Back in May of 2018, the Cincinnati Reds were in the midst of a rebuild that seemed to have hit a brick wall. Sporting the worst record in Major League Baseball, and having traded away every veteran player of value who wasn’t under a massive contract, it looked like the Reds would be waiting several more seasons to have any chance at contending again. This got me thinking about the Reds’ path through what is now commonly known as The Process, and why it didn’t exactly follow the easy breezy worst-to-first-in-three-years model set forth by the Houston Astros that half the league is now trying to emulate. To figure that out, we must first understand what the Reds’ version of The Process has actually involved.
The recent high point for the Cincinnati Reds was the 2012 iteration of the team. That year, the Reds won 97 games, took their second NL Central division title in three years, and jumped out to a 2-0 NLDS lead against the eventual World Series champion Giants before doing exactly what you would expect a Cincinnati-based team managed by Dusty Baker to do. Looking back, this was clearly the team’s best chance to win a World Series since actually doing so in 1990. The Reds did make an appearance in the 2013 NL Wild Card game, which they lost, and then they fired Baker and completely ran out of steam the next year under Brian Price. After the 2014 season, it was clear that keeping the previous core together was no longer the best path to a World Series, and so the Reds began to systematically trade nearly all veteran players approaching the end of their contracts.
For our purposes, what I am calling The Process is this mass selling-off of the 2012 Reds in exchange for the hopes of fielding a contending team again sometime before the end of this decade. To “simplify” things, I am ignoring the draft and the Reds’ minimal free agent activities over the past four years, as well as any moves involving players that were not on the team in 2012. I fully acknowledge that some key players (Jesse Winker, Luis Castillo, Raisel Iglesias, etc.) have been acquired by these means. For now, however, I just want to look at what happened to the 38 players who appeared on that 2012 team, and what the Reds have received in return for the 36 of those 38 players who have since departed. The players can be broken down into three major categories: those still with the team, those who left the team without the Reds receiving any compensation (i.e. free agency or retirement), and those who were traded away. What follows is an in-depth breakdown of the transformation of a former World Series contender into what may or may not be a future World Series contender.
Here’s the difference between a large-market team and a small-market team. A large-market team gets to choose several players to sign to high-dollar contracts and build around for years at a time. The Reds basically got to pick two. Joey Votto may well be the greatest Red of all time by the end of his career, whereas Homer Bailey might, with some luck, be a competent major league starter again someday. Suffice to say the Reds batted .500 here. As did hitters facing Homer Bailey in 2018. (Hiyooooooooo!)
For the most part, the Reds have been very effective in recent years (for better or worse) at trading anyone who was in the last year of their contract and may have held any sort of value on the trade market. The one obvious exception here is Cozart, whose injury on July 25, 2017, and subsequent trip to the 10-day DL rendered him unable to be dealt at the extremely ill-timed July 31 non-waiver deadline. He then failed to clear waivers in August, leaving the Reds totally dicked. Beyond that, however, only a few guys on this list went on to continue playing at all after leaving Cincinnati, and none of them came back to haunt the Reds (other than, arguably, Arroyo, who siphoned 1.4 WAR away from the Reds in a short-lived but unsightly return to the club at the age of 40 in 2017).
Reds trade Alfredo Simon to Tigers for Eugenio Suarez and Jonathon Crawford (December 11, 2014)
Oh man, what the hell, Tigers? Alfredo Simon, a 33-year-old back-of-the-rotation starter who had posted a grand total of 1.6 WAR in 6 seasons with the Orioles and Reds, made his first All-Star appearance in 2014 on the strength of an out-of-nowhere first half in which he went 12-3 with a 2.70 ERA. A shakier second half brought him in at 15-10 with a 3.44 ERA and 2.2 WAR for the year. Not bad overall, but again, he was 33 at the time, and his CAREER SEASON was one in which his numbers added up to “decent starter.” In exchange for Simon, the Reds somehow convinced Detroit to pony up Eugenio Suarez - who threw down a 3.7 WAR campaign in 2017, made the All-Star team in an even better 2018, and is still only 26 years old - AND a second human being! Granted, Crawford has never progressed higher than A-ball, but Suarez is a borderline superstar and Simon was so terrible for the Tigers that they let him walk after one season. Unfortunately this highly successful trade immediately went to the Reds’ heads, and in an attempt to rub salt in the Tigers’ wounds they actually brought Simon back in 2016 to see what else they could squeeze out of him. He appeared in 15 games and had an ERA over 9 before the Reds cut their losses. Anyway, nice trade! This rebuild is off to a great start!
