In the book Moneyball, Billy Beane explained how he, as a GM, viewed the season as three distinct phases. I'm paraphrasing here, but in the first two months, he would evaluate the team he had on the field. In the second two months, he would work to make upgrades. In the last two months, win. Now that we are more or less two months into the season, it's prudent to evaluate what kind of team the Reds have on the field and where it would make the most sense to make upgrades.
This shouldn't be too difficult. The obvious positions to look at for upgrades are left field and third base. Reds left fielders have collectively OPS'd just .654 so far this season. That's roughly on par with what the team is getting out of shortstop and center field, where defensive contributions are much more important. Third base is even worse, even with Todd Frazier's great month. Hopefully he can keep up his torrid pace, but even the most optimistic among us do not expect him to carry a .620 slugging percentage into the dog days of summer. The beauty, of course, is Frazier's versatility. The Reds can look to upgrade at either 3B or LF and stick Frazier where he is needed. So let's do some trade market wishcasting and see what kind of talent may very well be available in July.
MLBTradeRumors has compiled a list of pending free agents and sorted them by position for both this coming winter and next winter. This makes it really easy to target potential trade candidates, as one and two-year rental players on non-contending teams are often dangled as trade bait at the deadline. So I've used these lists to see what 3Bs and corner OFs may be fits to bolster the Reds lineup. Of course, the availability of any and all of these players is high speculation, and though you knew that already, I still feel obligated to say it. Also, for the sake of brevity, I've chosen to ignore money concerns. I figure if push came to shove, a few million bucks here or there could be worked around. So here goes:
Yeah, this is the obvious candidate, mostly for aesthetic reasons. Youk is a Cincy native, has vocalized an interest in playing for the hometown crowd before, and would be an obvious upgrade at both 3B and in the clean-up spot. He's feeling pressure in Boston now because he isn't hitting like he used to (.239/.313/.364 so far this season) and top prospect Will Middlebrooks is. The Sawx are in last place in the AL East at the moment, but they are only 3.5 out of first place. If the team goes further south over the next few months and Youk's bat does too, things might happen.
The Melk Man has been one of the best players in baseball so far this season, leading the league in total bases, runs scored, hits, and batting average. He's slashing .376/.420/.556 for the Giants and is a big reason why the Dodgers haven't been able to totally run away with the NL West. He's eligible for free agency after this season, though obviously the Giants have been discussing the idea of keeping him around longer than that. But if the Dodgers do run away with it, they might look to cash in while his stock is up. They got him over the winter from the Royals for Jonathan Sanchez, so they could dramatically improve their return on investment.
Pagan has been exhibit B for the Giants incredible outfield so far this season, as he's slashed .313/.356/.469, stolen 10 bags, and played decent defense in CF. He has plenty of experience in the corners as well, and I think he would look pretty good playing LF and leading off. Just like Cabrera, he'll be eligible for free agency after the season. And just like Cabrera, his availability will depend on how the Giants keep up with the Dodgers over the next few months.
The Phillies have all kinds of problems right now. They are in last place in the crucible that is the NL East, though only four games behind the 1st place Nationals. Unfortunately for them, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have yet to suit up this season and aren't expected back any time soon. Roy Halladay just landed on the DL and won't be back until after the All-Star break. This could be the beginning of the end for the Phillies half-decade of dominance, or it could just be a bump in the road. If things continue as they have been though, they could look to move some players for prospects.
Victorino has been one of the key cogs in the Philly Phachine of recent years, but he's a free agent after this season. If things fall apart, he could be first against the wall. He's started the season a bit slow at the plate, slashing .250/.320/.412, but he still has a good glove and would be an upgrade for the Reds at the top of the order.
As goes with Victorino, so goes for Polanco. His power has fallen off in recent years as he is now 36, but his glove is still pretty solid. Walt Jocketty knows him from their time together in St. Louis, as Polanco was actually part of the trade that sent Scott Rolen from Philly to St. Louie.
Some of us have been a fan of his for years, and had hoped the Reds would sign him instead of Ludwick this past winter. As it is, Ross began the season well for the Red Sox, OPSing .883. He broke a bone in his foot though and will likely be out for a while. Just as with Youk, if the Sawx are foundering in July he could probably bring back an interesting prospect or two in trade. He's something of a Chris Heisey-Heavy though, so if you think the Heisey/Ludwick platoon is redundant then this is probably not your favorite idea.
Torres is a few seasons removed from his breakout year and was just traded this past off-season for another guy on this list, Angel Pagan. Torres hasn't hit as well as Pagan though, as he's slashed just .202/.343/.286. He still has a good glove though and experience all over the outfield. He's certainly not the sexiest candidate out there, as his recent years of notverygood after a breakout year is trending towards Ludwickian territory, but he would cost next to nothing to acquire. He's been the victim of BABIP issues so far this year too, so who knows.
DeJesus is another guy some folks wanted over Ludwick this past off-season, but whatevs. The Cubs are the worst team in the league this year (and not just existentially, but also in the standings) and DeJesus is likely not in their long-term plans anyway. Jocketty has already worked with Jedeo Hoyerstein on the Sean Marshall trade, so maybe they could work something out here, too. His .379 OBP would look delicious at the top of the Reds' order.
The Brewers got issues, man. They've lost their SS and their 1B for the entire season and now their catcher is on ice, too. Much like the Phillies, their hopes of going for the gusto this season have been knackered before leaving the gate. Hart is under contract for this year and next, but if things don't turn around fast for the 21-28 Brewers they may look to move some pieces. Hart provides big right-handed power, but a limited glove and few walks. Still, he'd be a damn site better than what the Reds have been running in LF for the past few years.
Hunter is 36 this year and in the last year of contract, but he's still an above average bat with an above average glove. And much like the Giants are looking up at the Dodgers in the NL West, the Angels are looking up at the Rangers in the AL West. They are 5.5 back of the Rangers right now, but the way the Rangers are going that could easily be 10.5 come July. Hunter might want out in search of that elusive World Series ring, and who knows, maybe the Reds could be a fit.