A very small cavalry unit is coming

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

In a manner of speaking.

After Sunday afternoon's complete and utter humiliation, Dusty Baker reminded everyone - including his team, I guess - that there were no reinforcements on the way. The Reds are going to have to roll with what they've got for these last 50 games.

I assume he was referring to the fact that the trade deadline has passed and there's unlikely to be any help coming from outside the organization. Despite the fact that waiver trades can still be made after the July 31 deadline, the Reds aren't all that likely to make any. Something could still happen, but they're not going to be jumping on those beefy contracts that pass through waivers in August and there doesn't seem to be much out there - or much will to make a deal.

More importantly, why cough up prospects with such long odds to win the division?

Dusty may also have been acknowledging, perhaps accidentally, that the Reds' internal options aren't all that appealling. As far upper minors depth, he'd be right.

About the only pitcher on the 40-man roster (and not already with the team) who is: (1) performing well and (2) not injured is Carlos Contreras - who just got to AA 15 innings ago. Jose Arredondo, still not back on the 40-man, is still not pitching well.

On the bats (and Bats) side, Henry Rodiguez has kept up his dismal hitting at AAA. Unfortunately, Billy Hamilton has done the same. Neftali Soto has fared better than both, but there's no logical spot for his skillset without some roster weirdness to accomodate him... Mike Hessman is eight away from 400 minor league home runs though.

There's a chance that Nevin Ashley (AAA), or maybe even Tucker Barnhart (at AA), could be a slight upgrade as back-up catcher over Corky Miller. But just considering the idea feels wrong. And it's doubtful the downgrade in defense/experience/gamecalling would wipe out any gain in offense - aside from the fact that Ryan Hanigan may return before the end of the month.

So the Reds and their front office are left with these options:

  • A Stephen Drew-to-the-A's (2012) style trade that probably won't improve the team
  • Glancing wistfully over the DL
  • Waiting for slumps to end
The last two options involve names and faces of players we know, so let's review:

DL Return: Ryan Ludwick
Reasonable return date: 8/19

Ludwick, as his rehab numbers have shown, probably needs another Spring Training to get fully ready. The Reds may not be willing to wait that long, but he'll almost certainly serve out the maximum 20 days of rehab. That would put him at an 8/12 return, at the earliest.

I'm not sure we can expect anything from Ludwick, who is 35, hasn't played a major league game since last October and is returning from a serious shoulder injury. But with the way Robinson and Paul have slumped since July 1 - to go with Chris Heisey's streaky play and still-tender hamstring - there might be a way to work in Ludwick that adds some power and production to LF.

DL Return: Jonathan Broxton
Reasonable return date: 8/9

Broxy has made two appearances with Louisville, including a scoreless outing yesterday.

That ill-advised 3 year contract got pretty disappointing pretty quickly, but there's a low hurdle for Broxton right now. Despite the fact that the Reds bullpen has been nails lately, it still has some soft spots. Broxton will be replacing the mop-up performance of either Villarreal or Partch and can take some of the heat off Sam LeCure. If he's healthy again, Broxton will be a clear - if relatively minor - upgrade.

DL Return: Ryan Hanigan
Reasonable return date: 8/15

This is a clear upgrade too, though it's likely Hanigan isn't going to get on base anywhere near the level we've come to expect. Realistically, with a nagging wrist injury that will affect everything he does on the field (to go along with other scrapes and bruises that may not have healed over), I don't think you can bank on Hanigan coming back in a week or two - or providing much of anything to the offense.

DL Return: Sean Marshall
Reasonable return date: 9/1

Sean Marshall has been plagued by false starts and shut-downs for most of this season. If he's able to return, he'll be a sizable upgrade on Logan Ondrusek, who he'd be most likely to replace. It seems about as likely, though, that Marshall will come back to the bullpen as Cueto coming back to the rotation and pushing Cingrani into Marshall's old lefty dominator spot.

DL Return: Johnny Cueto
Reasonable return date: 9/15??

Last I checked, Cueto hadn't even started a throwing program. I don't think the Reds can count on anything from him in the regular season. With Cingrani performing well and only at 112 innings, there's no urgency to bring Cueto back before he's healed. Even if they weren't getting nearly Cueto-level performance from that spot, they should have learned their leasson those other dozen times he injured his muscles.

If he did somehow return early, he'd probably help to manage Cingrani innings a bit, hopefully marking a slight upgrade to the rotation spot and to the bullpen - with Cingrani filling the Sean Marshall void sometime in September.

DL Return: Nick Masset??
Reasonable return date: 9/30(????)

Masset threw a bullpen session in Arizona in late June and there was talk of him returning this season. But he hasn't started rehabbing and it's clear by now that his injury and recovery is beyond anything with a remotely predictable timetable. It's sad to say, but there's still nothing to see here.

De-slumping: Todd Frazier
Since June 1: .239/.324/.375
2013 Projection (pre-2013):.247/.310/.444

No one should've honestly expected Frazier to repeat his 2012. But even in the midst of a "sophomore slump," Frazier was having a perfectly respectable season. Then something happened Out West. Frazier is hitless in his last 28 plate appearances and suddenly the scare quotes are coming off. There's really nowhere to go but up.

De-slumping: Brandon Phillips
Since June 1: .222/.275/.320
2013 Projection (Zips pre-2013): .279/.326/.426

BP just hasn't been the same since thinking he'd broken his wrist in a game against the Pirates on June 1. He started the season slashing .296/.347/.491 and has since been hobbling along at a sub-Cozartian .222/.275/.320. It's possible his wrist won't get right until the offseason, but some kind of improvement seems inevitable.

***

Adding it up

The Reds have a miniscule chance of winning the division at this point, if we're being completly honest. But playing slightly-better-than.500 ball the rest of the way should get them into the playoffs. If they play exactly .500 over their last 50 games, Arizona would have to go 30-21 (.588) to tie the race.

So the rest of this season, really, is about getting healthy and avoiding collapse. The Reds could start playing out of their minds and mega-luck into Wild Card home-field advantage or a division championship. It's not mathematically impossible. But it would be better strategy to effectively concede the division and make the moves that get everyone in a condition to play in October.

Ludwick and Broxton's returns, along with BP and Frazier hitting even marginally better than they have the last two months, should help push this team at least a cut above the mediocrity they've been stuck in for two months. They've also got a little bit of luck that could come back their way and goodly number of games against the Cubs, Brewers and Astros.

It's not a stirring battle cry. But it's not a sob story either.

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