Reds trade Mat Latos to Marlins for Anthony DeSclafani and Chad Wallach (December 11, 2014)
And it gets better! The Reds’ second trade of Rebuild Day 1 still has a chance to jump into the Great category, if DeSclafani can shake his injuries and come back as anything close to the kind of pitcher he was in 2016 (3.28 ERA, 2.9 WAR in 20 starts). Right now it’s a good deal, mostly because of how precipitously Latos fell off upon leaving Cincinnati. After Latos accounted for 8.1 WAR in basically two and a half seasons with the Reds, the Marlins suddenly found themselves with a replacement-level pitcher in 2015. Miami traded Latos to the Dodgers after less than a year, and he was somehow even worse in Los Angeles (-0.6 WAR in 6 appearances!). The Dodgers actually cut him before the season even ended, and he bounced around to a few other teams before reaching what appeared to be the end of the road last year. Then he fought some dudes in independent ball this year, so he’s really never coming back now. Wallach appeared in 6 games with the Reds in 2017 before ending up back in Miami this year, so that was basically nothing. Still, even if DeSclafani never gets back to being an ace, he’s more than enough of a return for the train wreck that post-Reds Mat Latos turned out to be. I do miss Cat Latos though.
Reds trade Mike Leake to Giants for Adam Duvall and Keury Mella (July 30, 2015); Reds Trade Adam Duvall to Braves for Lucas Sims, Matt Wisler, and Preston Tucker (July 30, 2018)
In the best trade the Reds have made since the fire sale began in earnest, Cincinnati shipped out starting pitcher Mike Leake, who was always sort of OK (8.2 WAR in roughly five and a half seasons). With 2.9 WAR in two and a half seasons since leaving, he’s been still sort of OK, if maybe slightly less so. In return, the Reds got Keury Mella, who has been unremarkable in cups of coffee with the Reds the last two years but is still just 24, and Adam Duvall, who actually made the All-Star team in 2016 and put up an alright 5 WAR in his first two full big-league seasons. Then, three years to the day after being acquired from the Giants, the Reds decided that Duvall was the odd man out of an increasingly crowded outfield and sent him to Atlanta. Sims is the alleged centerpiece of the deal, and he and Wisler are both viewed as candidates for the 2019 starting rotation. Tucker has basically had a replacement-level career at the plate so far and kind of sucks defensively, but 27 is not extremely old so he may still improve. This trade is a Good one for now on the basis of Duvall’s contributions to the team (including a Home Run Derby appearance!) and the hope that the Reds might have some help coming to the rotation soon. If Sims and Wisler both end up being at least as OK as Mike Leake, the trade gets upgraded to Great status.
Reds trade Todd Frazier to White Sox; Dodgers trade Scott Schebler, Jose Peraza, and Brandon Dixon to Reds (December 16, 2015)
Frazier has put up about 7 WAR since leaving the Reds nearly 3 years ago and appears to be entering a decline. When healthy, Schebler and Peraza make up one-fourth of the Reds’ starting lineup. This does not mean that they are good, necessarily, but it’s still better than can be said at this time about pretty much any of the trades that follow this one. Also, at 27 and 24, respectively, Schebler and Peraza are both a good deal younger than Frazier, who himself didn’t blossom into a star until his 28-year-old season, so there’s still time for them to develop. Dixon put up a .783 OPS at AAA last year and has seen a little time in the majors this season. This trade has room to improve.
