The Cueto Deal Cincinnati Reds’ Walt Jocketty Should Propose at the Deadline

At this juncture, the Cincinnati Reds have no idea what they’re going to do at the deadline.

They’re 18-17, 6.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central and just a half game behind the final wild card spot. That makes it particularly challenging for the Reds’ brass to decide what to do with this roster at such a pivotal fork in the road, one where the Reds and ace Johnny Cueto probably part ways.

Buy or sell? What the Reds do from now until the deadline will determine that. If the Reds are in a position to compete, it’s hard seeing them making any moves that deliver the MLB talent they need to finish the 2015 campaign. It’s about payroll, and if there’s a scenario where the Reds actually add to it, I’m interested in hearing it.

I think it’s fair to suggest if the Reds are participating at the deadline, it’s likely as sellers rather than buyers. And with Cueto in the final year of his contract, he’s probably the hottest name on the market. The Reds have other valuable assets: Aroldis Chapman, Brandon Phillips and even Jay Bruce as a sell-low candidate. 

But if the Reds fall out of contention, there is one name that is all but certain to move. And there’s one team in particular that is looking more and more like the most suitable partner.

 

Reds Johnny Cueto for Boston Red Sox Brock Holt, Henry Owens and Garin Cecchini

If you frequent Bleacher Report, you might have read about this trade suggestion last week. The response was underwhelming at best, as many people quickly dismissed this trade because the Reds were giving up everything for not enough in return.

However, I believe that to be inaccurate. First, consider what’s happening in the Reds’ right field. Bruce’s mind is somewhere out there with Voyager, passing planets, stars and baseballs. He’s slashing an unprecedented .162/.272/.333. Maybe it’s just a funk, but how long is management willing to apply the scientific method with Bruce during games that count?

If their hypothesis is that he’s just slumping—and it should be, unless you can point to any other season in eight years when Bruce has done this—then who knows, maybe he’s close to breaking out of it. But what if he’s not?

Bruce’s contract runs through 2016 with a team option for 2017. Even though Jesse Winker is known, Brock Holt is performing at an MLB level right now. He’s slashing .309/.382/.441. And it’s not just a good season he’s having.

His official rookie year was last season, and all he did was slash .281/.331/.381 with 126 hits in 106 games played, including four home runs. He’s making just $531,000.

Bruce is making $12 million this year. Holt helps in so many ways, from a performance and a money stance. The Reds have to prepare a replacement for Bruce. Winker is hitting .239 in Double-A.

Henry Owens is 22 years old and a first-round draft pick from 2011. He’s not having a great season thus far in Triple-A. He’s 2-2 with a 4.06 ERA in just over 30 innings pitched. But in four complete minor league seasons, he’s 42-18 with a 3.40 ERA.

MLB.com lists Owens as the No. 20 prospect in all of baseball. He also is a lefty, a luxury the Reds haven’t enjoyed in the rotation since Travis Wood.

Like most young pitchers, he struggles with command. He walked six batters in his last minor league start against the Columbus Clippers, a minor league squad that also roughed up Michael Lorenzen.

The Red Sox have a couple players the Reds could ask for in return to cement this deal. Garin Cecchini is a name that makes sense. He plays third base and outfield, making him another candidate to replace either Bruce or Marlon Byrd, who is just a temporary solution.

In five minor league seasons, he slashed .291/.386/.423. He’s now with the Boston Red Sox, slashing .258/.351/.452. He also bats left-handed, so the Reds would replace one left-handed slugging right fielder for another.

So for Cueto, the Reds would get a MLB top-100 prospect and two other solid contributing MLB players. Most of the Red Sox top prospects are other pitchers, so the Reds could even ask for one of them instead of the hitters listed above.

Yoan Moncada, who MLB.com lists at the No. 9 prospect in baseball, also could be had for Cueto. He’s drawing hype comparable to Jorge Soler as another Cuban hitting machine. From his info on MLB.com‘s list:

Moncada sparked a bidding war among teams that landed him a $31.5 million bonus from the Red Sox. That’s the largest bonus ever given to an amateur player, eclipsing the $16.25 million (deferred over 11 years) Aroldis Chapman got from the Reds in 2010.

Factor in the matching $31.5 million penalty that Boston had to pay for exceeding its international bonus pool, and the total outlay for his services was $63 million.

So maybe the Reds would have to deal Cueto for Moncada straight up? Regardless, the Reds need a replacement for the 33-year-old Phillips, whose contract is up after 2017, the year Moncada is expected to arrive.

Considering what the Reds have to deal and what the Red Sox need (worst rotation ERA in baseball), these two teams seem like obvious partners at the deadline…if the Reds are selling.

 

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.

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