The Cincinnati Reds are in full rebuilding mode, and they are now willing to trade anyone on their roster, according to C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer. It can be argued that the Reds have been rebuilding for a year now, as they traded away Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon last offseason before dealing Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake at this year's trade deadline. The Reds are expected to go even further this offseason, with players like Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce, and even Todd Frazier potentially being available. The Reds might even be willing to trade Brandon Phillips and/or Joey Votto, assuming these players would be willing to waive their full no-trade clause.
Given where the Reds are at right now, there is no question that rebuilding is the best move for their organization. I, along with others, made this very argument back in May, when the Reds already appeared to be out of contention. The Reds finally made the decision to trade Cueto and Leake at the deadline, which made sense given each player's upcoming free agent status. However, the Reds also had the opportunity to trade some of the players being discussed now, and it is quite possible the decision to keep these players until the offseason (if not longer) could end up being costly for the Reds.
If the Reds traded players like Chapman, Bruce, and Frazier at the deadline, they likely would have gotten a higher return, due to the fact that the teams acquiring these players would be receiving an additional half season of production from them. For a player like Aroldis Chapman, who is set to be a free agent after next season, the second half of 2015 represented nearly one-third of his remaining team control. Instead of capitalizing on this extra team control, which would be of little value to a non-contending team, the Reds decided to hold onto Chapman and other tradeable players for the second half of the 2015 season.
It should also be noted that trade prices are often higher at the trade deadline than in the offseason. Last year, Dave Cameron pointed out that the market price for wins in July may be twice as high as the market price for wins in the offseason. This appears to be due to the fact that teams have a better sense of their playoff odds at the deadline and are more willing to pay a higher price for trade additions since they know that the players acquired have a good chance of impacting whether or not they make the playoffs. If teams truly pay a higher price for marginal wins at the trade deadline, then it appears that the Reds may have wasted a valuable opportunity to capitalize on the high demand for their tradeable players.
So why did the Reds keep tradeable players for the second half of 2015 if they were just going to turn around and trade them in the offseason? In his piece in the Cincinnati Enquirer, C. Trent Rosecrans provided an interesting quote on the matter from President of Baseball Operations Walt Jocketty.
"We still wanted to be somewhat protective of our club last year and we had some offers on certain guys we just didn't want to move because we still wanted to be... It didn't play out as good (as we'd hoped)," Jocketty said. "But I think we really started at the deadline knowing that '16 was going to be a transition year and '17 and '18 will be the timeframe we think will be able to be stronger and more competitive."
Did Walt Jocketty hold onto tradeable players because the team still hoped to be...competitive? In 2015? This notion baffles me, because the Reds' playoff odds were 0.7 percent on July 1st, according to Fangraphs. (They fell to 0.1 percent by the end of the month.) The fact that the Reds traded Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake suggests that they knew that they were out of the playoff hunt for 2015.
What if they were planning on being competitive in 2016? This would at least explain why they held onto players with team control beyond this year. This doesn't make sense either, though, because Jocketty explicitly stated in the quote above that the team knew at the deadline that 2016 was going to be a transition year.
A few possible explanations remain. Perhaps the Reds weren't happy with the offers they received. Perhaps owner Bob Castellini was not willing to sign off on an all-out fire sale at the deadline, which could have disappointed Reds fans who were happy to see the All-Star Game in their hometown. Ken Rosenthal recently wrote that Castellini "is 'on board' with the need for a more extensive retooling", which seems to imply he was not on board with this idea previously.
In any case, the Reds missed an opportunity to trade key players at the deadline, and this missed opportunity could be costly due to the timing issues I laid out above (deadline vs. offseason trades, team control). It is also important to point out that two of the Reds' most tradeable players, Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce, struggled mightily in the second half, which could have a significant impact on their trade value.
Frazier had a phenomenal first half due to an explosion in power, which culminated in him winning the Home Run Derby in Cincinnati, but since the All-Star Break, Frazier's power has disappeared, and he has been barely above replacement level.
Frazier was having such a great first half that he was ranked #46 on Dave Cameron's Trade Value list back in July, even though he had less team control than anyone else on the list. With his abysmal second half, Frazier's full season numbers look pretty similar to his numbers from previous years, which means that any trade value he gained from his excellent first half is probably gone at this point.
Back in July, I wrote a piece explaining why the Reds should trade Frazier at the trade deadline, and if you'll allow me to self-indulge for a moment, I thought I'd selectively quote my July-self.
Frazier is currently having the best season of his career, and it is hard to see his trade value being any higher than it is right now. "
I also mentioned Frazier's new approach of selling out for power.
"Having a player with this type of approach can be a big risk, though, because if Frazier loses power as he ages, he will lose a lot of his value. He has never been a high BABIP player, and he does not have an elite plate approach to fall back on if and when he starts to lose distance on his fly balls."
Unfortunately for the Reds, both of these statements held true, perhaps in a more extreme way than anyone expected. No one could have predicted Frazier's enormous second half decline, but the Reds could have avoided this risk altogether by trading him when his value was highest.
Jay Bruce had a similar decline in the second half of 2015, which may have eliminated any trade value he had altogether.
After struggling through an injury-plagued 2014 season (-0.9 fWAR in 545 plate appearances), Bruce seemed to be back on the right track for the first half of 2015. He struggled down the stretch, though, and ended the season as barely more than a replacement level player. Part of this has to do with the fact that Bruce's BABIP was unsustainably low for the second half of the season, but there are still other areas to be concerned about, including his low walk rate and poor defensive metrics. Ultimately, the Reds may find it difficult to get anything of value in exchange for Bruce, given his $12.5 million salary for next year.
In any case, the Reds have an interesting offseason ahead of them, with many big-name players on their roster that they could potentially look to trade. Still, their decision to hang onto certain players at this year's trade deadline could end up being costly, especially in an NL Central that figures to be unforgiving over the next few years.