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Due diligence on Reds trade candidates

Cincinnati needs to shed payroll, and Kansas City is looking for starters. Do the Reds and Royals match up?

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Winter Meetings are well under way and, for the most part, the Royals have kept quiet.

Maybe you're picturing Dayton Moore lumpishly nodding off between negotiations in an unclasped AL Champs snapback, still champagne-giggly from the postseason. Or maybe your faith has been completely restored and you're imagining him swaying mutely from the rafters of the Hilton Bayfront, stalking GMs in opportunistic predation like Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later.

Either way, there's an element of suspense.

Based on legitimately credentialed sources, the Royals are looking to add a starter and an outfield bat. The market for the latter has yet to take a definitive shape, but the former has come into focus to some extent thanks to the Athletics' decision to trade Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox. Kansas City can always look to acquire a pitcher that would fit into their long-term plans, but most of the names being passed around are players that are headed for the open market sooner than later.

That's where the Reds come in. They have four productive starting pitchers entering their last year of team control in Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon. They won't be able to keep them all past 2015, and if the reports of the club's financial situation hold true, they might not be able to keep all four through the winter.

On Tuesday, Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal -- the real one -- reported that Cincinnati has received significant interest in Cueto and closer Aroldis Chapman, adding that the Reds have steered those inquiries toward Latos, Leake, and Simon. The Cincinnati Enquirer's C. Trent Rosencrans noted that the team is willing to listen on Cueto and Chapman, but those negotiations were "not something [they] initiated."

In any event, the Reds appear to be a team in need of salary relief and loaded with impact arms on one-year deals. The A's return for Samardzija might not matter to Cincy general manager Walt Jockey, but it's all we have to stir up some daydreams.

The Reds and Royals might not match up in real life, but here's a little due diligence on their available pitchers.

Johnny Cueto

The Reds are currently discussing an extension with Cueto, according to's Mark Sheldon. He's the least likely guy on the list to be dealt for obvious reasons. He finished first in the sub-Kershaw tier of NL Cy Young voting last year, posting a 2.25 ERA in 34 starts with 242 strikeouts in 243⅔ innings. Since 2011, he's put up a 2.48 ERA pitching nearly half of his games in the hitter-friendly dimensions of the Great American Ballpark.

It goes without saying, but Rick Hahn's Samardzija package wouldn't have gotten him very far if he had pitched it for Cueto. An inevitable qualifying offer pick would help the Royals to some extent in rebounding from the considerable haul it would take to land Cueto -- if that's even possible -- but the overall investment would be hard to justify even though one year of Cueto at $10 million and a resulting draft pick is extremely tempting.

Shaun Newkirk - Possible prospects:

Cueto is the best offering of the Reds pitching staff. Coming off a 4.1 win season in 2014 and a $10M salary for 2015 seems like quite a bargain. Steamer doesn't quite think he'll repeat that 2014 (partially due to not pitching 240 innings again) as the system has him projected for 2.7 wins (putting him next to Adam Wainwright and Jordan Zimmerman). Cueto would be a rental of course as it seems like once in free agency he'd price himself out of the Royals budget.

The Reds seemingly have many holes to fill so I'd imagine they'd be open for a prospect who plays any position as long as he's a prospect worthy of the trade piece.

Cueto's a #2 pitcher and even on a one year rental should command a strong return. The Royals would likely need to part with one of Finnegan/Manaea/Mondesi/Zimmer to start and also include a second and third lesser prospect such as Dozier/Almonte or perhaps a package of Bonifacio and Binford.

Possible trade:

Sean Manaea + Jorge Bonifacio + Pedro Fernandez

The Reds would have a duo of Robert Stephenson and Sean Manaea to potentially front their rotation for years to come. Both have some command issues (Stephenson much more so than Manaea) but the Reds have a relatively good track record of pitching development (such as Homer Bailey).

I'm not high on Bonifacio, but he's got the ability to possibly be an everyday regular and Great American Ballpark could help his right handed power (what's show up at least) come to full fruition.

Fernandez is your typical low-minor high-flyer wild card throw in. Years and years away, but has the potential to be more than just a throw in.

