Ok, after much deliberation, I've reworked my 2006 off-season opus. No more Chad Billingsley, David Bush, or David Purcey. And, I think version 2.0 might be better than the original. In the orginal, I don’t think I took into account how severely our shoddy defense was impacting our W/L record.
The Reds have a great offense, but poor pitching and defense. In order to improve this ball club to any significant degree, we have to improve BOTH the pitching and defense. They go together like hand in glove. And, we certainly do have a lot of talent on the roster, unfortunately, it’s all offensive talent.
So, we need to restructure the team to improve the outfield defense and bring in good, young pitchers with upside. Unfortunately, we can’t do this without a significant overhaul. And, we certainly don’t need more aging veteran reclamation projects (see: Pedro Astacio, et al) on the mound. They aren’t worth the cost and certainly don’t provide us any production of value.
Anyway, here’s how I would improve the pitching and defense without losing much production from our 2005 top ranked NL offense:
Free Agent signings
1. Bobby Higginson: Minor League deal
2. A.J. Hinch or equivalent backup catcher: ~$750K
I don't think any of them are unreasonable signings. I think Hinch can be talked out of retirement if he’s assured a major league roster spot, but if not, we’d be looking at another veteran backstop. Bobby Higginson, assuming good health, would be a nice signing on a minor league contract (Much like Aurilia the year before). We could sell Higginson on the inherent benefits of GABP for players in need of a bounce back season (see: Aurilia and Randa) I'm sure Higgy would love to play in a hitters park after struggling in Comerica for so many years. I still think Higgy has something to offer, but if he didn't, we wouldn’t lose much.
Here are the trades:
1. Deal Eric Milton, Dave Williams, and Cash to the Nationals for minor league pitching talent (Preferably Mike Hinckley or Billy Bray or Clint Everets)
After much thought, I realized what Dave Williams really is. Yes, yes, I know he's a pitcher, but in actuality, I think he’s an opportunity. He's an opportunity to divest ourselves of the services (and contract) of Eric Milton. We used Dave Williams to move a large portion of Casey's contract and I think we should now use Williams to move a large portion of Milton's contract.
After comprehensively looking at (and posting about) Williams’ stats, I'm not optimistic about his chances for success in Cincinnati, especially given the Reds defense. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, I think he is very likely to turn into a pumpkin. And, my hopes for a solid, "league average" type bounce back season out of Eric Milton are fading fast. As such, I think we need to move them both before the season starts.
I think we could bundle them together (with a bit of cash for Milton's absurd contract) and deal them. And, I think the likely target was, and still is, the Nationals. The Nationals’ rotation has Livan Hernandez and John Patterson, but nothing certain after those two.
If rumors are true, Bowden expressed an interest (for reasons passing understanding) in Milton last season at the deadline. We could play up the fact that Milton is struggling due to GABP and that RFK would be a great fit for him. Bowden certainly values players differently than many GMs, so he might still be interested. And, in all honesty, Milton might do rather well in RFK. It's a huge ballpark and pitchers don't have to worry about their mistake pitches as much.
John Patterson talked about how comfortable he was last season and I think a large part of that is that mistakes don’t hurt as much in RFK. He could be more aggressive and trust his stuff, which resulted in his making fewer mistakes. If Milton didn’t have to worry as much about his offerings getting hit 600 feet, he might be better off. Of course, he lacks Patterson’s pure stuff, but he would still be much better off.
By bundling Williams in the deal, we could hopefully avoid having to throw in quite so much cash to pay for Milton's salary. Granted, we wouldn't likely get a ton in return, but we would free up significant cash. Milton is set to make $8.5M in 2006 and $9.0M in 2007, so we could throw in $2-2.5M for 2006 and $2.5-3M for 2007, basically bringing the Nationals cost (and our savings) for Milton down to ~$6M per annum.
Even if Milton didn’t work out, the Nationals would be getting Williams to mitigate the cost of Milton. It isn’t ideal to use talent to get out from under bad contracts, but it’s possible that Dave Williams could be used to get out from under a significant portion of the Casey AND Milton contracts.
We wouldn’t get a ton of talent in return, but we would free up a roster spot, get improved production out of Milton’s rotation spot, and save cash. And that is the point of the deal, addition by subtraction.
2. Trade Wily Mo Pena and Austin Kearns to the K.C. Royals for Zack Greinke and a prospect (Preferably, ss Jeff Bianchi, but I'm not sure if that would be possible, as he was drafted in 2005. He'd have to be a PTBNL due to the 1 year restriction on trading draftees and even then it might not be possible due to the timing. If we can’t get Bianchi, then I’d love to get 2b Donnie Murphy).
