The Reds are standing alone in first place at the midpoint in the season for the first time in over a decade, which may be surprising to many out there in baseball land. However, the real surprise is not that the Reds are competitive this year, but how they are getting it done.
Coming into this season, it was pretty much assumed that the Reds were going to be a pitching and defense team, but we wondered whether or not they could score enough to make that pitching and defense a winning formula. Strangely enough, the offense has been the brightest spot on this team through the first half of the season. Through Wednesday's games, the Reds were the only National League team averaging over 5 runs a game. They led the league in home runs, batting average, and slugging, and were second in on base percentage. When the season started, it wasn't clear if the Reds had enough firepower to score over 700 runs this year and now they are on pace for over 800. That's why they don't play the games on paper.
The team's run prevention has been less than expected so far. After a slow start, they have worked their way back to being a league average team in terms of runs allowed, but the expectations were much higher when the season started. Defensively, they don't make many errors, but the coverage hasn't been what it was last year as both Orlando Cabrera and Scott Rolen have lost a step from their best days. It's a solid defensive unit, but they haven't shown themselves to be among the best defensively like they were last year.
The pitching has been shaky. Early excellence from Mike Leake and solid recent performances from Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo have buoyed the staff, but the bullpen has left many Reds fans dreading the final 3 innings of the game. Outside of All-Star Arthur Rhodes, there hasn't been much out of the bullpen to instill confidence, but the recent addition of Bill Bray, back from injury, and rookies Logan Ondrusek and Jordan Smith has given the bullpen a boost.
With what appears to be the Reds first real shot at a pennant race since 1999 (2006 doesn't count because they weren't a very good team and were only in it because the Cardinals struggled), the team most assuredly will be buyers at the deadline. Based on performances from this season alone, the Reds don't have many glaring weaknesses. This has GM Walt Jocketty thinking big:
"To improve the club, it would have to be a pretty significant player to do that. We have a lot of good things going," Jocketty said. " We don't want to disrupt that."
But performances over a half season do not mean that the Reds don't have any concerns. For one, the offense appears to be dramatically over-performing. Several established players like Brandon Phillips, Jonny Gomes, and Ramon Hernandez are beating their expectations by quite a bit. If their production starts to dry up, the Reds could find themselves in some need of offensive help.
The one spot in the order where they could use help now, but are unlikely to do anything about it, is at shortstop. Orlando Cabrera trails all of the other regulars in wOBA by at least 45 points. His defense hasn't been terrible, but it is nowhere near the level needed to make up for his poor offensive performance. If the Reds could find a quality shortstop on the trade market, it would be wise to go after him, but I get the impression that the team feels that Cabrera's intangibles more than cancel out the negatives of his performance. In fact, I'm not even sure the Reds consider his performance to be a negative.
Outside of shortstop, the Reds main goal in acquiring any offensive help should be to be prepared for a fall-off. They aren't likely to make any big deals to replace anyone in the current lineup, but they could use a legitimate starting threat off the bench in case someone starts to fade in the second half. The bench has performed decently so far, but no one should expect much out of Miguel Cairo or Paul Janish offensively. If they can acquire a good hitting middle infielder, it could go a long way to solidifying the offense.
The Reds have been rumored to be involved in the discussions for Cliff Lee, but if that doesn't happen their bigger need might be for some cheap bullpen help. Edinson Volquez is due back in the rotation after the All-Star break, and Homer Bailey will hopefully be ready sometime later in the summer. So, starting pitching help isn't a dramatic need for the Reds, though you should never miss an opportunity to trade for someone like Cliff Lee if the deal is right.
Barring the acquisition of Lee or perhaps Dan Haren, the Reds will likely be focused on cheaper bullpen options. If they can't get any bullpen help through a trade, they do have Jared Burton pitching well in Triple-A and of course, there is also Aroldis Chapman lighting up the radar guns in Louisville as well. I wouldn't be surprised if both of those guys made an appearance on the big league roster at some point this season.
If it does come time to trade, don't be surprised to see Yonder Alonso's name involved. The Reds #1 pick from the 2008 draft, Alonso is blocked at first base by Joey Votto and will likely be dealt at some point, even if it is not this year. His struggling to develop his power after a broken hamate bone last summer, but I think there will be teams interested in his plate discipline and potential for developing more power.
If teams are looking for power, Juan Francisco could provide it for them. The 23-year old left-handed third baseman is coming off of three straight 20+ home run seasons, including last year when he hit 28 homers across three levels. He's had some MLB experience already with a cup of coffee last year, and while his plate discipline is a huge question mark, his power is legit and could be attractive to a team that is less concerned about the on-base skills.
The Reds have a collection of other prospects that could be added to beef up deals. Players like Todd Frazier, Chris Valaika, and catching prospect Devin Mesorasco might find themselves as part of a deal this summer, if the Reds are trying to spice up a package for a team. Also, pitchers like Travis Wood, Matt Maloney, Sam LeCure, and Matt Klinker could be added as MLB-ready, back-of-the-rotation filler to a deal. I would suspect that the only prospect that isn't available at this point is Aroldis Chapman.
This should be an odd deadline for the Reds this year. They could either make a huge impact deal such as trading for Cliff Lee, or they could do nothing and try to get by with what they've got. Given his history, I wouldn't be surprised to see Jocketty wait until after the July 31st deadline to make a deal too. He likes to wait until the cards are in his favor before he plays a hand. We could see that again this year.
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