As I write this, the Reds are 26-41, 10.5 games behind the NL Central-leading Brewers (graph courtesy of The Hardball Times). In order for the Reds to win 90 games this season, which would be enough to have a good shot at the playoffs in this division, they'd need to go 64-21 (0.753) for the remainder of the season. Needless to say, that would be well above any mark they've posted over even a just month's time the past two seasons, including the brilliant 17-8 April of 2006.
Ok, maybe 90 wins is overkill. The Brewers are currently 36-30. If they play 0.500 ball the rest of the way, and if no one else catches them, they'd win 84 games. To match that total, the Reds would have to go 58-37 (0.610). That's not inconceivable, but it is higher than the Reds have posted any month except April 2006 over the past season and a half, with the 15-12 (0.556) June of 2006 being the sole exception.
Some more data: Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA-adjusted odds report gives the Reds an 0.5% chance of making the playoffs. Cool Standings' "Dumb" rankings, which assume every team is of equal talent, give the Reds a 3.0% chance of making the playoffs. Their "smart" estimates are even more harsh (1.3% chance).
While there certainly is a measurable chance remaining, for all practical purposes, the Reds' 2007 season is almost certainly a wash. The prudent thing is to think towards 2008 and 2009. Which brings us to the title of this post.
I am not a fan of 5-year plans. As Bill Veeck once said, "It has been my experience that the Youth Plans and Five-Year Plans lead not to pennants but only to new Five-Year Plans," (source: Baseball Between the Numbers). Subsequent (though admittedly not overwhelming--it's something I have on my to-do list) research has supported the idea that most teams do not regularly undergo periodic fluctuations between excellence and misery. Instead of alternating between youth movements or sell-the-farm-and-win-now approaches, the best model seems to be to constantly work toward both immediate and sustainable success.
Therefore, I do think that a team should do what it can to be competitive each season, while at the same time planning for seasons to come. But when a season is lost, as 2007 almost certainly is for the Reds, one has to focus one's energies on the future. The period of time between now and the trade deadline presents a fantastic opportunity for the Reds, but they will have to execute trades with a shrewd eye toward the future, rather than simply the present.
Who to trade
My (not exactly radical) mid-season trading philosophy for teams out of contention is to focus on dealing away the players who are declining in value, or otherwise will not help the team win in the coming two seasons. This generally means older, veteran ballplayers who are still productive, but might not be next year or the following season. It also means trading players who are going to depart as free agents at the end of the season. These players can give contending teams a boost into the playoffs and beyond this season, while holding little value if retained by the non-contender. In return, the non-contender should seek younger, cheaper players that ideally both have potential and are close to being major league ready.
What I do not advocate in this situation is dumping salary for the sake of dumping salary. A player in his prime, and yet a player that is still under contract for the following season (or more) can still help the team the subsequent season. Trading away that player for prospects will, in general, reduce the talent level of the team the next season, which hurts one's ability to contend in that season. The goal should be to get the team in the best possible shape to contend in the subsequent two seasons, not some year in the distant future.
The Reds are currently the 9th oldest team in baseball--and that's after the addition of the 21-year old Bailey--so they have some age to shed. Courtesy of ESPN.com, here is the current Reds' roster, sorted by age (includes salary--I had to estimate three players' salaries, and I defaulted them to the league minimum):
|Ken Griffey Jr.||RF||37||$8,446,647|
|Eddie Guardado ||P||36||$500,000|
|Eric Milton ||P||31||$10,333,333|
|Ryan Freel ||CF||31||$2,325,000|
|Jared Burton ||P||26||$380,000|
|Bill Bray ||P||24||$382,500|
- Ken Griffey Jr. - Griffey may never again have the trade value that he does right now. His contract extends through next season, so he would not be a rent-a-player. He is adequate in right field defensively, and is hitting very well this season. Furthermore, he'd be a great draw to whoever picked him up. Junior would have to accept any deal, but his comments that he "live[s] in Florida, I work in Cincinnati" this past offseason indicate to me that he'd be willing to leave for the right contender. With the novelty of playing for the Reds having disappeared, I'd think one of his primary interests would be to get another shot at a World Series title before it's too late. And if he gets hurt before the Reds trade him, the Reds may never have another chance to move him for great return again.
