The Reds were a sort of sexy surprise pick entering the 2010 season, but I don’t think too many people around baseball predicted they would be in this good of a position at the break. Cincinnati currently holds a one game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals and at least eight games on the rest of the division. Not only that, but it has all come without Edinson Volquez, who has missed the entire season due to Tommy John but should return sometime soon after the All-Star Game.
That said, there are still some questions about the Reds. They have a solid +45 run differential, but their 49-40 record entering the final day of the first half was over three games better than their 45.9-43.1 3rd order mark. The Cardinals are probably a more talented team right now, but the Reds have talented pieces of their own with a promising future. Right now, however, we focus on the present.
Buy or Sell?
Not only are the Reds locked in a battle for the NL Central, but the Wild Card race also figures to include them if the Cardinals take the NL Central. The Reds are in a position to make the playoffs for the first time since 1995 – a playoff appearance would do wonders for the city and the franchise. Any team in the position of the Reds has to go for it, especially given the fact that the Cardinals are probably a superior team if the Reds stand pat.
Then, the question becomes, what to go after. The two glaring weaknesses of this team are the lack of a shortstop and the lack of a top-flight starting pitcher. Orlando Cabrera has been terrible – a .278 wOBA has him at roughly replacement level so far this season. The Reds have gotten good pitching performances thus far from Jonny Cueto and Mike Leake, but, as a whole, the staff FIP is .33 runs higher than the staff ERA, and the staff xFIP is .48 runs higher than the ERA. At 4.44, the Reds starting rotation has a below-average FIP, meaning that perhaps the easiest way to add wins would be through a high level starting pitcher, even with the imminent return of Volquez.
At SS, one potential target would be Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew, whose name has been mentioned quite a few times this season. The difference in fielding ability is probably negligible at this point, and Drew is a much better hitter, projected for a .338 wOBA for the rest of the season, a big improvement over the projected .314 wOBA of Cabrera and the .295 projected for Paul Janish, which could be a difference of about half a win for Cincinnati down the stretch.
For a player that could have a much larger impact on the Reds, look no further than Drew’s teammate Dan Haren. Haren is under contract until 2012 with an option for 2013, meaning the acquisition wouldn’t be limited to a rising team’s first season in contention. Haren is also simply one of the best pitchers in the league. His 4.8 K/BB ranks in the top 5 in the league and his 4.36 ERA this season is a product of bad luck, in the form of a .346 BABIP with a 70% strand rate. Haren would probably cost Yonder Alonso and one or two other significant pieces, but with Joey Votto looking like a superstar at 1B, Alonso would be blocked. If Haren could be had for that kind of a package – not a certainty – that would be a fantastic move for the Reds, both short term and long term.
On the Farm
The aforementioned Alonso is only one of the big prospects in the Reds farm system. There’s Cuban sensation Aroldis Chapman, of course, who is among the most intriguing prospects all across baseball. INF Todd Frazier isn’t a big time bat but has a good glove and enough of a bat to be a very good prospect, and we can’t forget about Carson Cistulli All-Star Juan Francisco. The Reds, however, have been graduating a significant amount of talent recently, such as Mike Leake, Chris Heisey, Travis Wood, and Matt Maloney. The Reds added catcher Yasmani Grandal in the first round of the 2010 draft.
Money could be an issue for Cincinnati. They do have about $20 million coming off the books after 2010, but Votto, Volquez, Cueto, and Jay Bruce will all hit arbitration next season. That could be expensive for Cincinnati, and may preclude an addition like Haren who would come with a significant price tag. The Reds haven’t had an opening day payroll over $80 million since 2004. The Reds had $76.1 million in player salaries on opening day this year, and so ownership would likely have to approve any significant buy on the Reds part, which, unfortunately for their fans, might mean that the Reds will have to ride it out with what they have.