonso, Frazier, and Cozart on the table, they could probably have any potentially available player in baseball that they wanted. The Mets would have to listen to an offer for Jose Reyes if those guys were involved. The Orioles would likely be willing to move both J.J. Hardy and Jeremy Guthrie to get a selection from that group. The Reds have the ability to add whoever they want this summer, and they should go for it.

All this depth is nice, but what the franchise needs more than an excess of young talent is an energized fan base that is buying season tickets and generating revenue for years into the future. Despite having a quality team and the reigning NL MVP, the Reds are averaging just under 26,000 fans per game, and they rank 16th in average attendance in the majors. How much does a deep playoff run help a franchise in attendance? Ask the Rangers, who are up 10,000 fans per game over last year, and have already put nearly an extra 400,000 people through the gates this year.

Jose Reyes would make the Reds clear favorites in the NL Central and would give them a real chance to go toe-to-toe with any team in baseball. If the Mets don’t want to move their shortstop, getting Hardy and Guthrie from the Orioles would be a similar improvement, even if the names aren’t quite as sexy. The Reds could move from good team to great team, and give themselves a strong chance to play deep into October.

With all due respect to guys like Alonso and Frazier, they’ll never have more value to the Reds than they do as trade chips right now. Sure, losing a guy like Travis Wood hurts a bit, but it’s time for the Reds to go big or go home. They have some pieces of a championship team in place – now they just need to add the missing parts and try to win a championship. They have the ability to do so, and should capitalize on their stockpile of prospects while the window is still open.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


57 Responses to “Cincinnati: Go Big Or Go Home”

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  1. Kerry says:

    Cozart a “defensive specialist?”

    I mean, he is good defensively, but he hit 17 HR last year. He’s currently sporting an OPS of .864 at AAA – as a short stop. He ranks among the league leaders in several offensive categories (International League).

    He’s not Cal Ripken, but there’s plenty of reason to be he can be an above-average offensive SS.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      The only real difference between his line this year and his line last year is a 70 point spike in BABIP. It’s not real.

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      • Kerry says:

        Is it possible he’s hitting the ball harder (more line drives)? I’m not sure if that info is available on minor leaguers.

        Point is, he stole 30 bases last year in 34 attempts. He hit 17 HR, with more than 50 XBH last year.

        Plus speed, some power (considering position).

        Again, he’s not a stud offensively, but I’m pretty sure he shouldn’t be lumped in with Brendan Ryan and Paul Janish as a “defensive specialist.” Not yet at least.

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      • Kerry says:

        You also neglect to mention that his K% is down more than 4% from last year, while his ISO is up.

        Sure, a .354 BABIP isn’t sustainable, but his improved numbers aren’t entirely “luck.”

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      • GTinNYC says:

        Come on Dave, that’s just lazy. His K rate is down and his ISO is up for the second straight year.

        I agree his BABIP is unsustainable, but there are other, very real, differences between this year and last that mean his offense should play very well at SS.

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      • matt w says:

        Isn’t it harder to increase your ISO when your BABIP goes up? Every single you add brings your ISO down. That might be more reason to think Cozart is for real.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        “Isn’t it harder to increase your ISO when your BABIP goes up? Every single you add brings your ISO down.”

        No, it doesn’t. Adding singles won’t change your IsoP at all. And a BABIP increase could lead to doubles/triples (flyballs) just as easily as singles (groundballs).

        In fact, what you’re saying is nearly the opposite of true. A higher average artificially inflates your IsoP. For instance, compare Adrian Gonzalez’s 2011 to his 2008. This year, his IsoP (.250) and SLG (.609) are significantly higher than 2008′s .231 and .510. More pure power this year, right? No. In 2008, he actually had more bases-per-hit (1.83) than this year (1.70). The difference is because his BABIP this year is inflating his power numbers.

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      • matt w says:

        Durrrr, of course you’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking.

