The dust had barely settled on Todd Frazier’s 2015 Home Run Derby trophy. One series after they celebrated the All-Star Game festivities on their home field, the Reds appear ready to blow things up and start over. Johnny Cueto could be the biggest pitcher traded in the next two weeks (he’s the only NL pitcher in the top ten in WAR who is also on a selling team) and it wouldn’t be surprising to see their flame-throwing closer, Aroldis Chapman, on the market as well. In fact at this point, the easier question may be who is not for sale in Cincinnati.
Much like the Tigers, the Reds are a team stuck under the weight of many unwieldy long term contracts that were signed in order to get the prime seasons of their superstars. While this allowed them to compete a few extra seasons initially, it has now placed them in a position where they are paying nearly $120M for a team just one game away from the NL Central basement. That payroll may go up next year as well – the Reds already have $82 million committed to just eight players, with Joey Votto and Homer Bailey combining to make $38 million.
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Those two are where the discussion of who not to trade starts – Bailey can’t be moved (he’s on the DL recovering from Tommy John surgery) and Votto won’t be. There isn’t a team in baseball who values him as much as the Reds and, like a more talented version of Ryan Howard in Philadelphia, no one will be willing to take on his $199M owed over the next eight seasons (if they buy him out of his last season, otherwise $212M). He may look more like Pete Rose does now than himself in his 6+ WAR, All-Star seasons from 2010 through 2013, but Votto will be in Cincinnati for at least six more years and probably his whole career.
In general, most players who will be free agents after this or next season are the perfect for the trade market because they’re able to bring in the most value. While costing the Reds little, there is one 2018 free agent who should be held on to unless something incredible comes by. There are two obvious fan favorites in Cincinnati right now, Chapman and the Derby champ. If the Reds would like to continue selling tickets for the rest of this season and next, they need to keep someone of interest other than Votto around and that should be Todd Frazier.
At 29, Frazier is in his prime and will likely break the bank in free agency (although a smaller Credit Union, compared to Votto’s Bank of America), but if they want to move him they can do so at the deadline in 2016 without losing fan support until then. Chapman is a different situation as he will be a free agent after 2016 and is set to make a huge raise in arbitration next year, worth considerably more than the $8.25 million Frazier has already been promised.
On the side of popularity, there is one other player who needs to be mentioned – Brandon Phillips. Prior to this season, an internal … debate …caused a schism in both the team and fan base between Phillips and Votto. This still exists today to a lesser extent and until the front office decides which route they would prefer to take, it will continue. By any measure, Votto has always been and remains the better player of the two and is also harder to trade thanks to his contract. If the Reds want to make a definitive commitment to a future starring Billy Hamilton and Anthony DeSclafani, it may be time to move the second baseman.
With any move, the Reds will have to keep their eye on their next World Series window and in the end, any players who won’t be around then should be on the table for future improvements.