As long as Jocketty's been talking with the Astros, how about he resumes the conversation with a proposed swap of Bronson Arroyo, Edinson Volquez and Ryan Hanigan for Wandy Rodriguez plus $7 million cash?
Here's why it might work for both teams.
For the Reds: We can contend in 2012, but to do so, we need a reliable horse to anchor our rotation who can deliver 200 innings of quality pitching. We extended Arroyo last season hoping he could fill that role, after he had pitched 220.1 IP in 2009 and 215.2 IP in 2010 with a sub-3.90 ERA each of those years. He did eke out 199 IP this season, but his ERA ballooned to 5.07 and he set a new club record in surrendering 46 home runs. No doubt, his bout with mono negatively impacted his performance, and we can reasonably expect him to rebound in 2012. But even so, he probably won't eclipse Rodriguez, who has recorded between 191-205 IP over the last three seasons, always maintaining his ERA in a range between 3.02 and 3.60.
However you want to slice it or quantify performance, Rodriguez has been the superior pitcher over that time span. He has allowed 62 home runs vs. Arroyo's 106. He has collected 537 strikeouts vs. Arroyo's 356. He has accumulated 9.1 WAR vs. Arroyo's 2 WAR.
Moving forward, Rodriguez can be expected to continue to get the better of Arroyo. The Houston ace is two years younger, and while he's showing signs of slowing down, he's never fallen off a cliff like Arroyo did in 2012.
For the Astros: After sporting the worst record in all of baseball in 2011, they're a team that seriously needs to rebuild. They put Rodriguez on waivers in August with two goals in mind: To shed his contract and to acquire top prospects in return. No one was willing to deliver said prospects unless the Astros pretty much gave him away for free by underwriting a big chunk of his remaining contract. I'm not privy to the specific offers they received, but I highly doubt they had a chance to land talent as ML-tested as Volquez and Hanigan. Throw in Arroyo and the Astros would get what they need from the Reds -- a close-enough, innings-eating replacement for Rodriguez in Arroyo, a wild-card potential ace in Volquez and a smart, multi-skilled catcher in Hanigan to work with all of the Astros' young arms and shore up the ML's worst team catching (-1.0 WAR, according to Fangraphs) The fact that Arroyo and Volquez have American League experience also would be a plus, because it looks like the Astros could be forcibly moved into the Junior Circuit by 2013, as a condition of the team's pending sale.
Now, before all of you howl in advance that this trade is impossible because of the poison-pill deferral payments in Arroyo's contract and because we need Hanigan to break in Mesoraco, ponder these particulars:
* We don't really need Hanigan if we can re-sign Hernandez as Mesoraco's understudy. I don't see why we can't re-sign Clutch Man Monie after holding onto him through this past trading deadline, when he seemed like a goner for good. If Mesoraco's going to get schooled, who's better to serve as the mentor -- a grizzled veteran like Hernandez or a younger competitor who might chafe if he doesn't get 350-400 plate appearances? At his age, Hernandez might be happy and productive with 200-300 plate appearances, especially in Cincy where he seems to have found a groove as Cueto's preferred catcher. The nice part of this trade: We upgrade the rotation without having to deal Grandal.
* About Arroyo's deferral payments. When he signed his extension with the Reds, he agreed to receive about $7 million annually from 2011-2013 on the condition that he get deferred payments totaling $15 million through 2021. But if he is traded, a poison pill clause takes hold, and the $15 million becomes due immediately. All of us have assumed the poison pill makes it impossible to trade him. But what if he's dealt for Rodriguez, with the Astros agreeing to return $7 million to the Reds?
I can see that happening because the Astros still would free up $3 million in cash -- enough to cover both Hanigan and Volquez for 2012. Here's why: They give us $7 million and remain on the hook for Arroyo at a $7 million clip for 2012 and 2013, for a grand total of $21 million in payments. But they have shed their $10.5 million obligation to Rodriguez in 2012 and $13.5 million in 2013, or $24 million total.
Just like Arroyo's poison pill, Rodriguez has a trade clause that has stymied the Astros' abilities to deal him. He's currently signed through 2013 but a club option exists to re-sign him at $13 million in 2014. If he's dealt, though, that club option converts into a player option, meaning any team that acquires him can realistically expect to be on the hook for $36 million over the next three years for his services. If we get him, that's a risk we'd have to be willing to assume. But given their respective ages and levels of performance, I know I'd rather pay 3/36 for Rodriguez than 2/29 for Arroyo moving forward -- especially if the Reds and Astros split the onerous, upfront costs of swallowing these two contracts, their $7 million kick-in buying them a legitimate catcher and a potential ace.
There's the deal. It's a sausage grinder, but it does seem to address both teams' immediate and longer-range needs in a creative way. If the Astros were going to remain the NL Central, I don't see how this could ever get done, but with them likely to ship out soon to the AL West, I could see it happening. Whether it will is another story.