Let’s get a few quick points out of the way, shall we?
The July 31st non-waiver trade deadline is now just some three weeks away. As the deadline inches ever closer, the best teams in baseball will once again be on the prowl, looking to add the best pieces at the best prices to help them on their quest to win a World Series this year, next year, and every year - but specifically this year, since ‘flags fly forever,’ and whatnot.
If the Cincinnati Reds were 20 games over .500 right now and had an obvious hole in their lineup, you’d be mad as hell if they weren’t actively trying to fix that via trade. That’s just how all of this works.
Of course, if the good teams are the ones doing the buying, that inherently means it’s the teams that aren’t up-top the standings that do the selling. For as good as these Cincinnati Reds have been playing lately, they still sit dead last in the NL Central, with the playoffs as long a shot as can be. Baseball is no vacuum, and other teams know this. The fact of the matter is, the rest of baseball is going to be asking about the best pieces on every potential seller, and the Reds are certainly no different.
One of the absolute best pieces the Reds currently have is Scooter Gennett. One of the absolute biggest decisions the Reds get to make over the next three weeks is whether or not the offers they receive for Scooter are good enough to ship him out of town. Rest assured, this is no opinion piece with me stating the Reds need to trade Scooter now! Rather, it’s an acknowledgement that every asset in baseball has a price - and what exactly that price should be for the Cincinnati Reds at this particular juncture.
The Reds don’t have to trade Scooter now, or at all
This is probably the most pertinent point here, especially for Reds fans who have watched countless players run their service time down to near zero before the Reds could get them moved.
Scooter’s got another season of team control for 2019, his last arbitration-eligible season. So, this isn’t the last chance they’ll have to get something for him via trade, the way last season was with Zack Cozart. Keeping him, signing him to an extension beyond 2019, or even bronzing him into a statue en perpetuity outside GABP are still options, should the Reds choose to go that route, though those decisions certainly come with ample financial and roster-based ramifications.
If he keeps up this level of production, he’ll make somewhere around $10 million in 2019 through the arb process. With Nick Senzel, Dilson Herrera, Alex Blandino, Brandon Dixon, and Shed Long all league-minimum 2B options behind him, that may not be the most prudent use of $10 million in 2019, but it’s hardly a salary that would cripple the franchise if he keeps up this rate of work.
In other words, the Reds have the leverage in any trade talks to be listeners who don’t have to sell, meaning they get to ultimately set the asking price - and it should be substantial, in that regard.
Scooter might be at peak-value, but there are other quality 2B trade options
If a contending team is desperate for 2B help and the Reds set the bar for their return too high, there are other players who figure to be available to be scooped-up by those teams.
Asdrubal Cabrera is on the tanktastic New York Mets, and is in the final year of his contract. Similarly, Brian Dozier is in his final year of team control with the flailing Minnesota Twins. Starlin Castro is under contract for 2019 for the perennially disintegrating Miami Marlins, and Josh Harrison has a club option for his services in 2019 while with the sinking Pittsburgh Pirates.
Of course, Scooter’s out-hitting absolutely all of those guys, at least in 2018. His .378 wOBA ranks as the 3rd best among all MLB 2Bs with at least 180 PA there this year, with Cabrera the only other 2B I just mentioned cracking the Top 10 - and he’s 10th. Given that the 2018 season has even seen Scooter excel both against LHP (.874 OPS) and away from GABP (.907 OPS, which is actually better than his .871 home mark), I think it’s pretty fair to say that he’s the most proven, best-equipped offensive 2B that figures to be potentially available, which is another feather in the asking-price cap of the Reds.
What recent trade comps for Scooter are out there?
The Detroit Tigers traded Ian Kinsler away last winter as he entered what is now his final season under contract, and received minor leaguers Wilkel Hernandez and Troy Montgomery for him from the Angels, who were the #20 and #24 ranked prospects in an unspectacular Los Angeles farm system. Kinsler, though, was making $11 million in 2018, had a no-trade clause that put him in charge of where he went, and just turned 36 years old coming off a sub-par 2017.
