The disastrous end to the Homer Bailey Era in Cincinnati is officially over. In a massive move the Cincinnati Reds made official on Friday evening, Bailey - and the remainder of his contract - have been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with prospects Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray. In return, the Reds landed Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Matt Kemp, and Kyle Farmer from LA, the team announced.
The #Reds have acquired LHP Alex Wood, OF Matt Kemp, OF Yasiel Puig, IF/C Kyle Farmer and cash from the Dodgers in exchange for RHP Homer Bailey and minor leaguers IF Jeter Downs and RHP Josiah Gray. pic.twitter.com/IjJusbl0Ud— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) December 21, 2018
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal later added that the Reds will be receiving some $7 million from the Dodgers in the deal, making the total dollar amounts exchanged roughly a wash, though the reduced luxury tax implications for the Dodgers were certainly an added bonus for them in making the deal.
Obviously, there’s a ton to unpack here.
For one, the Reds add some much needed OF help, with Puig, who has clubbed 51 homers over the last two seasons as part of his 119 OPS+ in 1014 PA in that time. That was likely an impact that was needed prior to the non-tender of Billy Hamilton given the injury histories of both Jesse Winker and Scott Schebler and the fact that the Reds only had 4 OF listed on their 40-man roster prior to today. In theory, Matt Kemp might well be able to provide some thump for the OF, too, though at 34 years old - and given the slump he had to finish 2018 - it’s a wonder whether the Kemp from 2015-2017 (-0.6 combined bWAR in 1787 PA) is the more likely player the Reds will see.
Alex Wood, though, is probably the most significant piece added by the Reds, as the 27 year old lefty instantly becomes the most potent starting pitcher on the roster. He owns a career 117 ERA+ split between Atlanta and Los Angeles, with a stellar 125 ERA+ over his last two seasons combined (304 IP). He battled injury issues early in his career, but has been pretty steady and durable for the past pair of seasons, and at his age there is certainly reason to believe he’ll be able to replicate his most recent successes. Perhaps most importantly from the Reds perspective, he induced grounders at a solid rate - nearly 50% of the time in his career - and has only allowed 29 dingers since the start of the 2017 season.
Farmer, 28, has spent very little time at the big league level, but does have experience at both 3B and C, and should add depth.
In order to shed Homer’s contract, the Reds had to give the Dodgers some incentive, especially considering the Dodgers are now expected to release Bailey before he ever throws a pitch in their uniform. The cost was former 1st round draftee Jeter Downs and former 2nd round pick Josiah Gray, which is much more than a ‘throw in’ to make this deal go down. Downs ranked 7th in the system according to the most recent MLB Pipeline list, while Gray checked in at #20, for reference.
It’s pretty undeniable that the 2019 Cincinnati Reds got better through this trade. Significantly better, even, as the net projected fWAR influx of Puig (2.8), Wood (0.6), and Kemp (0.5) paired with the subtraction of Bailey (0.0) in a cost-neutral move pretty well sells itself - especially when you consider that number for Wood seems significantly lower than it probably should be.
The biggest question, though, is whether these additions - a net influx of 3 players to the team’s 40-man roster - makes the Reds better enough to compete in the 2019 season. The 2019 season here is the crux of the question, too, since all three of Puig, Wood, and Kemp are set to be free agents after this season. That’s largely the one hangup I have with the entire deal, since while it made the Reds better, I’m not sure it’s put them over the top - and now they’re faced with quite the interesting roster dilemma. (Not to mention that it once again appears to muddy the path to aregular position and playing time for Nick Senzel.)
Paired with new Red Tanner Roark and resident 2B Scooter Gennett, the Reds now have five significant players entering 2019 in their final year of team control, and barring the Reds blowing the doors off all the NL Central expectations to start the 2019 season, it’s hard to see that core jumping over the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals at this time. That means that as the July trade deadline approaches, the entire Reds offseason to date will be facing a complete un-wind, with each of Puig, Wood, Kemp, Roark, and Gennett in position to be traded before they walk for nothing in free agency in a way similar to Matt Harvey this year and Zack Cozart the year before. And while that would be a ton of salary coming off the books - some $60+ million - over half of it was only just brought in as part of this 2019 ‘record payroll’ concept in the first place. In other words, unless there are several significant other moves in the works, the Reds appear to have spent this entire offseason hyping a record payroll, adding players to make a record payroll that still don’t make the team good enough, and will then be forced to unwind the entire thing just months after initially compiling it.
Then, obviously, they’d be in the exact same scenario this time next year as they are right now.
Watching Yasiel Puig in GABP will be fun. Matt Kemp might, might still swat a few dingers, and hopefully will never be asked to play much defense. Alex Wood might well spin the best starting season by a Cincinnati lefty since...I dunno...Pete Schourek. But to me, this seems like a ton of moving and shaking for some marginal short-term improvement, improvement that’s just going to have get dealt with again immediately.
Next year’s Reds though, at least look they’ll be a ton more fun to watch than they were an hour ago, and that’s something we’ve not been able to say for some time now. I just hope they back it up with a few more acquisitions of players that will actually be around when the Reds have a core capable of contending once again.