Table of Contents

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Trade Season

Outlook for the rest of 2007

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.

Trade Season

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, 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):

Mike Stanton P 40 $2,000,000
Jeff Conine 1B 40 $2,000,000
David Weathers P 37 $2,250,000
Scott Hatteberg 1B 37 $1,500,000
Ken Griffey Jr. RF 37 $8,446,647
Eddie Guardado
P 36 $500,000
Juan Castro SS 34 $925,000
Chad Moeller C 32 $700,000
Eric Milton
P 31 $10,333,333
Javier Valentin C 31 $1,250,000
Ryan Freel
CF 31 $2,325,000
Bronson Arroyo P 30 $4,375,000
Victor Santos P 30 $500,000
David Ross C 30 $1,600,000
Alex Gonzalez SS 30 $3,500,000
Aaron Harang P 29 $4,250,000
Kyle Lohse P 28 $4,200,000
Norris Hopper CF 28 $380,000
Matt Belisle P 27 $390,000
Gary Majewski P 27 $390,000
Adam Dunn LF 27 $10,500,000
Jared Burton
P 26 $380,000
Todd Coffey P 26 $407,500
Jon Coutlangus P 26 $380,000
Marcus McBeth P 26 $390,000
Josh Hamilton CF 26 $380,000
Brandon Phillips 2B 25 $407,500
Bill Bray
P 24 $382,500
Edwin Encarnacion 3B 24 $407,500
Jerry Gil SS 24 $380,000
Homer Bailey P 21 $390,000
With those data and principles in hand, here are the players I think the Reds absolutely must try to trade this season. All could bring good to great value in return:
  • 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.
There's been a lot of talk about trading Adam Dunn, including a huge speculative article on the subject at Baseball Prospectus today. Personally, unless the return is overwhelming, I don't think that's a good idea. At 27, Dunn is still pretty young, and should have several more good years left in him. It is true that he has what Bill James referred to as "old players' skills," and therefore may decline faster than average. But PECOTA, which compares him to similar "old player skills" players of a similar age, still predicts that he'll be a "star" through 2010.

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.
It will be interesting to see what Krivsky does with this opportunity. In many ways, I think these next few months may have more to do with his ultimate success (or failure) as a general manager than anything he has done thus far. I'm cautiously optimistic that he will rise to the occasion.


  1. Cool post.

    This page breaks down the Reds chances of making the playoffs based on how many wins they finish the season with:

    The numbers are optimistic because it uses the "flip a coin" algorithm, and some of the teams ahead of them have a much better then 50% chance of winning each "simulated" game.

  2. Well, Justin, you're kinda saying what I've been saying for the last month. But you have pretty graphs. ;-)

  3. @Ken,

    Neat site, thanks for the link!


    I never claimed it was original, and mentioned as much in a reply to one of your posts last month. :)

    This isn't exactly rocket science though--this is (to me, and you) the obvious thing that the Reds should be doing. I just wanted to state my opinion on what the Reds should be doing. That's why I have the blog.

    Not everything I post has to be some grand insight. :) Though I think I contribute my share of original points now and then. -j

  4. Justin,

    Great summation. I think I agree with just about everything (not that it matters). Moving Junior should be priority No 1 (although I'm pretty sure moving Dunner currently occupies that spot). If Griffey isn't traded now, we are pretty much saying he's going to finish the contract as a Red.

    I would love to trade Stanton, but he's guaranteed $3M in '08. Now $3M is chump change in today's market. But why would you pay a 40-year-old, stick-a-fork-in-him-cuz'-he's done LOOGY 3 mil if you didn't have to?

  5. Don't know about a general resource for an 'impending free agents' list, but this article from this past February states unequivocally that Lohse is playing out his final arbitration-eligible year in 2007, and will be a free agent at the end of this season.

  6. Thanks Christopher! I thought that was the case, but didn't find a reference after a quick search. Good to know for sure--now the Reds need to sign the guy! -j

  7. Just discovered your blog, and am quite enjoying the combination of Reds commentary with a statistical bent.

    I also agree with your analysis. The scary thing about Krivsky is he is in a position right now where he can make strong moves towards building a contender, or sink the franchise into another guarenteed 5 years of losing and hopelessness, and we have NO IDEA which he will do. His stated plans and his past moves haven't given us enough information to make a proper evaluation.

    You would think he would have learned from last year's horrible mistake but he has made no indication that he views it that way, and the fact that some people still think that the Kearns trade was justified (based on the idea that he should go for it) ignore that the players he got couldn't have realistically helped the team even if they hadn't been hurt.

    Having lived out of the midwest for years it's been difficult to follow the team. If Wayne makes a disasterous move this trading deadline, I think it's time for me to shift my allegience to the Devil Rays.

  8. Folks expect players to falter in their development, and are willing to invest in young players with an upside. But with GM's, they want a genius now. It doesn't work that way. Krivsky got fleeced by Bowden, and is probably smarter for it. He has made some good deals and bad deals. I hope he is around for the inevitable rise of this franchise. I think he is a great prospect.

  9. Phil, erithotl, and mark, thanks for the great and thoughful comments. As has been the consensus view in this thread, we shall see! The next month and a half will tell us a lot about Krivsky's abilities as a general manager. Hopefully he'll do us proud.

    ...Just heard John Fay talking to Marty about Dunn's contract for next year, saying there's no way that the Reds will take on Dunn's $13 million extension. I have absolutely no idea why that seems to be such a certainty to him. Moving Griffey, Hatteberg, Weathers, and Stanton (get well soon) would more than make up for the needed financial flexibility, and it would give us at least one more year of 0.850-0.950 OPS production in left field. And if the Reds are out of it in 2008 at this time, you can move Dunn for talent then. He's not going to decline in that time period.

    Nevertheless, I try not to get too worked up about what John Fay thinks. Much of it is speculation, and I can do that just as well as he can. :) -j

  10. - Lohse is a FA after this season, as said above, and he is a Boras client. I don't see the Reds getting in on that bidding war. Which is fine by me, considering that their rotation for 2008 and beyond already includes Harang, BA, Bailey and Belisle. Elizardo or someone in Louisville should be able to fill the 5th spot. Lohse has also been known as somewhat of a head case in the past, and I'd be reluctant to give him a L/T deal.

    - Completely agree about Weathers and Hatteberg - let's sell high for a change.

    Great stuff, as always.

  11. Hatteberg's a particularly obvious case, given that Joey Votto's tearing it up in Louisville right now. I've heard that scouts have been checking Hatteberg out, so signs are good on that front. -j

  12. Eric Milton make 10mil!! I'm tying not to puke as I type this.

  13. Hey, at least that contract is off the books as of the end of the season! That's $10 million more they can work with, in addition to whatever they save by moving players at the deadline. -j

  14. Great analysis Justin...

    We need AA all stars, in essence.

  15. Yep--and preferably young AA all-stars. :D -j