- Scott Hatteberg - Hatteberg's resurgence since his arrival in Cincinnati was unexpected, but he's been superb for us at a very low price tag. Nevertheless, at 37 years old, you can't expect that to continue for much longer. It's time to cash in on him. There are several contending (or wannabe contending) teams in need of a first baseman (Detroit, Yankees, etc), and Hatteberg would make a fine addition to most lineups--particularly if packaged with his platoon partner, Jeff Conine. Both are one-year deal players, but are certainly signable and affordable if a team wishes to extend their contracts.
- David Weathers - Weathers has been far better than I expected him to be after last season's noticeable declines in all of his peripherals. I frankly think he's a ticking time bomb, but a contender looking to sure up the bullpen might gobble Weathers' veteran presence up--and might even give a prospect on the level of a 2006 Justin Germano in return. This trade needs to happen as soon as possible, before he turns into a pumpkin.
- Mike Stanton - His peripherals indicate that Stanton hasn't been as bad as his numbers indicate, but his track record and recent success might also bring a return--though perhaps not as strong as that by Weathers. I'd probably hold on to Stanton until close to the deadline and hope that he continues to improve his numbers before dealing him.
- Kyle Lohse - I'm pretty sure that Lohse is a free agent at the end of the season (anyone know a good source for this info?). If that's the case, I think the Reds should make a strong effort to re-sign him right now. He's still fairly young at 28, and he has really helped stabilize the middle of the rotation since his acquisition last July. But if that proves impossible before the trading deadline, I'm sure a lot of contenders would be happy to add a #3/#4 starter to their roster and would give a good return for him.
- Of course, finding a good home for Juan Castro, Chad Moeller, & Victor Santos would be nice. But they're not going to bring much in return.
More to the point, Adam Dunn is a major part of the Reds' offense. If the Reds trade Griffey, as they should (see above), the Reds would need Dunn next season even more than they currently do. Trading away both players would remove the two best offensive players on the team, shifting the offense to below average levels next year. I know he frustrates the hell out of people, but the Reds really need Dunn's bat for at least another year--and perhaps beyond that.
And, of course, you could argue that the fact that he'd be a rent-a-player hurts his trade value--unless the other team is able to negotiate a contract extension to replace the option year that will become invalid upon the trade.
What the Reds should try to get
I won't speculate on particular deals, because there are just too many possible combinations. Until some "genuine" trade rumors surface that come from inside sources, I won't even bother to reflect on them. But I will present a few general guidelines of what I would try to do with mid-season trades (you'll notice a theme):
- Get the best young talent you can get, and don't worry about filling holes.
- Position players can be reassigned to a new position, and current players can get hurt (see Griffey, 2001-2004). And you really cannot have too much pitching. Mid-season deals for non-contending teams should go for talent above all else, and the offseason can be used to patch holes for the subsequent year. Since the current season is already lost, we'll just suffer through the loss of the veterans and give some young players a chance to fail. Note: Mr. Krivsky, this means that you should not focus all of your efforts on finding a closer.
- Get the best young talent you can get, even if it means paying the salary of the departing players.
- None of these players I've identified are signed longer than through 2008, and most are only signed through this season. If faced with a decision between trading with a team that will give a good talent return but will require the Reds to pay most of their former players' salaries, and trading with a team that will take on the salary but given a less talent return, the Reds should go with the former option. This is about building for the future. The money has already been committed--the best use of it is to acquire the best young talent you can find.
- Get the best young talent you can get, even if it's not quite ready for the Show. I don't recommend trading for 18-year olds except in special circumstances, but trading for an outstanding talent that can't be expected to arrive in the majors until 2009 is a perfectly acceptable thing to do right now. If their ETA is more like 2011, of course, I'd probably hold off...unless that player is part of a package of propects.