With Bruce out, it's time for Reds to sell

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The situation hardly seemed rosy a week ago. While the standings said
the NL Central title was still very much in reach, the Reds mostly
sported a lineup with just two above average regulars and a rotation
that seemed to be fading quickly after such a promising start. Trades
for outfielders or a third baseman were considered, but nothing ever
materialized. It looked like the only way the offense was going to
become formidable was if Jay Bruce started fulfilling his potential and
Edwin Encarnacion returned to previous form after coming back from the
DL.

Well, Encarnacion is back now, but Bruce is done for 6-8 weeks after
fracturing his wrist in the outfield. Odds are that he’ll return for
the final month and maybe a little more, but as poorly as he had been
playing with a healthy wrist, it’s doubtful that he’ll emerge as a
force prior to 2010.

The Reds might be able to survive if the pitching were still coming
through in a big way, but there are few encouraging signs. Aaron Harang
was 5-4 with a 3.36 ERA in May 25. He’s 5-9 with a 4.18 ERA now. Johnny
Cueto, one of the NL’s top three or four pitchers for the first three
months, has struggled in four of his last five appearances, taking his
ERA from 2.17 to 3.62. Bronson Arroyo was lit up in three straight
outings before shutting out Triple-A Norfolk last time out. There’s
still no telling when Edinson Volquez will return from his elbow
problems, and Micah Owings is probably the team’s best option to play
right field in place of Bruce.

Selling is the best answer. None of the team’s veterans are going to
be bargains in upcoming seasons, and there are no stars that would be
impossible to replace in free agency. If the Reds have the chance to
dump Arroyo’s contract, they should take it. He’ll make $11 million in
2010 and $11 million-$13 million if his 2011 option is picked up ($2
million if not). David Weathers, Arthur Rhodes, Ramon Hernandez and
Jonny Gomes could bring in prospects. Perhaps Jerry Hairston Jr. as
well, if teams particularly value his versatility.

Harang is probably the best trade chip, even if the midst of a
second disappointing season. His K/BB ratio remains quite strong, and
while he’s always going to give up homers, his .294 average against
this year seems pretty fluky. He’s not cheap, as he’s guaranteed $12.5
million in 2010 and has a $12.75 million club option for 2011 with a $2
million buyout. However, that is the going rate for above average
innings-eaters. Ideally, the Reds could get a young shortstop for him.
The Angels seem like a pretty good match with Brandon Wood.

The Reds may well hurt their chances in 2010 by moving Harang and
others, but they could potentially have as much money to spend in free
agency as any club in the NL. Cueto and Volquez still look like
potential top-of-the rotation starters, and those two combine with
Bruce and Joey Votto to form one of the game’s most talented cores. If
Harang and Arroyo were moved, Francisco Cordero, who has a no-trade
clause through the end of the year, would be the team’s only player
making more than $7 million. They’ll have a ton of flexibility, leaving
them with little need to settle for more Hairstons, Taverases and
Lincolns when they go shopping this winter. The future still looks
pretty bright.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.