If you're a Cincinnati Reds fan, it's hard not to like Todd Frazier. For awhile, he was adored for his charming smile, his Little League heroics, and his Frank Sinatra walk-up music, but he has quickly evolved into one of the Reds' best players. After being voted in as the Reds' lone starter at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati last week, Frazier went on to win the Home Run Derby in dramatic fashion, giving the hometown crowd something to cheer about in an otherwise down year for baseball in Cincinnati. He is almost universally regarded as one of the friendliest and most likeable players in baseball. Heck, he even saved someone's life by performing the Heimlich maneuver at a restaurant in Pittsburgh during the 2012 season.
With that being said, the Reds are clearly in rebuilding mode, and Todd Frazier is one of the players they should be aggressively looking to trade. Back in May, I wrote about the Reds' need to do an all-out rebuild, and just last week, Jeff Sullivan laid out a convincing argument on why this is probably the best move for the Reds moving forward. Based on recent reports, it appears that the Reds will be aggressive sellers at this year's trade deadline, with Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman and others being made available. However, according to GM Walt Jocketty, Todd Frazier is off the table, despite being under team control for only two and a half more years.
If the reports are true and the Reds are truly committed to rebuilding, I think holding on to Todd Frazier would be a huge mistake. 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.
His breakout this season is almost entirely due to an increase in power, as he has already hit 26 home runs in just over half a season. His walk rate and on-base percentage are nothing special, but his ridiculously high ISO (fifth best in baseball) makes him one of the best hitters in baseball this year. As Owen Watson of Fangraphs pointed out last month, Frazier's power surge seems to be a result of three adjustments. Frazier is pulling the ball more, hitting more fly balls, and averaging more distance on his fly balls. This approach of selling out for power has worked extremely well for Frazier, especially at Great American Ballpark, where he has hit 16 of his 26 home runs.
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's never been a high BABIP player, and he doesn't have an elite plate approach to fall back on if and when he starts to lose distance on his fly balls.
Another concern with Frazier has to be his age. Frazier was a late bloomer, reaching the major leagues at age 25, and he is already 29, despite being under team control for another two and a half years. Based on the most recent aging curve models, it appears that players are, on average, peaking as early as age 25-26, with a steady decline from that point on.
While most individual players may not see their performance perfectly mirror the trajectory of the aging curve, it is still a good tool to use when estimating a player's performance going forward. For Todd Frazier specifically, it is very hard to see him improving on his performance this season, and the most likely scenario is that his performance declines noticeably over the next few years.
Luckily for Frazier, he is starting from a very good spot, so he will probably still have value even as he declines going forward. Unfortunately for the Reds, this value will likely go to waste for a team that has little chance of making the playoffs. The Reds are already out of the playoff race for this season, and they almost certainly will not make the playoffs next year either. The Reds currently project to be around a 73-win team by the end of the year, and they could be considerably worse than that next year without Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, and Jay Bruce. Yes, the Reds will presumably get talent in return for these players, but it will be hard to find enough major league talent in these trades to contend immediately in 2016. After all, any player that had the ability to step in and replace the performance of a player like Johnny Cueto by next year would probably have a lot of value to a contender this year. The most likely scenario is that the Reds win these trades in the long run by getting prospects with future value and several years of team control.
It seems like a pretty safe bet to assume that the Reds won't make the playoffs until 2017 at the earliest, and even that seems like a bit of a stretch, especially in a division with teams like the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs, who are stocked with young talent. As a result, Todd Frazier's contributions to the Reds will not have a lot of value until 2017 at best, which is his last year with the team.
ZiPS projects Frazier for 2.0 WAR for the rest of this year, 4.6 WAR in 2016, and 4.1 WAR in 2017. If the Reds keep Todd Frazier for next year, perhaps he makes them a 75 win team instead of a 70 win team. Those five wins mean very little overall, since they wouldn't do anything to improve the chances of the Reds reaching the playoffs. From a financial standpoint, it's not like the Reds would get a huge bump in attendance and revenue by being slightly less terrible.
By trading Frazier for young talent, though, the Reds would be shifting his value (including his 2015 value) to future teams, into a window where the Reds would potentially be competing for the playoffs again. If they were able to go from an 85 win team to a 90 win team in future years due to players acquired by trading Frazier, the payout would be huge. The Reds would see a significant increase in revenue from being a potential favorite for a playoff spot as opposed to a fringe contender, and they would also get any extra revenue generated from being in the playoffs and having more games at their home ballpark. (This is essentially the concept of the win curve, which was coined by Vince Gennaro in his book Diamond Dollars.)
Ultimately, I would be surprised if the Reds actually ended up trading Todd Frazier at the deadline this year. There are plenty of smart people in the Reds' front office, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were on board with the idea of trading Frazier, but it appears that the biggest hurdle would be getting owner Bob Castellini to approve of such a move. Last month, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote a piece about how Castellini is emotionally invested in his team and would be very reluctant to sell. Castellini is also seen by many as an eternal optimist, which means that convincing him to give up on a season is probably a very difficult thing to do. It appears that he is finally open to selling for this year, but it would probably be difficult to convince him to give up on next year before the season starts, even if it's the right move in the long run.
For an owner who is emotionally invested in his team, trading a player as loved as Todd Frazier would be a very difficult decision to make. Despite owning a small market team, Castellini has been willing to spend money to keep fan favorites (Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Homer Bailey) in town, even if their contracts may hurt the team in the long run. While baseball is an inherently emotional game, especially from a fan's perspective, it is not always smart to let one's emotions be the deciding factor when running a team.
The Cardinals are a perfect example of a team that is not overly emotional when making player personnel decisions. They refused to overextend themselves and give Albert Pujols a boatload of money after winning the World Series in 2011. In 2013, they traded World Series hero and fan favorite David Freese for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. They also made no attempt to bring back aging star Carlos Beltran after the 2013 season, even though he had been extremely productive in his two years with the Cardinals. It's not as though Cardinals fans stopped supporting the team when these fan favorites were gone. These moves, which may have been unpopular at the time, have helped the team be successful, and that's what fans care about the most.
If the Reds trade Todd Frazier, there will certainly be fans that are disappointed, but this disappointment will be forgotten if the Reds are able to return to being a winning team. Good players come and go, but fans will always be supportive of a winning team. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Reds don't have a very good chance of making the playoffs while Todd Frazier is still around. (There is a chance that the Reds give him an extension, but paying full market value for a third baseman past his age 32 season seems unwise for a team like the Reds.) By having a breakout season, Todd Frazier has given the Reds the opportunity to improve their outlook for the future, and the Reds would be foolish to pass up this opportunity.
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Nick Lampe is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and Viva el Birdos. Despite growing up as a Cardinals fan, he cannot help but give good advice to the Reds' organization. You can follow him on Twitter at @NickLampe1.