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What if the Reds are keeping Christian Encarnacion-Strand in AAA because he’s their biggest trade chip?

Off-day musings at Red Reporter dot com.

Washington Nationals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Emilee Chinn/Cincinnati Reds/Getty Images

I’m not going to mention the reprehensible piece of garbage who won the 2020 National League Cy Young Award during the peak of the sticky-stuff era by name, but I’m going to reference the concept that brought him to the Cincinnati Reds during the summer of 2019.

On July 31st of that year as the trade deadline loomed, the Reds found themselves punching around at 50-56, within earshot of the the division lead just 6.5 games out. They weren’t really going to go for it that year, but they wanted to a) get a little bit better without destroying their farm system, if possible, and b) make any kind of strategic addition for the 2020 season if they thought the price out there was correct.

By that point, Taylor Trammell had established himself as a legitimately good prospect, universally ranked in the top-half of Top 100 lists across the board while also carrying the prospect pedigree of having been a 1st round pick (and dual-sport star in high school). Dealing him was something that was going to seriously dent the Reds farm system, but moving him was also precisely the kind of thing that would land them the impact player they sought that was more than just a rental.

We know how that deal turned out, even if the 2020 season itself went sideways before it ever began due to the COVID 19 pandemic.

As Christian Encarnacion-Strand continues to beat the everloving hell out of baseballs for AAA Louisville this year while the big league Reds inch ever-closer to realistic playoff aspirations in the dismal NL Central, it’s hard not to wonder if the same recipe is being pinned to the corkboard in the Reds front office kitchen. After all, despite routinely posting numbers that dwarfed even those of Elly De La Cruz for the Bats, CES remains stuck in a place where the spotlight increasingly grows on him while also being secure at a level where even the slightest bit of failure appears completely out of the question.

Add-in that Joey Votto, the future Hall of Famer who will play 1B and DH for the Reds when those spots look like the best places for CES in the future, will be back with the Reds in the next two weeks, and the choice between CES mashing everyday in AAA vs. getting spotty PA here and there at the big league level seems an easy one.

Might they be showcasing him? Is it outlandish to wonder if the Reds brass is letting him excel while they keep tabs on, I dunno, a starting pitcher who can get them to the finish line this season and still be a big part of the team’s plans next year, too?

The next six weeks will, as they always do, shake the standings tree to see which teams are still hanging around. More importantly, they’ll shake out which clubs are currently still within earshot of a playoff run who may now opt to cash-in and rebuild their farm. The Cleveland Guardians, for example, sit at just 31-36 at the moment and 3.5 games out of first place in the dismal AL Central, and that makes Shane Bieber a name that begins to maybe, sort of, kind of fit the concept of which I speak. Five weeks from now, however, Bieber and the Guardians could’ve ripped off enough wins to take control of that dismal division, and he’d be off the board completely.

What I do know is that the Reds have perhaps more payroll flexibility than ever before after this season and a young core that sure as hell looks like it will be breaking out for real no later than 2024 - and maybe, as we’ve witnessed already, before. Being opportunistic might well see them in position to land a piece that fits what they truly need as this window opens, and they might well be playing their way into fielding calls.