I honestly think that we could get Greinke from the Royals with the right package of talent. He struggled mightily last season and might do so again next season for the Royals. A change of scenery and a great offense behind him would do much to reinvigorate him. The Royals have come out and stated that they aren’t even going to guarantee Greinke a rotation slot for 2006.
Now, it would take a lot to get him, so we should offer both AK & WMP. A package like that would be difficult for the Royals to turn down, at least in my estimation. It would give them a very productive pair of corner outfielders for the next 3-4 seasons at a reasonable cost.
If need be, we could toss in a prospect to sweeten it further, maybe Justin Germano or even Travis Chick. The Royals have already added Reggie Sanders, so the addition of AK & WMP would give them six players (Dejesus, Sanders, AK, WMP, Sweeney, Mientkiewiciz) for five positions (LF, CF, RF, 1B, DH). But, given their recent injury history (see: Sweeney, Mike) and recent offensive struggles (see: Mientkiewicz, Doug), I don’t think that’s a significant problem.
The Royals get two young, inexpensive, impact players (and potentially a pitching prospect) to significantly bolster their offense in exchange for one young, impact pitcher. The Reds get a top of the rotation starter to pair with Harang and lose only one offensive starter’s worth of production (as AK & WMP split time in RF last season) from their 2005 NL leading offense.
Greinke is a player that I would overpay to get. I wouldn’t trade Dunn or F-Lo for him, but I would deal both AK & WMP for him. He can be the de facto ace for whom we are looking. And, given his good mechanics and his ability to succeed without throwing his arm out on every pitch, I think he is a very good bet to stay healthy. Greinke doesn’t have to throw at 100% effort often to be successful, which is where I think injuries often originate. Greinke has a very high baseball IQ and understands how to add and subtract from his pitches to keep hitters off balance. Control/finesse pitchers seem to avoid injuries more effectively than the power pitchers. Greinke could anchor the Cincinnati pitching staff for a long time.
As for Murphy, I’ve seen him play several times and I love the way he goes about his business. He didn’t have great numbers, but I think he’s a player. The Royals have Grudzelanik for next season, so they would likely be willing to move him. I’m also very high on Jeff Bianchi, I think he may be a special talent at 2b or SS in a few years. Either one of those would be a nice addition to the trade.
3. Trade Kent Mercker to the Dodgers for Jayson Werth.
I think Jayson Werth is a potential five tool player and a SERIOUS sleeper candidate.
He’s got the body type: 6-5, 210 lbs. He has the pedigree: his grandfather Dick “Ducky” Schoefield and uncle Dick Schoefield both played major league ball.
He’s a good defensive outfielder, who can hit for power and has nice on base skills. In 2004, he hit 16 homers in limited duty, which worked out to be one homer every 18.1 ABs. For comparison, Dunn hits one every ~13/14 Abs over the course of his career.
I think Werth is highly underrated due to his injury problems. Werth would be able to replace a significant portion of the lost AK/WMP production. Last season, he had an IsoOBP of .104 and saw the most pitches per at bat of any regular player in baseball 4.62 P/PA. He has shown decent power and has a career SB% of 85%. Werth showed very good power in 2004 and in 2005, battling of a wrist injury that sapped his power (and may result in his being undervalued), he showed great OBP skills. If he can put together his 2004 power and his 2005 OBP in 2006, then not only would that go a long ways towards replacing any lost production, he would likely provide better production than could be expected from AK/WMP. Couple his offensive upside with the fact that he can play all three outfield positions with aplomb and Werth is a very intriguing player.
In 2005, Werth was injured (had two torn ligaments in his wrist, which he is still rehabbing), which sapped his power, but he still displayed very nice on base skills.
The Dodgers have real need for a left handed reliever and don’t value Werth highly. Once healthy, Werth would step right in and play right field for the Reds. If he isn’t healthy to start the season, than Denorfia and Higginson could hold down the fort until he is healthy.
For those of you, who aren’t huge on statistics, check out some of his video highlights.
I love his quiet stance at the plate and his smooth, powerful swing. He has a couple of impressive opposite field homers in the highlights. He’s also very smooth in the field and has good speed and baserunning instincts. His throwing motion is a bit unusual, a bit of a short-arm style, but that’s likely a result of his days as a catcher. And, while his motion may not look great, he does seem to have a strong arm. All in all, there seems to be little to dislike about Jayson Werth.
Werth would be a small risk and possibly a huge reward. I think his overall game is at least comparable, if not better, than WMP & AK.
