COMMENTARY| The best course of action for the Cincinnati Reds to claim their third NL Central division in four years would be to add a couple of players who can fill needs that have hampered the Reds during the first half of the season.
Right-Handed Hitting Left Fielder
The Reds have relied upon patchwork to fill the void created by the opening day shoulder injury to left fielder and cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick. That patchwork became even patchier with the two-month absence by Ludwick's primary replacement, Chris Heisey, due to a lingering hamstring injury. The Reds were able to survive a left field platoon trio of left-handed hitting Xavier Paul and rookies Derrick Robinson and Donald Lutz in Heisey's absence. Now that Heisey is back, he'll be the primary right-handed hitting left fielder until Ludwick's return, which is anticipated for sometime in August, now that Ludwick has resumed baseball activities.
Since the Reds have already waited this long to address the left field situation from outside of the organization, the likelihood is that the team won't trade for a two-month rental of a proven, power production bat like Michael Morse of the Seattle Mariners or Delmon Young of the Philadelphia Phillies -- both of whom are free agents at season's end. Despite the hold-steady course, the Reds should remain concerned enough about the health of both Heisey and Ludwick to keep open both rental and longer-term options like Alex Rios of the Chicago White Sox to fill the right-handed power bat void in left field this year.
The Reds should keep the option open to trade for the best relief pitcher available at the best deal, regardless of whether the reliever is left-handed or a righty. The return of southpaw Tony Cingrani to the rotation from the bullpen and the ongoing disabled list stints by primary setup relievers Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton will tax the current bullpen, especially when a left-hander is desired. Cingrani will be asked to start in place of ace Johnny Cueto for at least the rest of July if not longer until Cueto can return from his recurring lat injury. Besides closer Aroldis Chapman, Manny Parra is now the only left-hander available out of the pen for the Reds. The Reds are also relying too much on right-handers Alfredo Simon, J.J. Hoover and Sam LeCure for crucial situations in matchup pitching.
The questions about the health down the stretch of Cueto, the lefty Marshall and the right-hander Broxton should compel the Reds to dip into the trade market. Lacking convincing options right now at the minor league level, the Reds should be in the market for an impending free agent rental, like Oliver Perez of the Mariners or Jesse Crain of the White Sox, provided the latter's recent shoulder issue isn't severe. The Reds have big-money commitments to both Broxton and Marshall through 2015 and would seem less likely to agree to a salary-prohibitive trade for even an impending salary-arbitration eligible reliever, unless the trade price for a lower-cost reliever -- like Mike Dunn of the Miami Marlins -- is not too steep.
International Signing Money
The Reds won't be adding any players through the international signing period that started July 2 who will contribute to the team in 2013. However, the Reds should consider their options about how the organization can increase the second-lowest allotment in baseball of less than $1.9 million that is available to the Reds to sign players under the rule changes for this year. Since the Reds had the second-best overall regular season record last year, the team has the second-least amount of money to sign international players this year. Player trades for more international signing money should help the team in the future for financial reasons noted by Reds general manger Walt Jocketty.
Gone is the system that allowed a team like the Reds to plunk down $2 million and $2.5 million for international teenage prospects like Juan Duran and Yorman Rodriguez, which the Reds did in 2008. Now, the Reds will be able to parlay players for money that can be spent to land prospects that are coveted (like left-handed starter Jacob Constante, who the Reds grabbed last year for $730,000 during the international signing period).
Dealing players who don't fit into the Reds' future plans for international signing money before the trade deadline would give the Reds an extra financial boost to help keep the team a perennial contender.
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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