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  2. Kerry says:

    “reason to BELIEVE” – not “be”

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  3. chuckb says:

    I wouldn’t argue that Hardy would help the Reds but I’m not sure that Guthrie helps them all that much. If they acquired Guthrie, he’d replace Bailey or Wood or Leake in their rotation (because the Reds just insist on running Arroyo out there every 5th day) and 2 of those 3 have a lower xFIP than Guthrie does. The 3rd (Wood) is younger, cheaper, and more left-handed than Guthrie is. So, barring injury, I don’t really see the sense in giving up anything of value for Guthrie and I don’t see the sense in the O’s not getting something of value in return for Guthrie. They could trade him elsewhere and get more for him than the Reds should be willing to give.

    A SS upgrade would help the Reds a lot, no question.

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    • Kerry says:

      Guthrie would scare me. Fly-ball pitcher at GABP…

      As for Arroyo… I know he’s struggled this year, but check out his career splits. He typically is a “slow starter.”

      Last year, he posted sub-3 ERAs in July and August. For his career, his first half ERA is 4.72, second half ERA 3.66.

      He’ll be fine. As always, when the year ends, he’ll have 200 IP, double-digit wins, and more good starts than bad.

      Not an ace, but a solid middle-rotation arm.

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      • chuckb says:

        Ummm, Arroyo’s a fly ball pitcher, too.

        And you’re using “double-digit wins” as a feather in Arroyo’s cap? He’s a back-end starter, worse than at least 5 other starters on the Reds staff being paid like an ace.

        Worst of all is that, knowing Dusty Baker, if the Reds do make it back to the postseason Arroyo will be starting game 1 or game 2 because of his “experience.”

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    • Rick says:

      Agreed. Guthrie is a nice pitcher, but he’s depth. The Reds rotation is already chocked full of mid-rotation types. Adding Guthrie just bumps one of them out.

      I agree with Dave on the premise; go big or go home. But Guthrie is not “going big”. And for that matter, who thinks Hardy is going to keep putting up a .230 ISO. Is he really much of an upgrade over what you’d expect from Cozart?

      Reyes is without question the best available upgrade for 2011.

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      • chuckb says:

        “Is he (Hardy) really much of an upgrade over what you’d expect from Cozart?”

        Yes. Most definitely. Hardy’s good and is a definite upgrade over anyone the Reds have at SS. He would be a big boost to the team (though not as much as Reyes would be) for the last 2 months.

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  4. Josh Shepardson says:

    His average is BABIP driven but he has a track record of a serviceable ISO for the position. Considering how poor offensive production is at the position as a whole, he probably should be contributing by playing on the Major League roster at this point. Janish and Renteria have been terrible. I’m surprised you didn’t make mention of Yasmani Grandal other than alluding to the catcher depth in the organization. I would think he’d fetch just about whatever they’d want on the trade block if paired with anyone you mention above.

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  5. Colin says:

    Though I totally agree with you, I don’t think Reyes is realistic. Beat writer John Fay bangs that drum everyday, saying the team is too cheap to do it (they reportedly have almost zero payroll flexibility). Even though I agree that winning will bring in cash, the team may be too shortsighted to see it that way.

    It remains to be seen if they will get smart and play Heisey every day, but I could also see them going after a LF, maybe Beltran. Cozart is an immediate upgrade at SS, and they might as well keep him around because Billy Hamilton is not hitting in A ball and they’ve got no other SS in the pipeline.

    They should absolutely try to deal Alonso, Frazier, and a Catcher. These guys aren’t helping the big club, and their value is as high as it will be.

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    • chuckb says:

      If the Reds really have 0 payroll flexibility, they should try to trade Arroyo at the deadline and use the $ they save to trade for Reyes. I really doubt anyone would take on that contract but maybe they could eat half of it and use the $ to pay for Reyes.

      If they’d quit giving big $ contracts to mediocre #4 starters they’d have the money they needed to upgrade their team at the deadline.

      Reds’ fans could do their part by actually attending some games. Their team is pretty good. To be 16th in attendance, at 25,000 per game, is pretty bad.