The only reason that Werth is available and undervalued is his injury problem. While this isn’t a minor problem, it’s also not a major one. He could easily get healthy and stay healthy for an extended period of time. Much like the A’s, small/mid-market teams have to take chances on players. They can’t afford to acquire “perfect” ballplayers very often, as they are often valued correctly or even overvalued. The A’s are rolling the dice on Milton Bradley (anger issues). The Reds should roll the dice on Jayson Werth. In GABP, a healthy Jayson Werth’s production would likely rival that of either WMP or AK.
4. Trade Javier Valentin to the Giants for Kevin Correia and the best pitching prospect (I love Scott Munter's sinker and Jonathan Sanchez has nice stuff) we can get.
Correia has GREAT stuff and if he can improve his command, he could be a VERY good starting pitcher for us. He has good upside, is inexpensive, and not valued highly by the Giants (he is currently last in a three way race with Jamey Wright and Brad Hennessey for the 5th starter slot). The Giants love veterans and need a backup catcher. If Matheny gets hurt, they are in big trouble.
From the Reds point of view, Valentin will undoubtedly be worse in 2006 than he was in 2005, so his trade value is at an all time high. We can still sign a backup catcher and not lose that much production.
Correia is the focal point of the deal, but we can probably get a good pitcher prospect as well, especially given the Giants recent history of dealing prospects.
5. Trade David Weathers to the Mariners for Gil Meche.
Meche has always had the ability and the pure stuff, but he just hasn’t been able to hold it together over the long haul. However, he has put it together for some stellar half seasons. A change of scenery and facing a pitcher instead of a DH would likely help. Even if it didn’t help, he’d still be a better option than Eric Milton.
Meche is set to make ~$4M in 2006, so I don’t think the M’s would mind moving him for little in return, as they would be getting $4M in salary relief. I think Meche can be had for Weathers, who would provide some solid innings for the M’s and free up some cash. And, we might even be able to get them to kick in some cash to even things up a bit.
But, here are two reasons to acquire Meche. He has had two stellar half seasons in his career. And, while he’d be hurt by leaving Safeco for GABP, he’d be helped by facing a pitcher instead of a DH.
1st Half of 2003
2nd Half of 2004
To me, the Reds need to have Matt Belisle, Ryan Wagner, Todd Coffey, and Brian Shackelford in the bullpen in 2006. Belisle, Wagner, and Coffey are all power pitchers with groundball tendencies, which plays very well in GABP. But, they’ve already brought in Rick White and Chris Hammond to go along with David Weathers and Kent Mercker. We have too many average veteran relievers. We can afford to deal one or two of them for more valuable players.
All these moves would leave us with a lineup of as follows:
1. Freel cf r (Improvement in CF and possible reduction in injury risk)
2. D.Murphy/R.Aurilia 2b r/r
3. Griffey lf l (Reduced injury risk and improvement in leftfield)
4. Dunn 1b l
5. Lopez ss s
6. Werth rf r (Improved RF D over AK/WMP platoon and could be huge in GABP)
7. Encarnacion 3b r
8. LaRue c r
c A.J.Hinch (or equivalent)
INF/OF Tony Womack
OF C.Denorfia (Good insurance and top of the lineup tablesetter)
1. A.Harang rhs
2. Z.Greinke rhs (Top tier starting pitcher)
3. B.Claussen lhs
4. G.Meche rhs (Good stuff. Still time to break out)
5. K.Correia rhs (Young pitcher with big upside. Must improve control)
Closer T.Coffey rhp
Setup R.Wagner rhp
Setup B.Shackelford lhp
MR R.White rhp
MR C.Hammond lhp
LR M.Belisle rhp
To get any of these deals done, I’d be willing to toss in most of our prospects. However, I’d exclude: Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, B.J. Szymanski, Jay Bruce, and Adam Rosales. Four of the five are impact talent and Rosales is on his way to becoming an impact player as well.
*Dealing WMP & AK enables us to shift Griffey to left where he would be an asset on defense and would be less likely to be injured. His poor defensive play is hurting the team, it’s time to shift him over. And, of course, gives us a young ace for years to come. Greinke and Harang at the top of the rotation is a very nice tandem.
*Dealing Mercker and Weathers wouldn’t harm the bullpen much and would bring in a replacement for AK & WMP and a pitcher in Meche with significant upside.
*Dealing Williams and Milton would bring us a prospect or two in return and relieve us of two potential performance problems. It’s addition by subtraction.
*Moving Valentin would bring in another young starter with upside and take advantage of Valentin’s all time high trade value.
There are tough decisions to be made and it wouldn’t be a one year process, but this team cannot get better without improving both the pitching and defense. I think these would go a long way towards improving both areas. After reworking the MLB roster, then it would be time to focus on player development and the farm system. This team cannot be successful without being able to develop quality starting pitching. But, that’s a topic for another day.
As always, just my $.02. Well, I guess that's more like $.06.