Reading Between the Bottom Lines OR 2011: A Payroll Space Odyssee

With forecasts of payroll cuts putting the Reds' 2010 outlay between $65-$70MM, it seems likely that a salary-dumping trade will be needed to balance the ledger and accomodate arbitration raises. The most likely candidates to be dealt are Francisco Cordero, Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang and Brandon Phillips. This state of affairs seems to make it all but certain that while the Reds may be able to top .500 without CoCo in the 'pen, they're not likely to sniff the playoffs again in 2010 - and have little hope of improving on last year if Harang, Arroyo or Phillips depart. Managment is becoming at least dimly aware of this fact as they aremore keenly aware of the state of the books in 2010, with an eye toward 2011 - that magical year when contract committments fall off in a big way.

The Reds are only tied down for $28.3MMin 2011 plus major raises due to Votto, Cueto and Volquez. Getting the books clear for 2011 favors trading Phillips in the next year - if not this season. BP has the biggest potential market and ability to inspire trade partners to take on his 2011 money. He isn't likely to be their first choice to put on the block from a PR standpoint, but swinging right deal might be the best chance this team has to put its financial house in order while improving the outlook for 2011.

Trading BP would seem like a counter intuitive move, considering his youth and cheapness relative to Arroyo, Harang and Cordero. However, BP might represent the greatest potential savings and return in trade, with Arroyo and Harang off the books for 2011. Cordero, likewise, will be hard to shop and any salary dump likely wouldn't return any prospects. A trade of Phillips offers a chance to clear salary over the next two years, while hopefully garnering some talent that could contribute by 2011.

Trading BP could bring 2011 commitments down to $17MM, before arb raises and contract tendering. That would probably allow the Reds to pursue some top shelf free agents such as Roy Halladay and Jayson Werth while auditioning the Class of 2011, including Yonder, Cozart, Frazier, Juan Francisco and possibly player(s) netted in the BP trade.

While writing off another season dissappoints me greatly - to the point of considering tuning out entirely - there is no excuse for this team not to be both competitive and in good financial health for 2011. I expect the moves made over the next year will tacitly acknowledge this.

Here's what the team could look like in 2011, with a payroll easily below $70MM.

SP: (Halladay/Webb/Beckett), Volquez, Cueto, Bailey, (Owings/Maloney/Wood/Leake)

C Hanigan
1B Alonso
2B Frazier (FA?)
SS Cozart (FA?)
3B Francisco (FA?)
LF Votto
CF Stubbs
RF Bruce

I think the Reds would be foolish to part with Votto or Alonso when they can accomodate both and while both seem likely to reliable anchors in the middle of the lineup for years to come. But for the right return, I would deal Alonso for an IF or C, especially if Heisey pans out in LF. It's unclear where Frazier will stick, if Juan Francisco can play 3B or whether Cozart is the solution at SS, but the payroll flexbility in 2011 should allow the team to monitor progress in 2010 and spend for need next offseason.

The above lineup is highly speculative, but at least illustrative of the fact that the Reds will have a good base of MLB-ready talent and money to spend that could solidify a first-class pitching staff and any setbacks in development on the farm.The available cash in 2011 provides the Reds with the opportunity to be competitive in the free agent market and pursue at least one pitcher and one position player from the top tier for whom a multi-year contract would represent relatively low risk and high reward. Taken together with the maturation of the up-and-coming, there's no excuse for this team not to make the playoffs in 2011.

Short of new ownership, trading Brandon Phillips might be the best way to acheive this. I'm just not sure how many of the die-hards here will still be around to share in the spoils. Any kind of hedging this offseason, such as paying exhorbitant money to Ramon Hernandez, will show us that the current regime is still caught in a delusion.