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  6. Nick says:

    Is Jeremy Guthrie even really better than Travis Wood? What use would the Reds have for him? I don’t think they’d want to take on that contract for no reason

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  7. Kerry says:

    The only way Guthrie makes sense is if the Orioles will except minimal return.

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  8. Parker says:

    If the Reds are going to go after pitching they need to find someone that is a true ace. David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays comes to mind. They may want to move him soon because of the high price (see what I did there?) he will be in the near future. If the Reds could work out a deal with Tampa and lure him away I would be all for it (who wouldn’t?).

    But Guthrie and Hardy is not my play. I would rather take my prospects and go home rather than pick up these two. Hardy is a rental (an average one) and Guthrie has the talent of a number 3 pitcher in this rotation in the coming years. I say no to the Baltimore trade.

    Reyes of course would be a huge pick up, I would love to see him flying around the bases in a Reds uniform.

    My play is this. Bring up Cozart, let him play the rest of the season along with Jainsh. Trade for Price, and trade Arroyo at the end of the season in attempt to make room in the budget for a long term deal with Price.

    I know it sounds crazy, but the wolf has done it before and I would be surprised if Jocketty did it again.

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    • GTinNYC says:

      Arroyo will never, ever be traded. For one, I don’t think anyone would take on that contract for that production.

      Also, he has a bunch of deferred money in his contract that stops being deferred if he is traded. If he was somehow dealt, he’d be owed something crazy like 16 or 17 million in the last year of his deal.

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    • bender says:

      I don’t see the Rays trading Price for at least a couple years

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    • jim says:

      you really think the rays would trade david price at this point in his career?

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    • Jay says:

      Finally someone has said something that makes since!

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  9. shibboleth says:

    I agree the Reds should go shopping, even if they’re near the top of the WAR leaderboard. Can’t wait for the trades to kick off this year, it should be very interesting to see.

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  10. GiantHusker says:

    Good article, but your statement that a trade for Reyes or Guthrie and Hardy would make the Reds “clear favorites” is overblown. Reyes might be worth 1-3 wins depending on the date of the trade, and the other 2 a little bit less. A significant improvement but not from a 3rd-place team to clear favorites.

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  11. Inyourdreams says:

    No way TB trades price who’s under team control for 3 more years for anything less than a king’s ransom. Some B prospects are not going to fetch a player of his calibre, I could see Jay Bruce for David Price, but that seems heavily counter intuitive for the Reds

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  12. Cameron you're crazy says:

    After you go into great detail to speak of the depth of quality prospects in the Reds’ organization, the best ideas you can come up with are for 2 rental SS and a back of the rotation starter?

    If the Reds are going to trade from their depth of MLB starting pitching (in itself a rarity) and their depth in MLB and MLB ready Catchers (even more of a rarity), they sure as hell better get something more in return than a #3 starter (who’s excelling this year with below average BABIP against, mind you) or a routinely injured SS that will be around for 70 games.

    C’mon, Dave. You’re better than that.

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    • chuckb says:

      Your point is that trading for Reyes would be a bad thing for the Reds to do? At the trade deadline, the Reds should trade for someone better than Reyes? Such as…Cal Ripken in his prime? Ozzie Smith in 1980? How about A-Rod or Jeter, circa 1998?

      Yeah, Cameron’s crazy!

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      • johnnywaffles says:

        You missed the key word here: rental. That’s the point.

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      • chuckb says:

        @ waffles — how did I miss that Hardy and Reyes would be rentals? I know that. They still would help them considerably this season. What non-rental 4-5 win SS are the Reds going to be able to trade for in the next 5 weeks? The Rockies aren’t trading Tulowitzki. Someone below suggested Hanley Ramirez which might be possible. Aside from that, no one’s going to be able to trade for a better SS this July than Reyes or Hardy.

        Or is your point that the Reds shouldn’t make a trade at all and should try to ride it out w/ Janish and Renteria? That might work but right now they’re sitting in 4th place and they badly need an upgrade at SS. And they have the depth to acquire such an upgrade.

