by Matt Wilkes

Processing the Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez trade

For a second time in barely over 24 hours, the Reds dealt away key pieces of their roster on Monday. Not just key pieces, but All-Stars.

Of course, you know by now that the club sent outfielder Jesse Winker and third baseman Eugenio Suarez, to the Mariners in exchange for lefty pitching prospect Brandon Williamson, right-handed pitcher Justin Dunn, outfielder Jake Fraley, and a player to be named later.

If you had any doubts about whether the Reds’ primary goal was winning in 2022, this trade should provide all the clarity needed.

After making us endure six seasons of baseball that was utterly unwatchable at times from 2014-2019, the Reds gave us two seasons of competitive baseball before tearing it down again. Not because the team’s window to compete has closed, but because ownership lost its nerve, in the process betraying the fans, and abandoned Dick Williams’ vision in the name of saving money.

Nick Krall’s explanations have been confusing and contradictory.

As our friend C. Trent Rosecrans pointed out, Krall has said the team won’t trade prospects to get rid of large contracts, a la the trade that sent Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs to the Dodgers for Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Matt Kemp, and Kyle Farmer. Instead, Krall decided to get rid of a large contract by attaching arguably the team’s best hitter in the middle of his prime. This came after the team had already reduced its payroll to its lowest level in four years by trading Sonny Gray on Sunday.

Per the Enquirer’s Charlie Goldsmith, Krall says the move wasn’t payroll related. Krall contradicted himself on Wednesday, saying the $18.1 million freed up in the trade put the team below budget. Krall also said that the team isn’t rebuilding, and the trade frees up resources to use in the free agent market. Color me shocked if the free-agent involvement turns out to be anything more than bargain-bin shopping and minor-league signings. Besides, what noteworthy free agent would want to sign with the Reds after watching what’s unfolded in the organization over the last two seasons?

So far, the Reds have used the savings to acquire pitcher Mike Minor, infielder Donovan Solano, and reliever Buck Farmer. Hardly earth-shattering moves. Probably not transactions that even register on the Richter scale.

And, in addition to trading Winker, the Reds dealt away yet another player (Suarez) at his absolute lowest value. Why was there such a pressing need to trade Suarez now as opposed to seeing if he bounced back this season and rebuilt some of his value? It’s the same risk-averse approach we’ve seen from the Reds time and time again, most recently with Raisel Iglesias.

It’s all the more frustrating because, in addition to being good players, Winker and Suarez are two of the most fun, upbeat personalities the team has had in recent memory. But for their sake, I’m glad they get to go to a team that’s actually trying to win.

The fans aren’t the only ones upset. Jonathan India and Joey Votto have already publicly expressed their frustration with the team’s direction. If I was Votto, I’d be thinking hard about waiving my no-trade clause right about now.

The most interesting player the Reds got in the deal is undoubtedly Williamson. The 23-year-old was the Mariners’ No. 7 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and ranks fourth in the Reds’ system. The 6-foot-6 left-hander was a second-round draft pick by the Mariners in 2019 and struck out 37% of hitters he faced between High-A and Double-A in 2021. He’s expected to compete for a spot in the Reds’ starting rotation.

Dunn and Fraley have a bit of upside, but they also come with major flaws. Both are 26 years old and have limited MLB success. Dunn is a former top-100 prospect, maxing out at No. 91 on MLB Pipeline’s list in 2019. Fraley was a top-15 prospect in the Mariners system.

Dunn has a 3.94 ERA in 102.2 innings in the majors, but that comes with red flags, as his career 5.61 FIP and 6.05 xFIP indicate. The right-hander strikes out hitters at a below-average clip, and his control is extremely poor (15.5% walk rate). Dunn will compete for a spot in the back-end of the Reds rotation.

Fraley is a career .196/.320/.369 hitter in 335 plate appearances. He walks at a high rate (14.3%), but that’s the only quality that sticks out. His power is average and he’s struggled to hit for contact at the MLB level. But with Winker gone, Fraley — a lefty hitter — will likely get a large share of playing time against right-handed pitchers. Fraley is an average fielder and plays all three outfield positions.

The Reds are also receiving a still-unknown player to be named later. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal says the Reds are “high” on that player and believe it will “enhance the package,” which doesn’t mean much. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniels reports that it will likely be one of the Mariners’ top-20 prospects. Don’t expect anyone from the top end of that list.

Where do the Reds go from here? I have no idea. And the scary part is I’m not sure they do, either. As things stand, this is a team with no clear direction and a scatterbrained approach to building the 2022 roster.

Photos by Larry Radloff and Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Matt got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Columbus. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.