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Debating the Reds Trade Deadline Decision

Sadly, the Reds’ historic twelve-game winning streak came to an end this past Saturday night. It was a remarkable run, not just because it had been over 100 years since the Reds had managed a streak that long, but because it seemed like no matter how big of a hole the Reds starting pitching put the team, the hitters were up to the challenge. The win-streak taught us a lot about the kinds of players the Reds have in their batting lineup, but at the same time, we learned a lot about the pitching staff too – and right now, the pitching just isn’t up to snuff.

With the Reds now riding a three-game losing-streak, the glaring need for better pitching has never been more obvious. But even though starting pitching is – far and away – the Reds biggest need, it’s not their only need. This team could really use a power bat in the middle of the order, and it never hurts to add more relievers (especially with how taxed the bullpen has been lately due to the starters leaving the games so quickly). The Reds remain in first place – for the time being, anyway. But if they have plans on staying there, they might need to make a deadline move or two.

However, the last thing the Reds should do is trade any asset for a player whose contract expires at the end of the 2023 season (with one, extremely notable exception). The Reds should be looking to acquire players that are under team control until at least the end of the 2024 season, and preferably be on the right side of 30. The longer they’re under team control, the better (obviously). The younger the better (obviously), although I admit that there are certainly a couple older, veteran players who could solve a lot of problems for the Reds.

The biggest reason I believe the Reds should not invest in a player with an expiring contract is that the Reds, as currently constructed, are not built to win a World Series. Two-fifths of their starting rotation are Ben Lively and Luke Weaver. I’ll admit, they’ve each had some moments, but they’re not guys capable of winning multiple games in the postseason. Hell, I’d be reluctant to put them in as relievers.

The rest of the rotation isn’t exactly inspiring either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in on Andrew Abbott and Hunter Greene seems to be figuring it out, but I wouldn’t bet on either of them in a showdown versus Atlanta’s Spencer Strider or Arizona’s Zac Gallen. And counting on Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft or Brandon Williamson right now feels like a fool’s errand at best. Maybe Connor Phillips, who was recently promoted to AAA Louisville in the Reds’ farm system, can have an Abbott-like impact if he gets the call-up, but that feels a bit too much like asking lightning to strike twice in the same spot.

If the Reds are planning on adding talent at this trade deadline, any move should be done with meticulous caution. Don’t forget: this Reds organization has one of the deepest farm systems in baseball. That player the Reds desperately need to get over the hump? He might be in AA, but he needs a little more time. The Reds weren’t supposed to be good this year, and that’s okay. Joey Votto’s contract comes off the books in the offseason and so does Mike Moustakas’. If there ever was a year to be going “all-in” on a season, it’s 2024 for the Reds.

That may not be what you wanted to hear, and I get it. I’m a fan of the Reds too. I want to see the team play well. I want them to make the playoffs. I want to see this team win a World Series before I expire. But risky decision-making didn’t get the Reds to this point – it was patience, development, and a little bit of luck. Now that the Reds have finally built what appears to be a sustainable, high-upside roster, you want to change course? No thanks.

2023 should be all about finding out which up-and-coming prospects can turn into everyday professionals. It’s time for separating the wheat from the chaff. The Reds are going to be hard-pressed to advance in the postseason, even if they add a player or two at the deadline. And the prospect (or prospects) they’d have to give up in return for said-player(s)? There's a pretty good chance they turn out to be better than the players they were traded for!

Now is not the time to get all antsy-in-the-pantsy with this Reds team. They’re in a good spot. The young hitters have developed more than anyone could have expected. Elly De La Cruz is already in the conversation for most exciting player in all of baseball. Andrew Abbott is a left-handed pitching cyborg. Hunter Greene’s fastballs generate enough heat to power a small town. And that’s just guys on the big-league roster!

Christian Encarnacion-Strand continues to put up monster numbers in AAA, and Noelvi Marte was just called up to Louisville to join him. Edwin Arroyo, Chase Petty, Cam Collier, Sal Stewart, Rece Hinds… the cupboard is legitimately overflowing. Not all of these prospects will become high-end players, and some will almost-certainly become trade-bait, but shipping them off now just for a sniff at a playoff spot does not sound like a worthwhile investment.

There’s only one player who could (in theory) turn the Reds into a bonafide, World-Series contender overnight: Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels. Is he for sale? Who knows, who cares? If the Reds acquired him (and he would probably cost almost every player I mentioned in the above paragraph, and I wouldn’t necessarily be against it), he would immediately address the Reds two biggest needs – a power bat in the middle of the order (he’s currently leading the MLB with 26 home runs), and a frontline starting pitcher (his 3.13 ERA in 15 starts is 10th in the American League).

So, short of Ohtani, there isn’t really one player who could make a huge difference in the Reds’ postseason outcome. More than likely, this season will not end with the Reds holding the World Series trophy. This team wasn’t built to win in 2023. Next year though – next year could be really, really fun. So, don’t worry if the Reds don’t add some big-name pitcher or hitter at the trade deadline this year. They probably weren't going to put this team over the top anyway, and chances are the Reds are getting somebody ready to fill that role in the minors.

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