Sep 11, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday (7) is forced out at first base by Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) in the second inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Entering this off-season, most fans and pundits positioned the Cincinnati Reds as a franchise with one more season (2015) to make a big playoff push before free agency for four of its starting pitchers, and payroll concerns, forced a rebuild. In the wake of Jon Lester’s signing with the Chicago Cubs yesterday, though, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Reds have “a mandate to cut payroll significantly.” On the surface, that statement may not seem like a bombshell, but it significantly alters what kind of team the Reds can field in 2015.
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Right away, further payroll restrictions means that the Reds can’t sign any of the remaining free agent bats (i.e., Nori Aoki), without first shedding other salary commitments.
If the Reds must cut payroll, then that also likely means they’ll have to trade at least one of their free-agent-to-be starters this winter, but that the team can’t take much of a contract back in the deal. These criteria would seemingly rule out a trade with the Boston Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes, as well as a deal with the Atlanta Braves for Justin Upton.
No, trading Johnny Cueto or Mat Latos or Brad Leake or Alfredo Simon in order to get salary relief means that the Reds will be looking for young players in return, and that means they will lose a solid (or better) starter without an immediate offensive upgrade.
Under those circumstance, competing with the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs in the National League Central in 2015 looks like a pipe dream at best.
And, if there is little hope of competing in 2015, the Reds might as well get serious about their rebuild and test the market for Aroldis Chapman, Zack Cozart and maybe even Jay Bruce. Any Red who makes a lot of money and is not young enough to be in his prime in four or five years when the Reds could consistently contend again should be fair game, and the at includes the inestimable Joey Votto. Votto would be a hard move, considering his age, health, contract and no-trade status, but he’s going to be a drag on the Reds’ flexibility in the next few years.
So, as the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego wrap up, we’re left with the harsh reality that the Reds are in a tighter spot than we thought even a few weeks ago. If 2015 isn’t already lost, it’s at least misplaced.