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Catcher cache: Trading without prospects

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

The SB Nation Winter Meetings Simu-lation/-lacrum was, admittedly, a bunch of baseball nerds congratulating themselves for playing fantasy baseball out loud. But it was also really fun. And sketches out a rough map for the offseason.

Last season, we traded for Shin-soo Choo and it actually happened (still spooked).

If there are any lessons that can be carried over to Real Life, the sim reinforced the fact that the Reds are in a tough spot with trades this offseason. For the previous two, the Reds have been able to trade from a surplus, turning "extra" 1Bs, Cs and SS into essential big-league pieces.

The org has plenty of exciting arms in the low minors and uniformly good MLB rotation. But with Arroyo walking, there really isn't much depth for the second year running. Robert Stephenson needs some time at AAA. And Chad Rodgers -who has been great out in the Arizona Fall League after throwing 70 OK innings at AAA - might not be quite ready to plug in.

Homer Bailey, assuming he wants to test free agency next year, is a logical starting point. But it's tough to trade a vital piece of your starting rotation and not also downgrade the big league club. With one year of control left, his suitors would be contending teams - which makes getting, say, a major-league ready starting position player pretty unlikely.

Moving Homer - or BP for that matter - are moves more likely to net you salary space and close-to-ready (or lower level) prospects. If they can't - or won't - spend in free agency, the Reds will have to consider trading both of them.

But they'll run into this depth problem at every turn. You could trade Chapman, but he might be the de facto 6th starter right now. He's also the best arm in a bullpen whose two highly-paid set-up men struggled with injuries last year.

In the minors, trading away Billy Hamilton would give the Reds almost zero position player depth (outside maybe catcher) for the very near future. Trading Robert Stephenson or other rising arms would make it that much harder to fill the gap in starting pitching depth the Reds are facing.

While there's probably no way to avoid dealing really good players to get really good players, there are some creative ways to avoid prospect drain.

Walt may already be working that angle. In addition to the Brayan Pena signing, Walt also signed Max Ramirez to a minor league deal. Ramirez probably can't be counted on anything beyond AAA depth, but he's an experienced catcher who can take a pitch. With Tucker Barnhart moving up to AAA, you could give the Reds credit for 5 non-laughable options at backstop. And three of them could be stowed in the minors (Mesoraco has only burned two options).

If the Reds got really wacky here, they could go scoop up another free agent catcher. The list of catchers who OPS'd over .700 last year (a line Peña just made it over) is really short, especially when you consider there are only 4-5 teams in play for Brian McCann:

  • Ramon Hernandez
  • Dioner Navarro
  • AJ Pierzinksi
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia

That puts the Peña signing in better perspective: remotely decent backstop bats are hard to find. Also, two of these guys are former Reds (50%!). They know the pitching staff pretty well and, presumably, the front office knows them a little better than a garden variety free agent.

Both saw limited action last season (89 games for Dioner, 17 for Ramon). Ramon might come in on a minor league deal, say if the Reds assured him he wasn't going to buried at Louisville. Dioner probably gets a multi-year deal, but maybe a cut below Pierzynski (who played 134 games).

If the Reds grabbed another catcher, then they'd have:

  • Mesoraco
  • Hanigan
  • Peña
  • Ramirez
  • Barnhart

They'd basically corner the market on alternatives to McCann-Salty-AJ. That could mean at least one deal to improve the big-league roster. And if you couldn't unload two catchers, only a combination of Hanigan, Dioner and Peña would leave you with 3 at the big league level. A team could run with 3 catchers for a little while.

This is all much easier said than done. Ramon or Dioner would have serious reservations about signing with a team that already had a glut of catchers. Dioner is probaby too much of a budget risk. I'm sure the idea of another major league deal to a catcher is a bridge too far for the front office.

But a little crazy might be what we're missing.