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  13. Troy says:

    Ramon Hernandez is a valuable player, whether he stays in CIN for the rest of the year or if he is traded.

    He is a FA after this year and he is going to be a Type A player according to MLB Trade Rumors. Offer him Arb and if he declines, take the picks. If he accepts, you have an above average catcher on a cheap one year deal that you can move then if you have to.

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  14. JT Grace says:

    The Reds and Braves would make interesting trade partners, but probably not until the offseason. The Braves farm system is stocked full of high upside arms from A to AAA. However, they don’t have much depth in position players. The reverse seems to be true of the Reds.

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  15. Juan Francisco says:

    I am a beast in AAA. I have the best minor league numbers in the organization and am only 24 years old. How come I can’t get promoted? Scott Rolen is aged and I am a powerful young man.

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    • bender says:

      Scott Rolen’s glove blows yours away

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    • Rick says:

      You’re a left-handed Wily Mo Pena. Of course, Wily Mo is back in the majors. I agree though, Fransisco belongs in this conversation as well. I think the Reds would like him to be the heir to Rolen, but I’m not convinced.

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  16. Rick says:

    On the pitching front, if they have the cash and are happy with a mid-rotation guy, I’d prefer to see them make a play for James Shields rather than Guthrie. He’s been rumored to be available for salary purposes (he has team options for 7, 9, and 13 the next 3 years. Often those kind of contracts have a clause that sees the options vest if the player is traded, but I don’t know if that’s true or not with Shields. He misses more bats than Guthrie and is more of a ground ball pitcher.

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    • chuckb says:

      Why would the Rays trade Shields? You may have noticed that the Rays are closer to the playoffs than the Reds are.

      Maybe the Phillies would trade you Halladay or Lee and eat half the salary also.

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  17. Parker says:

    OK, I’m sorry. I was under the impression that Price was due to make big money next year.

    I still trade Arroyo for anything, I feel that he is creating a log jam for our young pitching talent.

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  18. LoMoFoo says:

    Forget Reyes. The shortstop they should target in a trade is Hanley.

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    • raortiz99 says:

      That would be awesome and maybe, just maybe, the marlins would listen. unfortunetely the Reds can’t afford him.

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      • chuckb says:

        Hanley and Reyes both earn $11 M this season and they could trade Hanley again in the offseason to get rid of the contract. It’s not like they wouldn’t have takers. The difference is that it would require more prospects to trade for Hanley than it would to trade for Reyes.

        It’s not an altogether terrible idea, though.

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  19. Sandy Kazmir says:

    At one point you said they have the best rotation in baseball, so why would they need another bat?

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  20. Horace Clarke's Ghost says:

    So beacuse his BAIP whatever…is not sustainable….he is not worth trying over Ray Oyler and Johnnie LeMaster like clones the Reds have now?

    Cozart looks to me like a J J Hardy clone….the healthy one, with a not as much power. So since they already have a possible clone of a guy you want them to trade for and Guthrie is not that big of an improvement over what they have…I would rather the Reds think bigger than those 2 and a 2 month rental.

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  21. Kazinski says:

    What the Reds really need is a number 1 pitcher like Eric Bedard. The Mariners have some real needs in LF, 3rd base and catcher.

    They are contending right now, but they aren’t for real this year, and Bedard’s just on a one year deal without an option. A true number one like Bedard, who is pitching really well could make a bigger impact toward making a deep run in the playoffs than any other acquisition the Reds could make.

    He’s this year’s Cliff Lee.

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    • Robbie G. says:

      This year’s Cliff Lee? You mean that Erik Bedard is widely considered to be one of the top 3-4 pitchers in MLB and will get offered $125+ mil by the Yankees and other heavy hitters this winter? Uh…

      How about Edwin Jackson? You never know what Kenny Williams is going to do but he may decide that the White Sox have enough starting pitching depth to compete in that relatively weak division without Jackson, and Williams may view one or more of Cincinnati’s position player prospects at the AAA level to be good enough to start right away for the White Sox. Jackson would immediately be the ace on that Reds staff, too.

