The Cincinnati Reds have reached the All-Star break as legitimate contenders, and with the 2014 MLB trade deadline only a couple of weeks away, the team has to address a few weaknesses on its roster.
Everything that could have gone wrong for the Reds in the first half went wrong, mainly because of injuries. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Devin Mesoraco have all made at least one trip to the disabled list. Phillips (sprained thumb) and Votto (quad) aren't expected to be back anytime soon.
Mat Latos and Tony Cingrani have also both dealt with injuries. The bullpen started the season without Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall.
All of those key players have made trips to the disabled list this season, but that's only the start. Several role players have also dealt with injuries in 2014. Despite all of those injuries, Cincinnati enters the All-Star break only 1.5 games out in the National League Central and one game back in the wild-card race.
There are a few holes the Reds should address if they want to increase their playoff chances. However, there are a couple of things that could prevent the team from making a big trade at the deadline. The team's payroll is over $110 million, so there's not much financial flexibility. Also, should the Reds find an affordable option, they don't have much to offer a team since their farm system isn't very deep.
Although Cincinnati doesn't have much to work with, it could use a trade to help bolster the team's playoff chances. Here are a couple of areas the team should look to address at this year's deadline.
No area on this roster needs to be dealt with more than the bullpen—specifically left-handed relievers.
Cincinnati's bullpen (3.84 ERA) ranks 21st in all of baseball at the break. That's a pretty surprising stat considering the bullpen has thrown the fewest innings (244) in all of baseball. The bullpen has had plenty of opportunities to rest up, but outside of Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Broxton, it's been an adventure with this group of relievers.
Nobody expected this bullpen to struggle this season. It had been among the best in baseball since now-manager Bryan Price took over as pitching coach before the 2010 season.
Injuries have certainly played a major part in the bullpen's struggles, but now that it is only missing Sean Marshall, the results should be better. They aren't.
With Marshall out for the year with a shoulder injury, the Reds need to look for another southpaw for the bullpen. Marshall hasn't been able to pitch much since the beginning of last season, so the team should look at acquiring a left-hander who can help the team in the future, not just this year.
Right now, Manny Parra is the team's only southpaw in the bullpen save for Chapman, who is the closer. Last year, Parra held left-handed batters to a .167 average. That was good enough to earn a two-year contract with the Reds this past offseason.
Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to dominate left-handed hitters the same way—lefties are hitting .246 off of Parra this season. That's not terrible, but considering he's the team's left-handed specialist, that average needs to be lower.
Parra has only pitched a total of seven innings since the end of May. As the race for the playoffs heats up in the second half, he is going to have to be ready to pitch in key situations whenever Prices calls on him. 12 walks in only 25 innings gives reason to worry.
Relievers don't normally cost a team much in terms of money or trade pieces. A southpaw like the Chicago Cubs' James Russell would require more in return, but the Reds could also look at a less proven reliever.
If the Reds make a deal at the deadline, it should be to add another southpaw to the bullpen. Although the bullpen wasn't used very much over the majority of the past six weeks, adding a shutdown left-hander has the ability to improve the team's playoff chances.
Depth at first base
A month ago, the team's biggest need on offense may have been shortstop. However, a lot has changed since the beginning of June.
Zack Cozart is as good as it gets on defense and has once again started to swing the bat a little better as the year goes on. As long as he stays healthy, he will be able to help the team.
The team's biggest hole in terms of position player is its lack of infield depth, especially at first base. Votto is back on the disabled list and is likely out until the middle of August at best. When a team has Jay Bruce, a Gold Glove-caliber right fielder, playing first base occasionally, that's a problem.
Yes, the Reds are hoping to get Jack Hannahan back in a week or so. Is he going to be able to swing the bat well enough to help this team down the stretch? Hannahan is coming off of shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and will be at a disadvantage whenever he returns, since pitchers will be in midseason form when he will just be getting started.
Cincinnati is also without Phillips for four to six weeks, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay. The club could look at adding depth at second base, but with Skip Schumaker, Ramon Santiago and Kristopher Negron as options at second, first-base depth is a more glaring need.
A trade to address depth at the position looks like it would make sense. In the minors, the Reds have Donald Lutz and Neftali Soto who can play first base. They may be able to play the position, but their bats don't look ready for a pennant chase right now.
The Reds don't have a legitimate veteran option for first base right now. Brayan Pena, a catcher, appears to be the team's best option for the time being. Bruce will give it his best shot at first base, but Price is weakening two positions by playing the outfielder at first. Todd Frazier can shift over to first when needed, but he already has three errors in only 10 games there.
The only problem with trading for a first baseman is that the Reds can't trade for someone who can only play first base unless he will be a free agent after this season. Votto is locked up through at least 2023, making a trade for a player who could only play first base and is signed for more than this season pointless.
Cincinnati can look for a rental player for the position or for someone who could play left field as well as first base. The way injuries have hit the Reds this season, they should at least consider adding a decent bat for first base at the deadline.
*All stats are via MLB.com
Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com