Reds’ rebuild not going quite according to plan

It has been a recurring theme since last July that not only do the Reds need to be rebuilding now if they would like to post a winning record at some point within the next decade, but that they are doing it all wrong. At the trade deadline, only Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto were dealt, while Marlon Byrd was sent to San Francisco later on in August. This took care of the immediate free agents, but with more teams competing for a playoff spot than ever before and many in need of a closer, they missed the best opportunity to get the most value for Aroldis Chapman and retained the services of hot commodities Brandon Phillips and Todd Frazier.

Since then, all three players mentioned have been traded…but only in theory. While the trade of Chapman to Los Angeles was done until domestic abuse allegations came out, the deal of Phillips to the Nationals didn’t even make it that far, and the only contract actually off the books is Frazier’s. Unlike the first two, here the Reds were more poor negotiators than unlucky.

Since the offseason began, the Reds were discussing Frazier with their cross-state rivals, the Cleveland Indians, more than any other team. Over the past few months, other teams had jumped in the discussions, but nothing was ever as serious as the rumors sending him to Cleveland. Because the Indians are looking to compete now and the Reds in a few years, the teams would seem perfect trade partners. However, the Reds continually demanded Danny Salazar, who the Indians never saw as an option in the deal, then closer Cody Allen along with prospects. While the Indians were willing to deal prospects as well as MLB infielder Jose Ramirez, the Reds were only interested in the best of the best that Cleveland had to offer, particularly former first round picks Clint Frazier and Brad Zimmer.

When a deal was finally struck, Frazier was going to the White Sox and the prospects returning to Cincinnati weren’t anywhere near their demands from Cleveland. In fact, the three players returned to Cincinnati from Los Angeles, Brandon Dixon, Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler, weren’t even as good as the ones received by the Dodgers from Chicago – Micah Johnson, Frankie Montas and Trayce Thompson. In particular, Thompson was the name involved in the deal as not only a top minor leaguer, but someone with some success in the majors in 2015. If the Reds wanted a Zimmer quality outfielder, it is truly confounding why they didn’t just take Thompson from Chicago rather than involving a third party. At least for the moment, it seems that the Dodgers won this deal, the White Sox broke even, and the Reds were the obvious losers – especially when the Phillips situation began to unfold with the Nationals.

More than to save money, the purpose of moving Frazier and Chapman was to return a haul of prospects rather than to save money. While neither are cheap, the Reds only have $71M guaranteed on the books for 2016 with just three arbitration eligible players, one of which is Chapman. His deal falling through is probably the worst of the three prospective trades, as they at least got some return for Frazier and the attempt to move Phillips was mainly to cut costs, not really bring back value in return.

One year of Chapman, however, could have brought back a huge haul, although apparently not as huge as the Reds thought. Their initial forays into the trade market during July with the Diamondbacks and others came back with many GMs across baseball thinking that Cincinnati was completely out of context in their valuations of Chapman’s worth. One known deal was for the DBacks to send Braden Shipley, the 22nd-best prospect in baseball according to Baseball Prospectus, to the Reds in addition to another of their top ten prospects. Obviously, this and other deals that were considered even more lucrative at the time were rejected.

The Reds announced that they wanted to trade Chapman by the Winter Meetings this year and when the deal with Los Angeles was leaked by reporters, it seemed like things would work out fine, but dealing with Chapman’s off the field issues was not worth having two of the best closers in baseball on the same roster. Now, the Reds retain Chapman, who may or may not be dealing with a suspension to start 2016 and if they find a trade partner, they will certainly return a lower price than the Dodgers offered and significantly lower than that offered at the deadline last year. However, a suspension for Chapman could result in his free agency being postponed another year, possibly increasing his value to an acquiring team. There are a mess of issues with a potential Chapman trade right now.

As mentioned, Phillips was the least important to move of the group, but his situation has just further compounded an already depressing offseason for Cincinnati. Owed $13 million next year and $14 million in 2017, Phillips would only be a good fit on a team with a high payroll where his declining production wouldn’t be as big of a deal. Of course, he has a full no trade clause through his ten-and-five rights, which is worth something in itself, and Phillips wanted to make the most of it, particularly considering by the time he becomes a free agent next, he will be 37 and just about out of bargaining power.

The $27 million to Phillips is already guaranteed, so there is no difference financially whether he plays in Cincinnati or Washington DC. Since he has the leverage of those ten-and-five rights, it makes sense that he would try to turn that into a little more guaranteed money. The Reds would certainly be better off without Phillips, but the Nationals, on the other hand, are fine as they signed Daniel Murphy to play second for three years and just $10 million more than Phillips is owed, despite being four years younger and nearly equivalent in on the field value.

Now, the Reds are heading into 2016 with essentially no chance of competing against the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates (maybe not even against the Brewers) and $63.5 million owed to just Joey Votto, Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, and Phillips, with Chapman bumping number north of $70 million. As bad as the deals for Frazier, Chapman, and Phillips have worked out, at least an attempt was made. The two highest contracts on the team will likely never be moved. While there is some justification to give the fans something to root for when there isn’t much else, Votto is going to have to sell a lot of tickets to pay off his 10 year, $225 million deal. There could be another positive to Votto’s deal as well – he’ll still be around in 2023 when all the Reds high draft picks from 2016 on will be about major league ready.

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since its inception in 2011. He also writes for The Outside Corner and the Comeback and hosts the Tribe Time Now podcast. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians. Follow on twitter @BurningRiverBB

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