Scooter carries significantly more value than that right now.
Eduardo Nunez was hitting .307/.331/.413 for the San Francisco Giants when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox at last year’s July deadline, the 30 year old at that point in his final year under contract while making $4.2 million. Shaun Anderson, a 2017 3rd round draftee and then the #18 prospect in the Boston system, was the headliner, with 17 year old pitcher Gregory Santos the lower-level addition.
I’d say Scooter’s value currently sits much higher than that right now, too.
The last time the Reds traded a player of Scooter’s ilk, I’d say, was when Jay Bruce was shipped to the Mets at the deadline mid-2016, and that went down when Bruce was still under contract for 2017. Bruce, at that point, was having one of his finest seasons at the plate, with an .875 OPS, 126 OPS+, and 25 dingers in 97 games played as a 29 year old, which look similar in some ways with Scooter’s current .889 OPS and 137 OPS+ in this, his age-28 season. Of course, the Reds landed former Top 50 overall prospect Dilson Herrera as the headliner of that deal, along with Max Wotell, a former 3rd round pick who has since been released due to lingering, debilitating injuries.
I think Scooter’s value is similar at the moment to how Bruce’s was in 2016, though probably a little bit higher - and that’s with the caveat that I firmly believe the defensive metrics that torpedoed Bruce’s overall WAR valuation were something the Mets believed in, as well.
So, what’s a Scooter deal need to look like?
With Scooter as one of the centerpieces of the resurgent Reds - the squad that’s gone 36-32 since that dreadful start in April - it’s hard to imagine them moving him just because the timing feels right, even with top prospect (and 2B-capable) Nick Senzel out for the season and unable to step-in to replace him right now.
That means, of course, that they’d need to get hit with quite the juicy deal to move him now instead of this winter or a year from now, and I think doing so would absolutely need to be headlined by a Top 100 overall prospect. Add-in either a lower-level wild card prospect, or even another MLB-ready but flawed/injured secondary piece, and the Reds would certainly be within reason to strike a deal.
The obvious question, though, is whether the teams in the market to acquire him have not just pieces that fit those categories, but the right pieces that fit those categories.
Should the Cleveland Indians miss out on the Manny Machado sweepstakes and still look to add a 2B, they might not be willing to part with top prospect Francisco Mejia - and the Reds might not be looking for an MLB-ready catcher, what with Tucker Barnhart entrenched. Plucking RHP Triston McKenzie, ranked #21 overall by MLB Pipeline, would be a fantastic get, but might still be more than a club would be willing to part with given Scooter’s meteoric rise from waiver-claim to All Star. RHP Shane Bieber, though, checked in at #90 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list before making the jump to the big leagues earlier this year, and seems like exactly the kind of player who could headline a Scooter move for Cleveland, for instance.
Boston’s Jay Groome seemed like he’d be a player the Reds could target should the Red Sox look for more Dustin Pedroia insurance given Nunez’s lackluster performance in 2018, but he’s out after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and that’s just the most recent injury he’s fought. Their only other Top 100 prospect, Michael Chavis, is yet another 2B/3B prospect - and one coming off a PED suspension, at that. So, the fit there becomes a bit more difficult to put together.
Other less-obvious trade partners could certainly emerge, too. The New York Yankees could view Scooter as an option at 1B, which has been their lone deficiency this year. Heck, Scooter did spend 15 games in the OF and 10 at 3B just last year for the Reds, and someone else may view him as versatile enough to plug into one of those spots, too. The fact is, a bat that’s been as potent as his for the last two seasons will be an attractive addition to most any team, anywhere, and would warrant the surrender of a top prospect in the process.
Whether or not the Reds take that route now, or later, I obviously do not know. They’re going to certainly have the opportunity, however.