The Reds' baffling handling of Johnny Cueto since the end of last season - or perhaps just his baffling, persistent lat injury - are a topic for another post. But the fact that he's likely out for another month or more changes the Reds' needs at least a little bit.
With Tony Cingrani back in the rotation and Armando Galarraga on the minor league DL, I'm not even sure who the starting depth is at this point. Carlos Contreras has pitched really well in hitter-friendly Bakersfield. But Bakersfield is still just high-A ball. Chad Rogers has been great, but he's at AA. The Bats' Greg Reynolds is probably the guy, but he can still opt out of his minor-league contract.
Despite the starting depth being filed down to a nub, the rotation is still the overwhelming strength on this team. The Reds aren't about to go get any starter who isn't just AAA depth. They might place more emphasis on getting a reliever, though, with Cingrani out of the bullpen, but they're also expecting at least Sean Marshall back before the end of July.
I'd be surprised if the Reds don't get a reliever this month. But the fact remains that the offense could use some help too. They're not a bad offense by any stretch, but after a disasterous road trip - and Phillips and Frazier slumping back to a touch below league average - it's hard to say they're anything more than mediocre.
There are a couple ways to go in the trade market, depending on how winnable you think the Central is and how much Phillips, Frazier and the catchers are going to hit in the second half. Unless you want to send Mesoraco down for a second season running in favor of Dioner Navarro, outfield and the bench are the places to look. And the three current left field guys all make pretty good bench players.
The one thing that's clear is that the two backup infielders (Hannahan and Izturis) have been a complete offense desert. This is what happened last year:
Cairo: .187/.212/.280 (-1.1 WAR), 156 PA
Valdez: .206/.236/.227 (-1.3 WAR), 208 PA
And here's what's barfing this year:
Jack Hannahan: .188/.250/.250 (-0.3 WAR), 89 PA
Cesar Izturis: .187/.256/.227 (-0.4 WAR), 83 PA
Hannahan and Izturis are on pace to play slightly less (combined) than last year's duo - which was the worst of its kind in the majors. And owing to their defense and .250 OBPs, they're on pace to be slightly less un-valuable over the season.
We can do better, right? Taking the FanGraphs' leaderboard of supposedly available players, I trimmed it to outfielders and back-up infielder types with a wRC+ above 90 and reasonable contracts (or trade hauls). Basically, anyone hiting better than Alfonso Soriano and being paid a lot less.
That's 34 players, from this Custom Leaderboard:
De Aza, Alejandro
There are a few ways to go with this list. They're not mutually exclusive, but getting two bit players or one starter is about the upper limit:
1. Decide Ludwick is a lost cause for this season and rent an outfielder
In this case, you could get a CF or LF, moving Choo in the event of a CF. It's hard to see how trading for Alex Rios would be workable on any level. Peter Bourjos is always an interesting name, but is (UPDATED) apparently injured. Josh Willingham is owed $7M in 2014 and isn't really a platoon player. De Aza would take some prospects and isn't really playing well enough to commit to as next year's CF.
However, DeJesus and Aoki are rentals and Schierholtz is team-controlled player who could be a fourth outfielder next year.
Recommendation: Nate Schierholtz
2. Demote Cozart to back-up
Rollins and Hanley Ramirez are really the only names here, but Rollins is paid too much and isn't really that much better than Cozart. Dodgers are in last place, but just 4 games back and Hanley is owed $16M next year. Let's not give this Red Reporter Running Joke get a second wind.
3. Make two moves to improve the bench
There are plenty of names that would work here. Schierholtz, Ibanez and Byrd would all be very helpful in a 4th OF role. Weeks, Punto, Frandsen, Murphy, Callaspo and Valbuena would all be a big improvement as back-up infielders. Punto is the only one that plays SS, though Frandsen might be able to fake it.
Recommendation: Nate Schierholtz and Nick Punto (or Kevin Frandsen).
4. Just go get one solid bench guy
Recommendation: Any one from #3
5. Don't do anything with the offense.