Reds trade Jay Bruce to Mets for Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell (August 1, 2016)
Bruce has been pretty terrible since the Reds unloaded him, with just 1.7 WAR in parts of 4 seasons with the Mets, Indians, and Mets again for some reason. Dilson Herrera has been replacement-level in his short stint with the Reds, but at 24 he could very well turn into something eventually. Wotell is still a lottery ticket at this point, splitting time between rookie league and A-ball this year at age 21. I’m at least confident in saying that this trade was not a total failure.
Reds trade Devin Mesoraco to Mets for Matt Harvey (May 8, 2018)
When I started working on this project, Mesoraco was one of three holdovers from the 2012 roster, along with Votto and Bailey. Then the Reds and Mets went and did this shit. The Mets had already DFA’d Harvey, and he had already refused assignment to the minors, so they were pretty much forced to accept the best offer presented to them or allow Harvey to leave for nothing. I think the part I’m having the most trouble wrapping my head around is this: was five months of Devin Mesoraco really the best thing anyone offered for Matt Harvey? Understandably a club looking long-term wouldn’t want to sink a prospect into a struggling starter in his walk year, but did all of the possible 2018 contenders truly believe that Harvey had no chance of helping them? Or were the players those teams felt they could afford to part with simply less attractive to the Mets? I’m forced to conclude that Devin Mesoraco was the best completely expendable player in the league, and that’s why the Reds now have a 29-year-old former Cy Young candidate who will be a free agent at the end of the season. Maybe he’ll re-sign on a club-friendly deal in the offseason and continue building on the mini-rebound he’s started this year? Unlikely, but it was clear that Mesoraco was done in Cincinnati so I guess why not take a shot.
Reds trade Ryan Hanigan to Rays; Diamondbacks trade David Holmberg to Reds (December 13, 2013)
Reds trade Jonathan Broxton to Brewers for Kevin Shackelford and Barrett Astin (August 31, 2014)
Reds trade Chris Heisey to Dodgers for Matt Magill (December 2, 2014)
Reds trade Brandon Phillips to Braves for Andrew McKirahan and Carlos Portuondo (February 12, 2017)
Reds trade Tony Cingrani to Dodgers for Scott Van Slyke and Hendrik Clementina (July 31, 2017)
I’m grouping all of these trades together because, at least to this point, they have done nothing to improve the Reds at the major league level. However, they also cost the Reds very little, as none of the players who were given up were high-impact players for Cincinnati at the time they were traded. The only player the Reds received in this quintet of trades with any notable major league experience, Scott Van Slyke, left the franchise after 2 months without ever appearing in a game. Would have been nice to acquire at least one useful player in shipping out FIVE veterans, but even so, these trades are basically a wash. On a personal note, I once attended a Reds game started by David Holmberg. I should look up which one it was. I know he exited early and they lost handily, so that probably does not narrow things down very much.
Reds trade Drew Stubbs to Indians and Didi Gregorius to Diamondbacks; Indians trade Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald to Reds (December 11, 2012)
This trade is only a negative because Gregorius turned out to be good, and for the Yankees at that. But believe it or not, this was actually a Go For It trade for the Reds at the time. Gregorius was a promising prospect who looked ready for a shot at the majors, but with Phillips and Cozart poised to hold down the middle of the infield for years to come, the Reds viewed him as expendable. Stubbs had pretty much sucked for the previous two years (1.9 WAR total) after flashing some potential early in his career, and Choo was an All-Star caliber center fielder who looked like he could be the Reds’ missing piece. He didn’t disappoint, putting up a .423 OBP and 4.4 WAR as Cincinnati’s leadoff man in 2013, but the Reds didn’t get it done down the stretch and their one-year rental of Choo left them empty-handed. Stubbs didn’t do much for the Indians but did rebound to have a nice year for the Rockies in 2014 before falling off the face of the earth. With the benefit of hindsight here, the Reds probably would have been better off hanging on to Gregorius, but I certainly don’t fault them for trying to put themselves over the top. Fun fact: unless you count the Harvey-Mesoraco deal, this trade from the year 2012 is the most recent trade made by the Reds for the purpose of making an immediate improvement to their major league roster.
