Pretty obvious Jason doesn't figure into the Reds' future plans. He's our top-paid catcher, but now the least played of the three catchers on the ML roster.
The Reds have gone from showcasing him to just stashing him away on the shelf. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out where this is headed.
With the team having seemingly made a decision to go with David Ross as their starting catcher moving forward, Larue appears far more likely to be dangled as trade bait than Valentin. It doesn't make a lot of sense to pay $3.9 million for your backup catcher. It's not just a matter of squandering financial resources, but also creating undue and distracting clubhouse tension.
That said, it's not at all surprising that it's taking awhile to work a decent trade involving Larue that might serve the Reds as well as provide Jason with a fair chance to regain his status as a starter. There aren't a lot of teams clamoring for a new starting catcher.
In fact, fewer than five squads might conceivably be in the market. And none of them are screaming and desperate to make an immediate acquisition, so while we might eventually score a deal, it's looking like we might have to make the first overtures, and thus bear the greater risk of getting hosed.
Here are three teams where we might conceivably break some bread and talk turkey, in ways that could be mutually beneficial.
1. Colorado. Their unproven, journeymen catchers have perhaps the most abysmal offensive stats in either league, and that's saying a lot given the advantages that Coors Field provides batters. Larue could change that overnight. From 2003-05, he hit .318 in Coors, with a .500 SLG and .885 OPS. But after Jason's slow start out of the gate in '06, it's highly unlikely the Rockies would send us a player back approaching the caliber of their 1B phenom Ryan Shealy. Would we settle for a lesser return, say an aging rental reliever like LH Ray King or RH Jose Mesa, paired with a minor prospect?
2. Kansas City. They are in overhaul mode. The team has a new GM. With as bad as they've played, the GM has to be thinking about cleaning house and asking questions later. Their catcher, Buck, has regressed this season. He wasn't great shakes to start off. Maybe Larue could be the first veteran cog in a new era in KC. But again, what can they offer us for his services? Would SP Elarton ($4 million salary, 2-year-contract, 1-8 record, 5.24 ERA) be a fair return? How about Elmer Dessens ($1.7 million salary, 2-year-contract, 3.90 ERA in relief)? While I think we could swing a deal with KC involving Larue, do we really want to pursue this route?
3. Philadelphia. Lieberthal is rapidly breaking down, going on his 2nd DL stint this season. Fasano is hardly an adequate replacement. He doesn't come close to matching Liberthal's offense, and he's just as challenged on defense, having surrendered 37 SB last year with Baltimore, while only throwing out 7 baserunners for a pitiful success rate of .159. Not exactly inspiring, but then, Lieberthal gave up 63 SB last year, 74 in '04, 84 in '03. His offense helped compensate for his defensive shortfalls. But if he can't do the dew anymore, why shouldn't Larue, who is more of an offensive sparkplug than Fasano, and far superior to Liberthal as a defender?
A fair return from the Phillies? Perhaps a package anchored by veteran southpaw reliever Rhodes. They have two other lefty relievers, Cormier and Fultz, who boast lower ERAs than the 3.63 Rhodes has posted this season. But Rhodes could still be a valuable asset and acquisition for the Reds' bullpen. His 14 holds leads the NL. And his 20 KOs in 22 IP suggests he can still deliver some smoke, handling setup duties more effectively than Hammond or Mercker. Rhodes' wages? 3.4 million. Right on par with Larue's $3.9 million.
If you ask me, I'd be working the phone with Philly, but also hearing out any offers from Colorado, KC, the LA Angels or any other surprise suitors. I think we can stretch out this Reds catching triumvarate for another couple weeks, maybe a month. Any longer and we're probably looking at diminishing returns, barring a major injury to a catcher on a contending squad.
We can keep holding out for that rainy day. It's more likely to happen than not, given the typical seasonal casualty rate among catchers. But is holding out worth the gain if, over the interim, our bullpen keeps capsizing our playoff chances or our offense sputters, owing to the bench being hamstrung and clubhouse rancor rearing its ugly head?