For the first time in the 2014 season, the Cincinnati Reds woke up on Tuesday as a team with a record above .500. At 38-37, the Reds find themselves a healthy 7.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central race, but thanks to the 2nd Wild Card, they sit just 2.5 games out of a potential playoff spot. They've weathered a rash of injuries through the first two and a half months of their season, but a few key returnees have helped power their recent good form.
Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Devin Mesoraco, and Mat Latos have each battled DL stints, but they've all been cleared to take part in what the team hopes will end up in their 4th playoff appearance in the last 5 seasons. Walt Jocketty and the team's front office will hope that group can pick the team up from where Todd Frazier & Johnny Cueto have carried them thus far. There aren't a lot of perfect targets for a roster that's full of existing extensions and an already high payroll, but the Reds will still look to be BUYERS of a few strategic complementary pieces as the team heads toward the July 31 trade deadline. They'll hope that a few additional parts coupled with a healthy version of the 2014 they envisioned this winter will be enough to fuel a run to the playoffs again.
The Reds opened the 2014 season with each of Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton, and Sean Marshall on the DL with various injuries, and the usage of Alfredo Simon in the starting rotation in Mat Latos' usual spot meant that the top 4 relievers who carried over from the outstanding 2013 bullpen were suddenly out of action there. As a result, the Reds have struggled to get any sort of consistent production from their relievers through most of the season, and their 4.24 relief ERA ranks second to last in the National League as a result. While Chapman and Broxton have returned, the recent news that Sean Marshall will undergo shoulder surgery and miss the remainder of the season only ensures the need for an additional arm for at least the next few months.
Latos' return to the rotation actually bumped the struggling Tony Cingrani from his spot, but while he has some limited success in the bullpen, it's likely the young LHP will stay in Triple-A to work on improving as a starter. With Marshall out, too, that leaves Manny Parra as the only non-closing LHP in the bullpen, and he has struggled to a 4.43 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in 2014. With no clear upgrades available in the minors, the Reds will certainly look to upgrade in that area.
Jake McGee of the Tampa Bay Rays could be a fit, as the 1st year arb-eligible LHP carries a solid K/9 (10.2), K/BB (4.11), and a track record of success. Starter-turned-reliever Oliver Perez of the Arizona Diamondbacks could also be a target carrying a reasonable contract. One way or another, an arm will certainly be targeted, likely a LHP to help in late inning scenarios.
Trade Likelihood: High
The 5 HR collectively hit by Cincinnati LF is just two more than the fewest such mark in all of Major League Baseball (held by the Washington Nationals, whose LF have 3 total HR), and the .686 OPS compiled mainly by Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey, and Skip Schumaker ranks just 21st out of the 30 teams in that regard. For the second consecutive season, the Reds appear to be approaching the trade deadline with a question mark at a position where teams usually have an offense force, but given Walt Jocketty's history of patience, there won't likely be much of an upgrade on the horizon.
Ludwick, making $8.5 million in the second year of the 2 year, $15 million contract he signed following a stellar 2012 season, has shown a few signs of offensive life of late after a dismal start to the year, and the Reds' front office will likely stick with him given the lack of cost-effective upgrades available on the market today. Ludwick has upped his season line to .276/.337/.416, and while the Reds would love better than his .753 OPS and poor defense as the primary LF, they're not likely to open the pocketbooks further to chase a Matt Kemp or an Andre Ethier.
Trade Likelihood: Low
One area where the Reds would love to improve their production is from their bench, where no one currently sports an OPS+ over 79 or an OPS itself higher than .371, and both of those marks come from backup catcher Brayan Pena, who won't likely be used as a pinch-hitter unless in an absolute-must situation. That leaves Chris Heisey (70 OPS+), Skip Schumaker (51), and Ramon Santiago (54) as the primary weapons off the bench, and that's hardly something to look forward to. The team recently jettisoned Roger Bernadina after he hit just .153/.286/.203 (39 OPS+) in 71 PA, meaning there's already a spot on the bench available, and the Reds would love to add someone with some offensive punch to use in good matchups and in pinch-hitting scenarios.
Jason Kubel, who was recently designated for assignment by the Minnesota Twins, would add what the Reds are looking for had his 2014 numbers looked anything like his 2012 ones. Similarly, if the New York Mets choose to part ways with the struggling Chris Young, the Reds should have some interest in picking up the former All Star OF. Chris Denorfia of the Padres or Sean Rodriguez of the Rays would also fit the bill, as both provide some defensive versatility, decent pop, and reasonable salary requirements.
Trade Likelihood: High