What to Make of the Recent Cincinnati Reds Trades?

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Reds Trades
CINCINNATI, OHIO - JULY 31: Eugenio Suarez #7 of the Cincinnati Reds celebrates with Jesse Winker #33 after hitting a home run in the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park on July 31, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Over the last week, the Cincinnati Reds have been “aligning their payroll to their resources.” What does that mean in layman’s terms? They’re trading away any talent they have that costs more than a cheese coney at Skyline.

From a fan’s perspective, the recent trades have been head-scratching and maddening. Fans can try to make sense of the payroll shedding without defending the ownership. The Reds already have a number of journalists to carry their water. It’s clear that the rebuild from 2014 to 2019 was not bad enough. The Reds made the expanded COVID-year playoffs, got embarrassed, kicked their heels up, and said “well, that’s as good as it gets.”

And here we are.
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Are the Reds actually trying to win baseball games or are they content with mediocrity?x
 

Making Sense of the Recent Cincinnati Reds Trades 

The 2021 edition of the Cincinnati Reds was not a terrible ballclub. Heading into the final month of the season, they had a legitimate shot at a playoff spot to try and avenge their pitiful 2020 NL Wild Card showing. Were there areas where the club could improve? Absolutely. They went into the off-season/Lockout needing bullpen help as well as a legitimate short shop. If they re-signed Nick Castellanos and got a Marcus Semien or Carlos Correa, the Reds could have competed for an NL Central title.

That would, of course, require players like Nick Senzel to stay healthy, and have Mike Moustakas and Eugenio Suarez get back to playing the way they used to. The emergence of Jonathan India and finally allowing Tyler Stephenson to have daily playing time would begin to usher in the youth leadership. Fast-forward to the end of the lockout, the $1.5 Billion franchise believes it is too poor to field a winning team and they begin to shed payroll.

The Sonny Gray Trade

In November, Cincinnati shipped Tucker Barnhart to the Detriot Tigers in exchange for low-A prospect, Nick Quintana. This move made sense because Stephenson was up-and-coming and Barnhart’s bat was more of a liability than his prowess as a defenseman.

On March 13, the Reds began the tear-down of a once-promising roster by trading away Sonny Gray to the Minnesota Twins. Gray started out extremely hot with the Reds, pitching 175.1 innings with an 11-8 record, 2.87 ERA, and 1.084 WHIP in 2019 as an All-Star and even finished seventh in NL Cy Young voting. 2019 was his best year since his 2015 All-Star campaign with the Oakland A’s.

Despite posting sub-par numbers the rest of the way, Cincinnati robbed the Yankees blind with their trade. Gray finished his Reds career 366.2 innings pitched, 3.49 ERA, and 1.154 WHIP. Over the last two years, Gray spend four separate stints on the IL. When Gray was on, he was an ace on this staff. In addition to Gray, the Reds sent minor league pitcher Francis Peguero in exchange for Chase Petty.

Who is Chase Petty?

Chase Petty was the Twins first-round pick in the 2021 draft straight out of high school. The 18-year old has only pitched five innings on the Twins rookie league team, so there is not much by way of film and accurate professional projection.

Petty has a very high upside, however. In high school, Petty’s fastball reached 102 MPH. Imagine facing that as a high schooler. His slider is just as nasty. The Reds love their young pitchers throwing absolute smoke. The concern, of course, is can his young arm hold up under the strain of throwing as hard as he can; SEE: Hunter Greene, Aroldis Chapman.

If he can realize his potential, Petty can develop into a legitimate arm in the Reds ranks. If there is anyone to develop Petty, it’s Director of Pitching, Derek Johnson. For a team who was close to competing, waiting three or four years for Petty is going to be maddening.

The Jesse Winker/Eugenio Suarez Trade

The second of the two Cincinnati Reds trades had Reds Twitter melting down and on the verge of revoking their fandom. After not even trying to re-sign Castellanos, the Reds trade away their other star outfielder, Jesse Winker, to the Seattle Mariners. Going along for the ride to the Pacific Northwest is Eugenio Suarez. This was obviously a salary dump as Suarez’s play of late hasn’t justified the price tag.

Winker is just entering his prime and was playing the best baseball of his career up until a thoracic injury landed him on the IL. In 2021, Winker slashed .305/.394/.556 and mashed 24 home runs and 71 RBI. In nearly every major statistic, Winker hit new career highs. Unfortunately, his inability to hit left-handed pitching could have been a sticking point.

Suarez got off to a hot start, offensively, and hit his stride in the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He was an All-Star in 2018 and even received MVP votes in the two years. Since then, his productivity dropped significantly and bottomed out in 2021. He finished his Reds career .198/.286/.428 in 2021. Defensively, Suarez was a liability, committing 109 errors across his seven years in Cincinnati.

Regardless of Winker’s inability to hit southpaws or Suarez’s fielding issues, they were fan-favorites and the heart of the team. Suarez was expensive for a player posting a negative WAR in 2021, so in order to get anything in return, the Reds had to ship out a player of worth. Winker was the only non-India that would garner any kind of decent return.

