There are a few MLB teams across the league that are actively trying to give away their better veteran players. The Minnesota Twins, for instance, have the likes of Brian Dozier and Lance Lynn on the trade block, just days after trading away MLB doubles leader Eduardo Escobar to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a deal headlined by the the 11th ranked prospect in an Arizona system deemed the fifth worst in all of baseball by Minor League Ball’s John Sickels before the season started. Similarly, the Baltimore Orioles are doing everything in their power to flip veterans and rentals, as evidenced by their deal to send righty reliever Brad Brach - a 2016 MLB All Star - to the Atlanta Braves for nothing but $250K of international signing bonus money.
They’ve admittedly changed course on paper, but this is the same Orioles team that has freely given away international bonus pool money for years. That’s an indication of how satiated the thirst for rental players is in this current trade landscape.
The Cincinnati Reds, of course, have starter Matt Harvey on the trade block, as they’ve had since the moment he was acquired in a one for one swap with the New York Mets that sent Devin Mesoraco the other way. Every single team in baseball has known for two months that the Reds were hoping to flip Harvey, and now the Reds are attempting to do so in a market that already is showing disdain for overspending in prospect cash for peers of Harvey. So, the illusions that Harvey was going to come to the Reds, find 5 mph on his fastball again, show he’s healthy like the ace he once was, pitch like the ace he once was, and turn into a cash cow that the Reds cash-in on for a Top 50 overall prospect are completely off the board.
The reality with Harvey is likely one similar to where the Reds were with, say, Jonathan Broxton in 2014 - a former high-profile pitcher posting decent surface results in a walk year despite middling peripherals and a remaining salary that was a few million bucks for two months of baseball. That deal, of course, netted the Reds relievers Kevin Shackelford and Barrett Astin as PTBNLs in an August, waiver-trade period deal, both of whom were well down the pecking order of a Milwaukee Brewers farm system and never truly well regarded.
-0.4 bWAR and 3 years later, Astin’s pitching in the independent leagues while Shackelford is recovering from Tommy John surgery after being outright released by the Reds. The point is, dealing Harvey now to open time for the younger starters in the organization - Robert Stephenson, in particular - is something that deserves to happen, but it would largely be a Harvey trade with that as the largest return, since there’s not a team out there that’s about to give up something of key value for Harvey at this juncture. In fact, it might even be prudent to hold onto him now given the lack of concrete offers and revisit the idea of moving him in the August waiver period, since at all it takes is one injury to a key pitcher on a contender in the next calendar month to make Harvey’s stock look that much more attractive; and, on the contrary, if Harvey hurts himself or pitches terribly in that time, there’s not a huge opportunity cost lost.
As for the Reds other potential trade pieces...well, it seems the Reds don’t exactly even think they’ve got other trade pieces - at least not for this particular deadline. As ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick relayed earlier today, the team still appears to be inclined to keep CF Billy Hamilton despite a potential fit with Cleveland, which is perplexing on a number of levels.
The #Indians want to upgrade in CF, but it's a thin market. Adam Jones is most likely staying put. Leonys Martin is out there, but he's had hamstring issues and struggles vs. lefties. Billy Hamilton is hitting .227, and the #Reds never seem interested in discussing him anyway.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) July 30, 2018
Sure, the injury to Scott Schebler and the season-ending surgery for Jesse Winker has thinned the current crop of Cincinnati OFs, and yes, the CF position should Hamilton be moved isn’t exactly filled already by the farm system as it currently stands, but the idea that Billy is off the table just seems so damn perplexing at the moment. For now, in a 2018 season that should be more about 2019 and 2020, Mason Williams and Phil Ervin and Schebler - when he returns - could make way just fine in CF to wrap this year, and there’s even a chance that Jose Siri can continue to shake off the thumb injury that sapped him of the first half of the season and make a case that he can contribute at the big league level in 2019.
However, what’s clear in this revelation about Billy is that winning in 2018 has already become an increasingly emphasized aspect of this rebuild, and we’re seeing that in the now moot concepts of trading Raisel Iglesias or Scooter Gennett at this deadline, too. And that’s a vitally important change of course, frankly.
As the owners of a 40-31 record over their last 71 games, the Reds have done a ton to show that as they currently consist, there’s the capability to win games on this existing roster. They’ve taken it to the best of the best in that time, too, downing the likes of Cleveland, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and the Cubs in recent weeks, even putting the Cardinals season in the can with emphasis in their last run through St. Louis. And there’s a big part of me that thinks showing the rest of the league - and potential free agents down the road - that the club is not only ready to win again, but also capable of winning again is becoming an increasingly large part of their rebuild playbook going forward.
For years, the idea of a pitcher actively wanting to call GABP their home ballpark has been laughable, as the dingers that fly out of it repeatedly aren’t exactly conducive to posting big, arbitration salary friendly statistics. Pair that with a team that has shed existing assets at every possible chance to build for the future instead of the present, and it’s hard to imagine a worse environment for an available pitcher to want to sign on to play for over the last few seasons. But given that the one thing this current, decently-winning Reds team needs to truly be considered legitimate contenders for the next few years is quality starters, doling out a sales pitch that they’re winning now and done dumping veterans for whatever they can get just might be the kind of flashy brochure that could catch the eyes of this winter’s class of free agents - and their agents, too.
I dunno. The concept of ‘sell high’ is certainly a good one to employ for any team, much less a team with a tight budget. However, if the current price at the ‘high’ of a player’s ebb/flow value isn’t actually all that high (as judged by what teams are willing to give up to get them via trade), the downside risk of holding on to them for future trade periods isn’t terribly risky, either. I think that’s clearly what we’re seeing with Matt Harvey’s market, what we’re seeing on a smaller scale with Billy Hamilton, and certainly what we’re seeing in regards to Scooter Gennett - though his situation and the team’s desire to keep fans in the seats for the rest of the year is something we’ve discussed at length here before.
It’d be cool if the Reds flipped Matt Harvey for the next Eugenio Suarez. It’d be even cooler if they flipped Scooter Gennett for a trade package like the one the Brewers sent out to get Christian Yelich. The fact is, those kinds of returns just aren’t out there, especially for two potentially tradeable Reds who we likely value way, way more than the other MLB teams out there. For now, it might well be time to chalk up that the front office wants to see some wins on the ledger right this minute more than they want a new #21 prospect in the team’s farm system, and that’s probably well and good - provided that they use this newfound winning to continue to make additions and timely cash-ins on players before the 2019 season begins. Standing pat with this group in anticipation of that is fine for now, I think, but damn well better not be the M.O. from now until Opening Day 2018. Hopefully, the current ‘stand pat’ course of action is just a part of a larger, long-term process.