Monday, July 30, 2012

Stubbs could hold key to Reds' trade deadline plans

The best player available for the stretch run might already wear Red.
By Scott Eddy
Staff Writer

It's that time again. With less than 48 hours until Tuesday's non-waiver trade deadline, Reds fans are all wondering - what moves will the team make?

In recent days, the Reds have been rumored to be in discussions for the Phillies’ Shane Victorino and Juan Pierre, the Twins’ Denard Span, and as recently as Sunday were linked to Cleveland’s Shin-Soo Choo.

Here’s a huge question that general manager Walt Jocketty must answer – is it worth trading away what’s left on the farm for the names currently on the market?

After the Reds’ deals for Mat Latos and Sean Marshall in the off-season, the Minor League cupboard is mostly bare. The team has a few interesting prospects in guys like Billy Hamilton, Daniel Corcino, Tony Cingrani and last year’s first-round pick, Robert Stephenson. The rest of the Reds’ prospects could only be really considered throw-ins in any potential deal.

If the Reds are to trade for an everyday bat, there’s a reasonable chance that they’ll need to include a name from the current Major League roster to make a deal happen. Guys like Drew Stubbs, Chris Heisey and Todd Frazier have popped up in such discussion.

The key name is Stubbs. Likely the largest question Jocketty faces this trade deadline is this – are the guys available really a big enough upgrade over Stubbs to pull the trigger on a trade?

We all know about Stubbs’ shortcomings. In three-plus major league seasons, he’s struck out an ungodly 515 times, and is posting the worst season of his career. But, the last week has shown, again, what Stubbs has to offer. He exploded at the plate during the last road trip, including going 7-for-15 with a homer, fiver RBI, five runs and two stolen bases during the Houston series. He kept up the hot streak in Colorado.

When Stubbs is producing, the Reds are, simply put, a completely different team. They’re 36-2 this season when Stubbs scores a run. Arguably, Stubbs has a wider skill set than any player available on the market right now. Out of the guys mentioned above, Stubbs is the only one with the rare combination of blistering speed, power and tremendous defense.

As for the likely available bats to fit the leadoff bill – Victorino is currently in the midst of a career-worst season. His slash-line of .261/.324/.401 doesn’t look much better than the current Reds’ options. He’s also likely a rental, as he’s a free agent at season’s end. His intangibles – such as postseason experience – are plusses, but his career OBP (.342) suggests he’s not the tremendous spark plug some make him out to be.

Pierre would have the cheapest price tag of all, and could potentially be had without burning down the farm or trading a major league piece. Still, at age 34 how much does Pierre have left to offer? His biggest value may be as a bat on the bench.

If the Reds were to go big and chase after Choo or Span, it would likely break the bank in terms of personnel. Span is young and under a reasonable contract long term, but potentially becomes redundant as soon as next year if the Reds feel like Billy Hamilton, the leadoff man of the future, is ready. Plus, Span has had a couple clunker seasons - .264/.331/.348 in 2010 and was just .264/.328/.359 in 70 games last year. I just don’t see the allure there for what it would likely cost to pick him up.

Choo is the most intriguing name, and there’s little to argue with his numbers (.291/.383/.474 career). However, if the Reds were to obtain him, it seems like Cleveland would want another young major league-ready outfielder in return as part of the package, likely Stubbs. If so, Choo doesn’t seem to be a fit as he’d only slot into a corner OF spot.

The real question becomes have we seen the ceiling for Stubbs? Perhaps there’s little reason to think that Stubbs is ever going to post much better average and OBP than he has so far. After all, even in the minors he was just a career .268/.363/.399 hitter, striking out more than 100 times in each of his full-time minor league seasons. Maybe I'm just fooled like so many scouts, loving the skill set that is so obvious when watching Stubbs in those times when his light bulb clicks.

Still, Choo is the only player listed who is an absolute upgrade over what the Reds already have in Stubbs. That is, if Stubbs can continue on any type of pace like he’s set since Joey Votto went down. Trading Frazier simply isn’t an option with Scott Rolen’s likely retirement after the year. With the Reds lack of high-ceiling prospects, moving any of them for guys like Span, Victorino or Pierre certainly doesn’t seem to make sense. Choo would likely break the bank. Perhaps Pierre could be had for a spare part or two, but other than that, the Reds might be best served by standing pat.

While many Reds fans might not like that idea, the team as it is now might just be better off by keeping things status quo heading into August 1.   

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