The Three Players in Return

In return, Cincinnati will receive a pair of starting pitchers, an outfielder, and a player-to-be-named-later. The outfielder is Jake Fraley and his bat is about as consistent as Suarez’s. 2021 was his first year of significant time at the MLB level (78 games) and he hit .210/.352/369 with nine home runs and 36 RBI. He is known more for his defense and speed, however. He’s played at each of the outfield positions, so the Reds, assuming they keep him in Cincinnati, will enjoy his positional flexibility.

There are currently three spots vacant in the rotation. Justin Dunn is an MLB-ready pitcher, though he’s had issues with walks. In the last two years, Dunn has pitched just 96 innings with a 4.03 ERA and 1.333 WHIP. In a hitter-friendly park like Great American Ballpark, walks tend to haunt.

The final prospect heading to Cincinnati likely has the highest ceiling: Brandon Williamson. Williamson is a 2019 second-round pick out of TCU and has spent the last two years at the lower levels of the Mariners farm system. He’s posted a 3.25 ERA and 1.14 WHIP across 113.2 innings. As is the case with current Red and former TCU pitcher, Williamson is a 6’6″ lefty with a whole lot of movement on his pitches. He will likely start out at AA Chattanooga but could find his way up to the Majors if he makes strides in his development.

The Amir Garrett Trade for Mike Minor

The final head-scratcher of a trade occurred on March 16th. The Reds traded away relief pitcher Amir Garrett for starter Mike Minor and Bob Castellini’s favorite player: Cash Considerations. Garrett, when he was on, was a top relief pitcher. When he was off, he was off. Starting off, Garrett started 14 games in his rookie year. Since then, he’s been strictly out of the bullpen. Over his five years in Cincinnati, the 6’5″ southpaw amassed a 5.10 ERA and 1.432 WHIP over 255.2 innings. His best year was in 2020 when he posted career-bests in ERA and WHIP, striking out 26 batters in 21.

Even if he had outings where he just couldn’t find the strike zone, Garrett was a fan favorite. He had a fire and was never afraid to show emotion. He will always be remembered for charging and fighting the entire Pittsburgh Pirates team after he said they had been chirping at him.

In return, the Reds received 34-year-old lefty Mike Minor. Across his 10-years in MLB, Minor has played for the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, and Oakland A’s. He’s moved around a bit as of late. Cincinnati will be his fourth team in three years. The Reds will hope he can pitch closer to his 2019 marks where he made the All-Star Game and even received a handful of Cy Young votes.

Across his career, Minor has pitched 1,311 innings, struck out 1,197, and earned a 4.11 ERA and 1.225 WHIP. He is not a top-end starter in this rotation and will likely be utilized as a veteran presence and innings-eater. The Reds have a few young starting pitchers that they are hoping are close to making the jump, so Minor will be there to take some stress of their arms and make sure Cincinnati doesn’t over-use them.

While having Minor makes sense, the money does not. They are paying him what they were paying Wade Miley. Miley could be that innings-eater AND be productive. Miley was a significantly better pitcher in 2021. While the first two moves could be justified by saying the Reds are shedding payroll, they took on a salary in this trade.

Are They Done Making Trades?

On March 16th, after the dust had settled, GM Nick Krall said that the team is not looking to move Castillo or Mahle. Reds fans would be inclined to believe them but Castillo and Mahle are the Reds top pitchers and will cost Castellini more than $10, so it would not be surprising if they are moved.

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Even if Castillo and Mahle (or any other veteran player, for that matter) are not moved by the time Opening Day rolls around, the door remains open for them to be dealt at some point. When Cincinnati is looking at another 90-100 loss season at the Trade Deadline, each of the starters will be sought after by a franchise actually looking to win baseball games.

Reds 2022 Outlook

Following these Reds trades, morale is at an all-time low. #SellTheTeamBob is trending in Cincinnati. Fans are canceling their Season Tickets. The anti-front office and anti-owners sentiments are palpable. Considering the ugly lockout that lasted nearly four months, it makes sense. The owners fought to be able to make these moves. They fought against the players who actually want to win. The Reds will make millions upon millions before a single ticket is sold and before a single game is played.

The current over/under for Reds wins is set at 75.5. The under has been smashed by fans and rivals alike.

There does not seem to be a plan in place in Cincinnati. They gave away four players for a handful of prospects and a journeyman starter. Rebuilding teams try to get good players in return. Williamson may be a good young player for the 2022 team. Petty could be a decent piece in a few years. But one thing is for sure: the next few years are going to be long. Unless every young prospect coming up catches fire as India did, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will be pillow fighting for bottom of the NL Central.

Honestly, the Reds faithful hope this team proves everyone wrong. They support the players but are extremely frustrated with the team. The Reds have plenty of potential talent. Can potential result in wins in 2022 or will Cincinnati be subject to another long, painful rebuild? Regardless, Joey Votto deserves better.

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