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Selling High on Todd Frazier

Selling high on a player is the most risky thing a GM can do.

No butt-touching, please
No butt-touching, please
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

This morning, I read an interesting piece from Hardball Times. I encourage you to read it before you continue here. Heads up though, he highlights a few moves that didn't work so well for the Reds. Spoiler alert: Frank Robinson.

Oh, good. You are back. Cool cool cool.

So yeah, the idea of the Sell High Trade is an incredibly risky one. You don't often see them because, as Marsh notes,

"When (GMs hold on to players rather than trade them), and a player declines, it is the player who is usually held responsible, and the general manager, like the fans, joins the list of those aggrieved by the player's decline.

By contrast, when a general manager trades a player a year—or several years—too early, especially for a dubious return, he is the one who catches hell. General managers thus have an incentive to play it safe by not selling high. The best general managers, though, like (Branch) Rickey, know that sometimes you cannot play it safe."

The job of the GM is to build a successful club, but that is not his first priority. His FIRST priority is to cover his own ass so he can continue to be a GM for a good long while. It's instructive that Branch RIckey is held up as an avatar of the counterfactual. He is definitely the exception and not the rule.

But let's move on. This bit got me thinking about the Reds, because duh doy. The Reds should be (and are) in full-on rebuildoot mode and will be moving expensive pieces this winter. And they have an interesting sell-high candidate in awesome third baseman and all-around dude, Todd Frazier.

Frazier has posted nearly 10 WAR over the past two seasons, right up there with the best 3Bs in the league (non-Josh Donaldson Division). He can be a free agent after the 2017 season and he will turn 30 in February. It was exactly 50 years ago that the Reds contemplated selling high on Robinson, when he was heading into his age-30 season. As you might recall, at the time Bill DeWitt infamously described Robbie as "not a young 30." Of course, Robinson went on to lead the Orioles to four World Series, winning two of them.

The Reds rolled the dice by trading Robinson, thinking he didn't have much left in the tank. Now, the fear in trading Frazier is that he could very well do the same thing.

Of course, Todd Frazier isn't half the player Frank was at this time (seriously, Frazier's career WAR through his first five seasons is under half what Robinson's was over the five seasons before the trade). But still, Frazier is a great player. And it's also important that he is a fan favorite and face-of-the-franchise kinda guy.

Knowing the track record of Walt Jocketty, who is still the ultimate decision-maker even with Dick Williams taking over the GM title, I don't think there is any chance Frazier isn't a Red next season. Going back to 2003, I can find only one trade that looks remotely close to what a Todd Frazier trade would be, and that was when Jocketty, as GM of the Cardinals, sent JD Drew, who was a year away from free agency, to the Braves for three guys we all really absolutely hate (seriously, it's Ray King, Jason Marquis, and Adam Wainwright. They can all three honk right off).

But even if history suggest the Reds aren't trading Frazier this winter, they still probably should. Yeah, the spectre of Frank Robinson looms large over this whole story, but so too does that of Branch Rickey. It sure is risky, but it's still better to trade Frazier now, perhaps a year too early, than to hold on to him until it is too late. With a team and a front office in transition, it could be a signature transformational moment for the Reds. For better or worse.