The Reds front office must seize this opportunity

The MLB summer trade deadline is August 1. The Reds front office and ownership have two weeks to exploit an opportunity they didn’t expect. 

Most analysts projected the team to be improved over last season’s 100-loss fiasco. Few, if any, predicted David Bell’s club would spend the three weeks before the All-Star break in first place, cresting at 10 games above .500. It rode a two-month surge of relentless, electrifying offense to the top of the NL Central.

To be sure, their first-half success has in part been aided by a tragic division. The Cardinals have suffered a shocking, but enjoyable, collapse. The Pirates have had their interesting moments, but can’t generate consistency. The Cubs seem trapped in mediocrity-producing confusion about direction. That has left the Milwaukee Brewers as the only other team playing .500 baseball or better. With fewer than 70 regular season games remaining, it looks like a two-team race. 

All that has conspired to present Nick Krall and the Castellini family with an unanticipated moment. They need to seize it.

Given the large pile of losses last year, it was reasonable for the Reds brass to assume until recently the upcoming trade deadline would be of the low-stakes variety. Maybe add a budget-friendly reliever or two to boost morale. But at 100 Joe Nuxhall Way, expectations were low-to-middle. Most observers saw 2023 as a transition season. A year to regroup after massive roster turnover and change in organization direction. A time to focus on development and planning. 

But here we are, with the adjective “ahead-of-schedule” affixed to the Cincinnati Reds.

That plan for a sleepy trade deadline? Ditch it. The Reds need to pivot and try to win the division. Here’s why.

Ample resources

First, we know the resources are available. Ownership slashed payroll $50 million assuming Bally would default and then the network didn’t. Further, MLB indicated it would step in to making teams mostly whole that lost revenue from regional sports network bankruptcy. Beyond that, the exciting Reds are driving winning-starved fans to Great American Ball Park in large numbers (go figure). Gate and swag revenues are soaring way beyond what was budgeted.

Nick Krall has said there’s payroll flexibility. He’ll have even more next year as pricy player contracts come off the Reds books.

The Reds are also wealthy in prospect talent. Despite the club’s major league roster being stuffed with new young players, it still maintains a deep, talented stable of minor league thoroughbreds, augmented by the recent draft.

Add it up and Krall & Co. have ample money and prospects to spend on improving the Reds.

Finding the trades

The qualities of successful baseball organizations are similar to those of other businesses. Be smart, creative and audacious.

Two types of trades will be available. One is where the Reds acquire players that would be on the roster just for the remainder of 2023. They’re often referred to as rentals, although that undersells their value. More on that in a minute. The second type is where the Reds trade for players who would be on the roster for several seasons.

Which type of trade should the Reds pursue? Both.

Trades as investment in the future

Here’s my most important point. A successful division race and meaningful postseason experience this year will pay huge dividends beyond 2023. Experiencing a pennant race and the dialed-up pressure of postseason series, would be invaluable for players like Matt McLain, Hunter Greene, Elly De La Cruz and Alexis Diaz. The Reds would be through that awkward first-trip to the postseason. It would be a powerful learning experience for the entire organization; turbocharge their potential for success in 2024 and beyond.

Think of what the Reds could do with the added revenue that comes from pennant race attendance and sold-out postseason games. They could afford, even under their breakeven policy, boost future payrolls by tens-of-millions of dollars.

Given that, it’s too narrow to view so-called rental players as sacrificing the future for the present. Any player that helps the Reds make the postseason is an investment in the future. The positive effect from strong 2023 short-term acquisitions will continue into 2024 and beyond.

Trades for pitching can work

The Reds most urgent need is pitching and more pitching. In recent years, they have been involved in several successful trades for pitching, both coming and going. The Reds landed Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Lucas Sims and Trevor Bauer through trades. I’m sure the Seattle Mariners are satisfied with Luis Castillo and the Twins with Sonny Gray. That’s not to say the Reds haven’t also benefited from the prospects they received in those deals. The point is the Mariners and Twins were looking for front-line starters, identified them, paid the price, and landed what they were seeking.

Of course some trades for pitchers that don’t work out. The Tyler Mahle deal is cited as canon that settles the debate, when it doesn’t. That was one trade out of many. There are risks with every trade action (or inaction).

A sound strategy

Some argue the club should “stick with the plan” and hoard their prospects, not recognizing that the plan all along was to use some of those prospects to acquire other players in areas of need. No team ever — no team ever — has been successful relying solely on developing prospects. If you think that’s what the Tampa Bay Rays do, take a closer look at their roster and moves they’ve made over the years.

Please don’t mischaracterize what I’m saying. This isn’t a call for the Reds to go “all in” and trade away a bunch of their top prospects. In fact, no one is advocating “trading the farm for a rental.” Acquiring rentals isn’t expensive. Taking on their salary, which the Reds are in a position to do, is often a big part of those deals.

The Reds top prospect list is vast and even bigger than it was a few days ago before the draft. They have more good-to-elite prospects than they could ever hope to play on a big league team. Many positions on the Reds are now spoken for, locked up for a half-decade or more. If the Reds take a shot the next couple weeks, they won’t run out of ammo to reload for upcoming seasons. Far from it. 

The Reds could part with a small fraction of their prospect list with a few well targeted trades. And keep in mind that not all trades are prospects for veteran rentals. The Reds could look, for example, to trade elite infield prospects for elite young pitchers. Or trade an elite infield prospect for a talented young outfielder.

Negotiating from strength

The Reds front office executed several excellent trades the past couple off-seasons, selling off veterans for prospects regardless of position. But tear-downs are simple compared to building a winning team. It’s the difference between recruiting good astronaut candidates and putting a couple on the moon. Krall & Co. have done the first thing. It’s time to see if they can do the other.

We’re about to find out if they can. Weird, though, that voices who have proclaimed Nick Krall a genius for the success of his fire sale trades now seem terrified he might blow these deadline deals. Maybe his judgment about Mike Minor and Luke Weaver weigh on their minds.

In fact, Krall will negotiate the next two weeks from a position of strength. Reds fans should be drooling at the idea of the team’s GM dealing with other organizations.

Bottom line: It would be a mistake to settle. To throw away the shot. The time is right. The team young, scrappy and hungry. The Reds must take advantage of this opportunity that has fallen to them. They must pivot to a plan that puts higher priority on winning the division and participating in the postseason.

If the front office is up to the challenge, 2023 can be the first season of the next era of successful Reds baseball. 

Steve Mancuso

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.

2 Responses

  1. Chris Miller says:

    Excellent advice Steve… Spot on!

  2. Jonathan Andrews says:

    Very well rounded analysis. There’s a lot to think about.