The Reds had the most 79-83 season ever. A record like that hints at a boring kind of unsuccessful -- not quite average, but not bad enough for gallows humor. It was the Bronson Arroyo of seasons, then.
But they're going for it now. Oh, how they're going for it. They had two huge trading chips -- Yasmani Grandal (blocked by Devin Mesoraco) and Yonder Alonso (blocked by Joey Votto). They traded them in the same deal for one player. That was a bold move. Another bold move: trading prospects and depth for a reliever. That's the sort of thing that a team does when they think they're contenders.
And why not? The top two teams in their division each lost a huge piece. It's not like the Cardinals and Brewers swapped out Alex Gonzalez for Alex S. Gonzalez. SI's Joe Lemire explains the new NL Central:
The Reds needed such a bold move because their window to contend is now. The Cardinals just lost Albert Pujols; the Brewers are about to lose Prince Fielder; the Pirates are probably still two years away from being a serious threat; and the Cubs and Astros have long rebuilding projects in front of them.
Between the trades for Mat Latos and Sean Marshall, though, that might be it for the Reds -- that might be every cannonball they had, fired out in rapid succession. They held on to stolen-base wunderkind Billy Hamilton and Daniel Corcino, but the departure of Yonder Alonso and five other prospects has dealt their farm system a huge hit.
So let's step back into the land of hypotheticals. The Reds had two young catchers that a lot of teams coveted; the Reds had two young first basemen that a lot of teams coveted. They were right to explore trades. They would have been insane not to. But did they do the right thing by trading their two biggest chips for a starting pitcher, and a chunk of their organizational depth for a reliever? Grandal and Alonso were kind of their 401(k). They'll always wonder if they cashed out and retired at the right time. Jack McKeon joke.
In my ill-informed opinion, the Reds' offseason priority list looked something like this:
- Left field
- Starting pitcher
A reliever will always be at the bottom of just about every list like this. Find your own damn closer. Matt Herges was a closer. Kevin Gregg was a closer. Their teams survived. Giving up too much for a closer when there are other holes on a team is like putting six sugar packets in your mouth and waiting for someone to make you coffee.
As for the first two, the Reds think they have some in-house options that make sense for them. Chris Heisey showed a lot of power as he picked up more at-bats, and his minor-league numbers aren't quite as hackeriffic as his major-league numbers.
Zack Cozart should be fully healthy for spring training, and he should be an improvement on Paul Janish. Of course, so would Neifi Perez. If you think that's hyperbole, note that Janish's 42 OPS+ was the worst in the NL since Tony Womack in 2003.
If there were obvious improvements over those two -- say, the Marlins trading Mike Stanton to save electricity with their new home-run feature -- sure, that would have been preferable. As is, the Reds aren't delusional to think that Heisey and Cozart can be internal fixes for them.
Which leaves starting pitcher. Because while Johnny Cueto had a great year, and Mike Leake was outstanding after returning from … the unpleasantness, the Reds knew they could use another top-of-the-rotation guy. Well, every team could, but the Reds especially did. So adding up that
a) it's not a bad idea for the Reds to take on a win-now approach, and
b) a trade for a young, cost-controllable pitcher who could fit at the top of the rotation was probably the most sensible improvement they could make
… I'll opine that the Mat Latos trade was just about the best way they could spend their top two trade chips. It's a little premature to suggest that the NL Central is wide open, but adding Latos to this lineup was a well-timed move without being a short-term patch.
As for Marshall, he's a reliever, but at least he's a good one. It was still a lot to give up for a reliever in his walk year. More of a fan of the Latos trade from the Reds' perspective.
The succession of moves were bold risks, but they were understandable ones. As an organizational strategy, it beats signing Joe Saunders and pretending that Yonder Alonso can play another position, at least.