Reds trade Aroldis Chapman to Yankees for Rookie Davis, Caleb Cotham, Eric Jagielo, and Tony Renda (December 28, 2015)
On December 7, 2015, reports surfaced that Aroldis Chapman had been involved in an alleged domestic violence incident, possibly choking his girlfriend and firing 8 gunshots. The Reds traded Chapman 3 weeks later, which sure as hell is not the most important development that followed the allegations, but that’s another discussion. For our purposes, I’m going to Stick To Sports and simply say that it’s abundantly clear that the Reds sold at the lowest possible point here. Of the four prospects the Reds got from the Yankees, only Rookie Davis is even still in the organization, and Rookie Davis is butt. As in, -0.9 WAR in 7 career appearances. He is only 25 years old if you’re fishing for positives. However, here is his current status per Baseball Reference: “Davis is on the 60-day disabled list while recovering from offseason surgery to fix the labrum and remove a bone spur in his right hip. He suffered a setback in his recovery and there is no timetable for return.” I don’t have high hopes.
Reds trade Johnny Cueto to Royals for Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, and John Lamb (July 26, 2015)
I loved Johnny Cueto, and I hate this trade so goddamn much. Brandon Finnegan sucks. Cody Reed sucks. John Lamb is no longer with the Reds organization, and sucks. Again, the only positive I can point to is age - both Finnegan and Reed are still just 25. Johnny Cueto won the World Series with Kansas City in 2015 and threw down 5.5 WAR for the Giants the next year. We did not win this trade.
When I started working on this in May, the point was going to be that this whole tanking thing wasn’t the guaranteed World Series that the Astros made it appear to be. At that time, the Reds were the worst team in the league, appeared to have had average or even above average success on their trades, and were still left with what seemed to be not nearly enough major league talent to compete any time in the next few years. Then they fired Brian Price and started to show improvement, and for the past 3 months the Reds have been a .500 team. Now we’re talking about actually trying again in 2019, which was unfathomable to me a few months ago. I have no idea if it was necessary for them to be this goddamn terrible for the last 3 years - couldn’t they have done this strategy and still signed a few free agents to at least try to win some games in the meantime? - but at this point you’d have a nonzero chance of talking me into believing it was the best possible strategy. We’ll see how it goes when the Reds try to sign free agents in the offseason and push their way back to being playoff contenders. Until then, here’s a consolidated list of the fairly mind-blowing amount of trade-induced turnover that went on over the last 6 years.
C Devin Mesoraco
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Zack Cozart
3B Todd Frazier
IF Didi Gregorius
OF Jay Bruce
OF Drew Stubbs
OF Chris Heisey
OF Adam Duvall
C Ryan Hanigan
SP Johnny Cueto
SP Mat Latos
SP Mike Leake
SP Alfredo Simon
RP Aroldis Chapman
RP Jonathan Broxton
RP Tony Cingrani
Acquired Players (*no longer in Reds organization):
3B Eugenio Suarez
IF Jose Peraza
OF Shin-Soo Choo*
OF Adam Duvall
OF Scott Schebler
SP Anthony DeSclafani
SP Matt Harvey
SP Brandon Finnegan
SP Rookie Davis
RP Cody Reed
RP Kevin Shackelford
RP Barrett Astin
C Hendrik Clementina
IF Dilson Herrera
IF/OF Brandon Dixon
OF Preston Tucker
SP Lucas Sims
SP Matt Wisler
SP Jonathan Crawford
SP Keury Mella
SP Max Wotell
RP Andrew McKirahan
RP Carlos Portuondo
C Chad Wallach*
IF Jason Donald*
IF Eric Jagielo*
IF Tony Renda*
OF Scott Van Slyke*
SP David Holmberg*
SP John Lamb*
RP Caleb Cotham*
RP Matt Magill*