In full rebuilding mode, the Cincinnati Reds could trade Jay Bruce before Opening Day. If the veteran outfielder does wear another uniform when the 2016 campaign commences, it will represent yet another fixture in the club’s lineup to find himself in another big league home. Though the fire sale of veterans like Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake last year, and Aroldis Chapman and Todd Frazier over the offseason, were met with disgust by many Reds fans, the moves were a necessary part of returning to legitimate contender status, president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty believes.
“It’s part of the process we go through. We’re a small-market club. We made a long-term offer to Frazier last year when we signed him to a two-year deal. They countered, and it was high. We weren’t able to get it done, and we didn’t think we’d be in position to sign him next year,” Jocketty said. “Chapman, the same thing. He’ll be a free agent at the end of this year. We didn’t think we’d be in position to sign them. We felt they were at the peak of their value for what we’d get in return. These were not easy decisions.
“We hope fans will embrace this club. We’ve got a lot of good players in return,” Jocketty added. “The thing we have to focus on this year is how these young guys develop, build a new nucleus and find the next Aroldis Chapman and Todd Frazier from the group we have coming up the next year or so.”
Before the aforementioned four deals, the Reds farm system was barren. Taking a cue from National League Central rivals Houston and Chicago, Cincinnati is striving to build quantity and quality in its minor league system so the small-market club can build a nucleus of talented players under cost-effective, long-term team control.
Here is what the Reds yielded in the four key trades over the last year:
For Mike Leake
- 22-year-old right-handed pitcher Keury Mella, who is the club’s No. 6 prospect according to MLB.com and is expected to open the season at Double-A
- 27-year-old power-hitting outfielder Adam Duvall, who will compete for the starting left field role in 2016 and slugged 57 home runs over the last two seasons at Triple-A in the Giants and Reds systems.
For Johnny Cueto
- 25-year-old left-handed starting pitcher John Lamb, who projects as the Reds’ No. 4 starter and was 10-2 with a 2.67 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 20 Triple-A starts last season.
- 22-year-old swingman Brandon Finnegan, who could open the season as the No. 5 starter or in a bullpen role and was a key part of the Royals bullpen during the postseason in 2014, a few months after he was selected 17th overall out of TCU.
- 22-year-old left-hander Cody Reed, who projects long term as a mid-rotation starter and could make his big league debut in 2016
For Todd Frazier
- 21-year-old second baseman Jose Peraza, who is rated as the club’s top prospect by MLB.com and has the athleticism to play another position until the Reds can trade Brandon Phillips
- 24-year-old infielder/outfielder Brandon Dixon, who was a third round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013 but is not considered a top prospect
- 25-year-old outfielder Scott Schebler, who was ranked the team’s No. 15 prospect by MLB.com
For Aroldis Chapman
- 22-year-old Rookie Davis, a power left-hander with a high 90s fast ball who projects as a reliever and is rated as the club’s No. 8 prospect by MLB.com
- 23-year-old third baseman Eric Jagielo, who is tabbed as the organization’s No. 9 prospect
- 25-year-old second baseman Tony Renda, who is not considered a top prospect
- 28-year-old right-handed pitcher Caleb Cotham, who logged a 6.52 ERA in 12 relief appearances in his Major League debut with the Yankees last season
With Homer Bailey returning from Tommy John surgery, and promising young arms like Anthony DeSclafani (who the Reds acquired for Mat Latos in December 2014) and Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati has the makings of a competitive top three in the rotation. Lamb, Finnegan and 24-year-old right-hander Jon Moscot (a fourth round pick of the Reds out of Pepperdine University in 2012) will compete for starting roles as well.
There is no pressure to win in Cincinnati this season, which is why it is the ideal time to introduce top prospects like Peraza, right-handed pitcher Robert Stephenson and outfielder Jesse Winker to the big league experience. Eugenio Suarez (who projects to start at third base and can also play left field) will get his first full-season look after arriving in Cincinnati from Detroit in the Alfredo Simon trade in December 2014. Catcher Devin Mesoraco and shortstop Zack Cozart will get the chance to rebound from injuries while Bailey expects to use 2016 to return to top of the rotation form.
Though Phillips rejected trades to Washington and Arizona, he is still a likely chip leading to the July 31 non-waiver deadline. Chances are, Bruce will be shipped elsewhere before Opening Day, or by the trade deadline at the latest. Those transactions will further stock the Reds farm system. Popular first baseman Joey Votto, who at 32 still has $192 million in salary remaining over the next nine seasons, is another trade candidate. Boston is a fit should the Hanley Ramirez experiment at first base does not prove successful. The Red Sox have one of the game’s top farm systems and would provide the Reds with Major League ready talent.