Outfielder Nick Castellanos leads one of baseball's most explosive offenses in 2021. (Image per Aaron Doster, Dayton Daily News)

Cincinnati Reds: Contenders or Pretenders?

What a difference a year makes. After struggling to score runs in the shortened 2020 season, the Cincinnati Reds find themselves boasting one of baseball’s better offenses in 2021 behind the bats of Jesse Winker and Nick Castellanos. Averaging roughly five runs per game, the Red’s offense could carry them deep into the postseason. If that’s the case, how is it that this team finds itself with a sub-.500 record halfway through the season? Well, it boils down to an old adage: offense wins you games, defense (or, in the case of baseball, pitching) wins you championships.

As we enter the month of July, what moves might the Reds make should they still be hovering around .500? If Milwaukee pulls away from the pack, will the Reds shed some of their veterans to build for the future? Should they reel off a handful of wins in a row, could Cincinnati be buyers at the deadline? Here are a few moves that the Cincinnati Reds would be wise in making to bolster their roster moving forwards (as well as a seller’s route should the Reds falter in the next few weeks).

Trade Prospect #1: Danny Duffy

Quality starting pitching has somehow become both overvalued and undervalued at the same time in today’s game. With teams able to churn out guy after guy after guy throwing 95+ MPH from the bullpen, the necessity of having quality depth and length in your starting rotation seems like a moot point. Get four or five innings, turn it over to the bullpen, rinse and repeat. Seemingly, that should be a recipe for success. Over the past few seasons, however, one thing stands out about the teams competing deep into October and that is the strength at the top of those team’s pitching rotations (looking at you 2019 Nationals and 2020 Dodgers).

Longtime Royals stalwart Danny Duffy represents the type of mid-rotation supporting arm that can push a team over the top. As a short-term rental (his contract concludes at the end of the year), he shouldn’t cost you the exorbitant price as some of the other arms on the trading block. He’s enjoying a bit of a career year with a 2.44 ERA and a 1.167 WHIP. A rotation of Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle, Danny Duffy, Wade Miley, and Luis Castillo may not be the flashiest group, but there’s something to consistency and dependability. That group would put you in a position to win a lot of ballgames, especially with the type of offense that Cincinnati has. It’s a move that almost makes too much sense (if Cincinnati is to be buyers at the deadline)…

Trade Prospect #2: Ian Kennedy

Ian Kennedy, Cincinnati Reds trade target
Ian Kennedy has been a revelation coming out of the bullpen for the Texas Rangers in 2021. (Image per Raymond Carlin III, USA TODAY Sports)

Here are the things about my Danny Duffy speculation: it all may be rendered moot if he activates his 10-to-5 rights and vetoes a trade from the team. Duffy has notably told fans to “bury [him] a Royal.” Chances are, he’s staying put. So, where does that leave us? An alternative option for the Cincinnati Reds may be in addressing their bullpen rather than adding to their starting rotation. Enter Ian Kennedy.

Currently leading baseball in saves, Ian Kennedy is bound to be one of the hottest commodities at the trade deadline. That being the case, the asking price for the thirty-six-year-old will be high. Still, acquiring him would completely realign Cincinnati’s bullpen. While perhaps not at a Philadelphia Phillies level of ineptitude, the Cincinnati bullpen has been bad this year. Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims have both struggled after shining in 2020. Off-season acquisition Sean Doolittle has been more “meh” than good thus far. Philadelphia’s favorite Heath Hembree has trotted out to the mound twenty-five times with predictable results. Yikes.

Ian Kennedy is a major upgrade over all of the aforementioned names. Slot him into the ninth, allow Amir Garrett to match up against lefties, and deploy Lucas Sims in lower leverage situations until he gets his mojo back. Sounds like a recipe for success.

Seller’s Market: Cincinnati Reds on the Move

On the flip side, perhaps Cincinnati slips further and further out of contention either by their hand (they need to start stringing wins together if they hope to contend) or due to the play of the red-hot Milwaukee Brewers. Barring injury, the three-headed triumvirate of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta will be tough to beat in the NL Central. Should the Cincinnati Reds become sellers at the deadline, who might we see be shipped out?

Trade Prospect #1: Nick Castellanos

The Cincinnati Reds are in a tough position with Nick Castellanos. Should they fall out of contention over the next few weeks, they almost have to try trading him even though he’s under contract for two more seasons. Castellanos has a player option at the conclusion of this season and, if he continues to hit like he’s been hitting thus far in 2021, he’d likely be in line for a massive deal should he test the free-agent market. Currently leading the majors in hits, doubles, and batting average, Castellanos is the premier type of bat that could yield two to three top-level prospects. You can’t miss out on an opportunity like that unless you’re sure that you can make a deep playoff run.

Worst case scenario, the Reds hold onto Castellanos, miss out on the playoffs, and he opts out of his contract. If the Reds slip out of the playoff hunt, don’t be surprised to see Castellanos on the move.