COMMENTARY| The glaring weakness in the Cincinnati Reds' bullpen was never more obvious than during the team's loss on Sunday to the St. Louis Cardinals. With lefty Manny Parra in the bullpen and the Reds protecting a two-run lead in the seventh inning, right-handed reliever Sam LeCure was brought into the game and faced three left-handed hitters. In the 10th inning with the Reds down a run, righty J.J. Hoover remained in the game to face his third left-handed hitter of the inning -- the last one with two outs and the bases loaded. The two-RBI single that resulted effectively put an end to the Reds chances for a comeback, but more importantly spoke volumes about how little confidence Reds' manager Dusty Baker has in Parra, who never did pitch in the loss despite warming up.
Without Sean Marshall available in the bullpen, the Reds have conceded that they really don't have a left-handed pitcher other than closer Aroldis Chapman to use in key situations. Marshall may have received enough treatment for his balky shoulder to return before the All-Star break from his second stint on the disabled list this year, but his shoulder problems should be enough for the Reds to realize the crucial need for another lefty in the pen.
The Reds aren't alone in their need for a left-handed reliever. The Atlanta Braves have lost lefties Johnny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty and will most definitely be willing to bid high to fill their bullpen void. There are several lefties that both the Reds and Braves could target, but tops on the list for both may be Oliver Perez of the Seattle Mariners. One reason Perez will demand high interest is his high strikeout rate this year: 12.3 per nine innings. The other reason Perez will draw interest is that he's a free agent next year and teams will have to give up less for a half-year rental than a younger lefty under team control for the next couple of seasons.
Perez has revitalized his career the past two years with the Mariners, posting a 1.70 ERA in 53 innings. The downside with Perez remains control, which derailed his career as a starting pitcher. Just how much demand there is for Perez remains to be seen, but if the Mariners continue to battle with the Houston Astros for last place in the AL West, there's no doubt Perez will be dealt. The Mariners may be willing to part with Perez for a potential center-fielder who can also play left field. An outfielder who can also leadoff -- like Reds' rookie Derrick Robinson -- should have further appeal for the Mariners.
Unless the Mariners actively trade, the team will undergo an exodus of free agent outfielders at the end of the season. Michael Morse, Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez and Franklin Gutierrez will all likely hit free agency. The team has an option of $7.5 million in 2014 for Gutierrez, but given his injury history, it's unlikely the Mariners pick up the option unless Gutierrez excels when he returns from the disabled list this year.
The Reds won't have interest in Gutierrez, Bay or Ibanez, but Morse should be a compelling pursuit for the Reds.
Like Perez, Morse would be a rental, which will deflate his market value somewhat. Unlike Perez, Morse has struggled this year, hitting under .250 with just 22 RBIs. Morse carries a hefty $7 million salary this year, the remainder of which the the Reds would ask the Mariners to help absorb. Morse would provide the Reds with the insurance of a right-handed power bat and left-fielder that the Reds need with Ryan Ludwick still recovering from shoulder surgery.
The Reds will have to look ahead to reduce payroll in 2014 because the team will be on the hook for $12 million owed to Ludwick ($7.5 million for 2014 salary and another $4.5 million for a buyout in 2015). Given the emergence of rookies Robinson and Donald Lutz, the expectations for Billy Hamilton in 2014, and the value of left-handed hitting left fielder Xavier Paul, the Reds will likely seek to move the more expensive Chris Heisey, and the Mariners would be an ideal landing spot for the versatile outfielder, who will be entering his second year of salary arbitration eligibility.
Offering Heisey and a mid-level corner infield prospect with some pop like Neftali Soto could be enough for the Reds to rent both Perez and Morse for another post-season push and a World Series bid.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds season here.
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