When the Reds traded Mike Leake to the Giants a season ago, the player most fans were excited about acquiring was Keury Mella. At the time the deal was made Mella was the top prospect in the Giants system according to MLB.com. It looked like this deal was a decent one for Cincinnati, and that they had acquired a nice pitching prospect for a starter who would be a free agent at season's end.
For many the second piece the Reds received, Adam Duvall, was almost an afterthought. He was already 26 at the time, and had made his major league debut in the previous season. In those 28 games for the Giants Duvall hit .192/.234/.342. That's not to say there wasn't some upside to Duvall. In his four previous seasons in the minors he had hit at least 22 home runs, and he was regarded as the 25th best prospect in the Giants system (MLB.com).
Fans knew it would take a few seasons to see any return on investment in Mella, but almost no one expected what we have seen from Duvall in 2016. This season he's hitting .247/.294/.545 with 25 HR and 69 RBI. The power surge from Duvall is what has garnered the most attention. Those 25 home runs have Duvall tied for the 6th highest total in baseball, and they gave him the opportunity to represent the Reds in the Home Run Derby/All-Star Game. However, Duvall hasn't just produced at the plate. By UZR and DRS he's ranked as a top two defensive left fielder basically all season long.
Left field was expected to be one of the biggest question marks in the Reds lineup this season. Duvall quickly answered that question, and has made himself a fixture in the lineup.This kind of production has led to some fans, and potentially the front office, to ask a question they didn't anticipate asking in 2016. Should the Reds keep Duvall or should they try and cash in on his hot start?
The Reds basically have three options as of today:
Keep Adam Duvall
If you were taking a poll of Reds fans, my guess is that most would want the Reds to hang on to Adam Duvall. Admittedly, his production has been a breath of fresh air in an otherwise disappointing season. For many, Duvall is one of the few things they've been excited about with the Reds this season. If Cincinnati is in the mode of trying to acquire as much young talent as possible, why not simply hang on to him?
One of the factors that makes Duvall appealing to the Reds is that he's still under team control for six seasons. Duvall won't hit arbitration until 2019, and the earliest he'll be a free agent is 2022. At that point he'll be 33, and Cincinnati will have likely enjoyed the most productive seasons of his career. Wouldn't a team be crazy to trade a productive, cost-controlled player unless a team overwhelmed them with an offer? Maybe, but let's look at the other options before making a decision.
Keep Adam Duvall and move him to third
During his time in San Francisco's farm system Duvall primarily played third and occasionally spent time at first. Even though he's excelled in left this season (by defensive metrics), some were skeptical as to whether or not he was athletic enough to hang anywhere other than first. In a write up from 2014 John Sickels noted, "His athletic limitations show up on defense where he's merely mediocre at third base. He's performed decently in limited exposure at first base, so perhaps he can be a corner utility type with a power bat."
Is it possible that the Reds could hang on to Duvall, but transition him back to third to free up space in the outfield? The Reds top ranked prospect by MLB.com, Jesse Winker, projects to play in left when he gets to the majors. There's also the issue of what the team will do with Devin Mesoraco when/if he returns. It's becoming clear his hips might not allow him to catch regularly (if at all). However, if he's able to hit like he did in 2014, then the Reds will have to find a way to get him into the lineup. More than likely moving Mesoraco to the outfield will be the way to accomplish that goal.
There's still other aspects to consider when thinking about Cincinnati's outfield of the future. Could Billy Hamilton improve enough at the plate to keep him in the lineup everyday? His hot start post All-Star break has been encouraging. If he's not the full time center fielder who is? Is Cincinnati going to trade Jay Bruce or will they hang on to him past this trade deadline? As you can see it's possible that the outfield situation in Cincinnati could get crowded quickly without even mentioning other options in the minors like Scott Schebler.
Moving Duvall back to third would keep his bat in the lineup, and free up a spot in the field for either Winker or Mesoraco. Obviously the odd man out in this situation is Eugenio Suarez. However, if you remove Suarez's hot start to the season, that might not be the loss some fans think it is. As it stands Suarez has an 89 wRC+, and has been average to just below average at third. His 16 errors have him tied with Jake Lamb for first among every day third baseman.
To be fair maybe this season is an aberration for Suarez at the plate. However, if he's going to remain average to just below average offensively, then Cincinnati can't keep him at third full time. Moving Duvall to the hot corner could bring a better hitter to a traditionally offensive heavy position, and free up Mesoraco and/or Winker to have regular playing time in the process.
Trade Adam Duvall
Now for the option that most fans don't want to consider. Should the Reds cash in on Duvall's hot start to 2016 and trade him now. What makes Duvall so valuable to the Reds is the same reason he might be valuable to other teams. A number of clubs could be interested in a player under control for six more seasons with 20+ home run power. Even as a bench bat that's a nice option to have for a reasonable price.
There are also real concerns about whether Duvall can keep this up at the plate. There have already been signs of diminished production. It could simply be a slump, or it's possible that Duvall is returning to something closer to his true talent level. His .294 OBP is below league average, and that's an issue if he's not regularly hitting the ball out of the park. Since June 1 Duvall is hitting just .232/.291/.503. Until last night he hadn't homered since July 9, and it was his first multi-hit game since July 2. It's fair to wonder if the emergence of DuvALLstar was simply a one-time event.
The bar that Cincinnati has to clear in the NL Central is a high one. The Cubs are stacked with a young core that will likely be around for years to come. The Cardinals always find ways to reinvent themselves, and the Pirates seem to have a system in place that will allow them to remain competitive for the foreseeable future. A good team might not get it done this decade for the Reds. They're going to have to use any means necessary to acquire as much talent as possible. Even with his early run of success it's unlikely that Duvall is the best option the Reds could eventually have when they're ready to contend again. If a quality deal is out there it's worth stock piling as much young talent as possible to try and compete in an incredibly difficult division.
It's going to hurt, but the Reds have to be willing to move quality players over the next few seasons to help them reach their ultimate goal. One way of accomplishing that this season might be to part ways with Duvall sooner rather than later. Although as Wick mentioned in his piece on Jay Bruce yesterday, this might be a tough market to find a quality trade for an outfielder.