      As for shortstops, how about Jamey Carroll? Surely the Dodgers are on the verge of blowing that bad boy up, and surely Carroll is not viewed as an essential piece.

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      • Kazinski says:

        No, Bedard isn’t going to get quite the contract that Lee got.

        But they are the same age, both left handers with plus stuff, and both are legitimate #1′s, but the one big question mark for Bedard is his durability.

        Here’s the FIP/xFIP/K9 numbers for both of them:
        Lee – 3.68/4.02/7.08
        Bedard 3.63/3.81/8.76

        and their best full season (by both FIP and xFIP):

        Lee – 2.58/3.06/7.03

        Bedard – 3.19/2.90/10.93

        And both are on a pace for a career year this year Bedard has pitched 83ip this year the most for him since 2007, Lee has 113.

        By this year’s Cliff Lee, I mean Bedard is a LH ace, possibly available for a half season rental, and he could make a big impact on a playoff race and the playoffs. When Bedard has been on the mound he is just as good if not better than Cliff Lee, by just about every measure except BB/9, K/BB.

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    • Everett says:

      I’m a Mariners fan, but calling Bedard this year’s Lee is a stretch. He’d be a nice upgrade, but I’d be shocked if he garnered a top overall prospect plus a couple lower ones like Lee did.

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  22. jpg says:

    The White Sox seem like a good match. Alexei Ramirez would be a nice addition at SS. Danks is pitching better after a horrid start and is better than anyone in Cinci’s rotation when he’s right. You can never have too many good bullpen arms and the Sox have talented guys like Sale, Santos, and Thornton.

    They would have go into a free fall, but if the Reds overwhelmed the Angels with an offer, a guys Weaver, Haren, and Aybar would be big improvements. Even guys like Maicer and Callaspo could provide nice IF depth.

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    • Josh says:

      There’s no way Kenny Williams will trade Ramirez (best SS in the AL and on a very affordable contract), Sale (likely in the rotation next year), or Santos (now and future closer) unless he’s blown away. Alonso won’t do it because they already have Konerko, Dunn, and Viciedo. Danks would require a big haul, too.

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  23. Joel says:

    You mention Reyes and Hardy, but not Hanley Ramirez. I know writers here are not enamored with Ramirez’s defense, but he would be a massive upgrade for the Reds, and he’s signed beyond this season. As you rightly mention, Cozart isn’t the answer, and Billy Hamilton is way off.

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    • SKob says:

      Billy Hamilton is not a prospect. The kid is barely at the Mendoza line in LoA!

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      • Peter says:

        He’s actually at .240. While not great, it’s hardly the Mendoza line. And he’s somehow managed to swipe 54 bases with a terrible OBP. For what it’s worth, he’s hitting .296 for the month of June.

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  24. Horace Clarke's Ghost says:

    The Marlins are not going to trade Hanley with a new ballpark coming. Not without getting a bunch of good players back. I mean Jay Bruce…. Cueto or Leake along with Cozart, Alonso and probably someone else. I don’t think the Reds are going to do that for 1 player.

    Bedard is not a #1 starter. And in the GABP where your #;s get inflated beacuse the ball carries way better than Seattle, along with not as much foul room…Bedard would be about a #3. He would not be a bad pick up but he is not someone you would trade more than 2 minor leaguers for…. B prospects.

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  25. Terry says:

    I’d just as soon have Wood than Guthrie…..

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  26. Mevs says:

    Guthrie doesn’t help the Reds at all. Reyes is a low on-base guy, I would love to see it but he doesn’t fit really either if we are being honest.

    How about an Erick Aybar? Hardy is a good fit. Furcal before he got hurt. Jason Bartlett. Jack Wilson.

    They’re going to go after low-cost, flawed guys. Hardy, Aybar, or an Abreu type is the ceiling of what they would possibly be going after. They’re
    Still busy lying to themselves that Volquez is their ace. They won’t add an arm.

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