I's difficult to deny that the Cincinnati Reds have swung and missed repeatedly this offseason, one as critical to the near term success of the franchise as any I can remember. Even when a move of their own volition wasn't busy going poof, they've had to endure seeing former stalwart Mike Leake sign with the filthy St. Louis Cardinals and former ace Johnny Cueto sign with the San Francisco Giants - the team who in 2012 put the kibosh on the one real chance the previous-era Reds had at winning a championship.
We all knew well that the team was in the midst of a dismantling that was already going to be painful in the short-term even if it was a rounding success, and for two months now it's been a serial dousing of salt in an already open wound.
First, there was the Aroldis Chapman trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers that fell apart when news of his domestic incident came to light. Off the board went a transaction that could've helped pave the way for a significant rebuild, and gone was much of the value of the Reds' All Star closer given the game finally wisening up to a negative view on that kind of awful behavior. Shortly thereafter, the Dodgers and Reds again reconnected on a trade, this time looping in the Chicago White Sox to facilitate a deal that send fan favorite Todd Frazier to the Windy City, White Sox prospects to LA, and the likes of Jose Peraza, Scott Schebler, and Brandon Dixon to the Reds.
With Frazier now gone and Peraza slated to take over an infield role on a certain non-contender in 2016, the Reds then looked to trade Brandon Phillips to both free up some $27 million in cash as well as a spot in the lineup for each of Peraza, Eugenio Suarez, and the returning Zack Cozart. For a time, it seemed the Reds had found a match with the Washington Nationals, as the NL East power was looking to move Anthony Rendon back to 3B and seek a win-now 2B while they still have team control over the likes of Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. The teams agreed to a deal, but given that Phillips had 10/5 rights - and therefore the ability to approve the deal or not - he made a request that his contract be extended for the deal get a thumbs up, and that ultimately led to the whole thing being called off.
So, Chapman's still a Red, one seriously less valuable in trade than he was a month ago. Frazier, the Reds' single biggest trade chip, is gone in exchange for a return that's been pretty universally deemed as underwhelming. And Peraza, easily the prize of the Frazier trade, is now blocked by a 35 year old 2B because the team hasn't yet found a way to free up a spot for him to play. Combined, that's an omelet worth of egg on the face, and despite the team's bold attempts to move a bulk of their current stars, the team doesn't yet seem poised to be much better in the near future than they were before the deals began taking form.
Sounds rough. What if I told that of all the underwhelming roster reshaping, none of that was what may hurt the Reds the longest?
Take this tweet from CBS's Jon Heyman, which came immediately in the wake of the news of the Frazier/Peraza deal:
reds love peraza. he was part of the chapman deal that was called off.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 16, 2015
Peraza's a flawed, yet still very promising prospect, and despite my concerns with his overall upside, the fact that the team has an infatuation with him isn't what concerns me. Pair that Heyman tweet with one from a week earlier, though, and why I'm scratching my head becomes a bit more clear:
Chapman deal is agreed to with dodgers. 2 prospects to reds. (not seager, urias or deleon). Pending medicals— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 7, 2015
The rumored Chapman deal that fell through featured two prospects coming from the Dodgers to the Reds - one of which was Peraza - but the other of which was not one of the three super-elite prospects currently in the LA system (Corey Seager, Julio Urias, or Jose De Leon).
Putting the pieces together means that the best prospect the Reds got for Todd Frazier was Jose Peraza, while at the same time means that the best prospect the Reds were going to get for Aroldis Chapman was also Jose Peraza. Schebler was, at best, ranked around 14th in the Dodgers system and is seen by most projections and scouts as a replacement-level player, and Dixon seems to be filler at this point, too.
That sheds a bit of light on the way the current front office viewed their assets. Chapman's value as a reliever under team control for roughly a year and $12 million was marketed as equivalent to Frazier's as a 4 WAR right-handed hitter under team control for roughly two years and $19-20 million. That, of course, is assuming that the other prospect in the Chapman deal was rated lower than the combined value of Schebler/Dixon, because if it was one of the handful of guys in the LA system regarded higher than Schebler, that means that the Reds didn't value Chapman and Frazier equally, they actually valued Chapman more than Frazier.
Either way, it's kind of hard to fathom. Frazier has combined to be worth 9 WAR over the last two seasons, while Chapman - as dominant at his role as there is - has been worth 4.6 WAR in just 120.1 innings on the mound. And even if you're a non-believer in WAR as a valuation statistic, a guy who has blasted 64 dingers over the past two years, has been an above average defender, and had two cheap years under team control is always, always worth more than a 60 inning pitcher with one year under contract.
Incidentally, none of this should be viewed a direct knock on Jose Peraza, either, as there are plenty of evaluators who think he'll develop into a .300 hitter who can both pick it and steal 50 bases. He may not develop into a star, though I surely hope he does. He's merely here because he's a constant on the same side in both the deal that fell through and the one pulled off. But if the powers that be currently running the team are still around in five seasons and he does develop into that star, I hope they don't trade him for the same package as the team's closer at the time, too. Because if that's the case, the rebuild may well still be ongoing at that time.
Pitchers and catchers report on February 18th. Clock's ticking, and ticking quickly.