Tonight the Pirates play the finale of this series against the Reds. It’s hard to believe now, considering the polar opposite directions these two franchises are headed, that just two seasons ago the Pirates and the Reds played in the 2013 Wild Card game at PNC Park (which was easily the greatest sporting event atmosphere that I’ve attended in person). This post could be about the perils of handing out overly long contracts to sentimental favorites, like the Reds did with Joey Votto (signed thru 2023, his age-39 season, at $25M/year) and Homer Bailey (signed thru 2019, his age-33 season, at about $20M/year starting next year), but that’s another post for another day.
Rather, let’s discuss the sinking ship that is the 2015 Cincinnati Reds. At 33-37, it’s hard to justify the Reds being a legitimate contender for even a wild card spot, not with five teams ahead of them in the wild card race already. Looking ahead to next year, the Reds have $82M of salary commitments on the books to eight players. They have two key arbitration cases with closer-extraordinaire Aroldis Chapman, who is a free agent after 2016, and their starting shortstop, Zack Cozart. It’s quite possible that those two will combine for $16M in arbitration. So, in essence, the Reds are staring at $100M of potential salaries to just ten players. The 2015 Reds’ opening day payroll was $115M, an all-time high.
Plus, the Reds are potentially losing two key free agents in starting pitchers Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto. Cueto, in particular, is probably going to command $24M/year over a long term. It’s nearly impossible to see the Reds being able to afford either one of them under their projected payroll restrictions.
All of that can be distilled to these factpinions —
- The 2015 Reds are not good
- The 2015 Reds are not going to get good in the second half for a Wild Card run
- The 2016 Reds can’t expect much help from their sub-par farm system that has no impact players
- The 2016 Reds have a swollen payroll as it stands today
- The NL Central has the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs all projected to stay in the playoff mix for the next few seasons
It’s time for the Reds to consider a full-scale rebuild by trading away whatever assets they can sell and setting their goal to contend by 2018. There are two flies in the ointment, though. First is that the Reds are hosting the 2015 All-Star Game in July. It’s not a good look to the paying folk if you start a yard sale prior to that game. Second, the rumor is that the Reds’ front office realizes it’s time to rebuild, but owner Robert Castellini is optimistic they can still make a run.
WARNING! WARNING! WHAT FOLLOWS IS NOT LIKELY TO HAPPEN, IN CASE YOU MISSED THE FANTASY LAND TITLE.
The Pirates, on the other hand, are right in the mix for a playoff spot this year, but they’re not without their flaws. As Steve wrote last week, the Bucs could use another starter. I feel they could use a reliever. I don’t buy into the “teams don’t trade within the division” theory, either. The Reds are going to be bad for a few years and the Pirates are going to be good for a few years. Will the Pirates have to go against a couple of their prospects? Probably. But flags fly forever and if a World Series is a strong possibility, I don’t care how many times we would face a traded player. As it so happens, the Reds could meet both of these theoretical needs. Johnny Cueto will become a free agent after 2015, so he has 1/2 a year of control. Aroldis Chapman still has the 2016 season of team control, so he has 1-1/2 years for the acquiring team.
When healthy in two of the last three years, Cueto has been worth approximately 4.5 WAR/year. So let’s put his remainder-of-season value at 2.25 WAR. At $6.5M/WAR, Cueto is worth $14.625M. His 2015 salary is just $10M, so he’s owed $5M the rest of the year. This gives him a surplus value of $9.625M (call it $9.6M).
Chapman over the past three years has been worth a weighted average of 2.5 WAR/year, which is approximately what he’s on pace for this year. With 1.25 WAR this year and 2.5 WAR next, Chapman is delivering 3.75 WAR for a value of $24.375M. He’s making $8M this year ($4M remaining) and via arbitration next year can expect about $12M. So his surplus value is $8.375M (call it $8.3M).
This means the Pirates have to come up with $17.9M of value to return to the Reds. Using our Prospect Values article this amount is equal to one pitcher ranked #26-50, or two pitchers ranked #51-100, or one hitter #51-100 (plus a sweetener). If you factor in the July trade deadline premium prices, you could kick that up to a hitter #26-50. End result — you’ll have to give up something good, plus something pretty good for the deadline kicker.
Cueto-Chapman sure seems similar to Samardzija-Hammel going to the A’s last year. That returned Addison Russell (a top 10 hitter), Billy McKinney (a low end organization Top 10 guy) and Dan Straily (filler). A top 10 hitter is the premium prospect, worth $48M in surplus value, so the Cubs probably ruined it for everyone after them.
Here’s a possible package, assuming new Baseball America Top 100 rankings for Pirate prospects:
- Tyler Glasnow (#11-25 pitcher, due to injury) — $24.5M
- Max Moroff (organizational Top 10)
- Jason Creasy (filler)
Reds fans probably would be expecting more, although they would definitely be thrilled with Glasnow, but are probably expecting two premium prospects. It’s just hard to justify trading two premium guys for a pitcher (no matter how good) with only 1/2 a year of control and a reliever (no matter how good) with 1-1/2 years. Just this week, Steve put Tyler Glasnow on his “off the table” article but kept the door open in case of a premium deal. I think this would qualify as such.
A rotation of Cole-Cueto-Liriano-Burnett would be the starters in the playoffs, pushing Morton into long relief/emergency starter/held off the roster role. That would easily be the best rotation in the National League, pending the health of the Nationals’ rotation.
Chapman would become the closer, putting Melancon and Watson into co-setup roles. Arquimedes Caminero takes the 7th, hopefully Antonio Bastardo can ramp up into the 7th inning role, and Jared Hughes stays as the fireman. Worley continues as the long man. Rob Scahill and Jeff Locke are either traded or DFA’ed in this scenario.
Would I want to lose Glasnow and an on-the-rise Moroff? No. Would I do it to increase the Pirates’ odds of chasing down the Cards to avoid the Wild Card game and/or solidifying the roster for the NLDS and beyond? Absolutely.