Mat Latos

Latos' numbers are great. He's got a 3.34 ERA (3.41 FIP) and a 1.17 WHIP in 952 innings. However, he got a late start to the 2014 season after having microscopic knee surgery and finished early with an elbow injury. His strikeout rate and fastball velocity have dropped annually since 2010, and extending him a qualifying offer after the season might be risky if he doesn't put up good numbers. On the other hand, he just turned 27 on Tuesday and he has a solid track record on the mound.

His recent injuries, impending free agency, and declining peripherals make him a substantial risk. If the Royals got him, it'd have to be on a bargain deal to justify the risk and it doesn't make much sense for the Reds to sell low on him.

Shaun Newkirk - Possible prospects:

Latos is scary. An injury last year, a 1.2 fWAR steamer projection for next year, below league average K-rate, and a 4MPH drop in velocity from 2010. Latos is just 27 and if you're trading for him you are hoping for a return to his rather dominant 2010-2013 stretch where he averaged 3.6 wins over those 4 seasons including two 4 win seasons.

This is a tough one here. On one hand, you could trade for Latos and hope he bounces back to pre-2014 levels and beats his Steamer projection. If that happened then he'd enter free agency on a relative high. Maybe the Royals would have a shot at retaining him or maybe they just offer him a QO and take the draft pick.

On the other hand, you could pass on Latos and let him pitch in Cincy and hope he doesn't return to his once former self. Then rather than losing prospects for him you could sign him for a likely discounted deal from what he looked to be just a few years back.

I think I'd bet on the latter, but if the Royals were to trade for him I think it would cost them one of their top 100 players, but I don't think I'd part the front-line guys listed above.

Possible trade:

Hunter Dozier + Christian Colon + Bubba Starling

I don't know if this is something I'd personally do as I'm not so high on Latos, but it provides a couple potential options for the Reds.

The Reds have Todd Frazier at 3B with two more years of team control left. That would give Dozier extra time to develop.

Colon doesn't have peak-Brandon Phillips in his game, but with the Reds trying to part ties with BP, colon could provide everyday regular value at 2B in his stead.

Starling is the kind of high upside toolsy outfielder the Reds might like in the vein of Drew Stubbs, Jesse Winker, and Gabriel Rosa. Starling has the ceiling of Stubbs but the floor of Rosa.

Mike Leake

Source- Scott Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports

Leake, who's actually about a month older than Latos, is a slightly more reasonable target for the Royals. He can't boast the same kind of win-ballasted résumé as Cueto and Latos, but his FIP, WHIP, and strikeout numbers have improved over the last three years as his workload increased. Another 30-start, sub-4.00 ERA season probably wouldn't be enough to warrant a qualifying offer, but a full season of Kauffman Stadium and Royals' defense aiding him might change that.

Kansas City could be a pocket-lining pit stop for Leake -- who will earn around $9.5 million in arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors' projections -- and he could help out the Royals quite a bit while they wait for their young arms to crest the minors.

Shaun Newkirk - Possible prospects:

Down the list in name value is Mike Leake, but Steamer actually projects Leake to be better than Mat Latos although by basically minimal margin, meanwhile Leake won't cost the you trade package that Latos would.

Possible trade:

Johnny Giavotella or Christian Colon + Whit Merrifield

The Reds system lacks any impact or reasonably high floor infielders other than recent draftee Alex Blandino. Colon would give them an MLB ready utility infielder type who could cover the eventual hole left by Brandon Phillips or Todd Frazier.

Merrifield is the throw in here as he could max out as some sort of utility infielder or defensive replacement in the infield/outfield.

Alfredo Simon

Simon, who will turn 34 toward the beginning of the 2015 season, managed to pitch a career-high 196⅓ innings last season. He parlayed a 3.44 ERA into his first All-Star Game appearance and, more importantly, helped Cincinnati by eating innings while Latos, Homer Bailey, and Tony Cingrani were injured. However, he finished the year at 0.9 fWAR (1.9 rWAR). While his ERA- was 93, his FIP- was 116, so it seems pretty reasonable to expect him to regress in 2015. His salary won't though, and although he will earn about half as much as Leake in arbitration -- $5.1 million, according to estimates -- he'll probably be worth about half as much on the field as well.

Shaun Newkirk - Possible prospects

Simon is what Simon is and is perfectly described above.

Possible trade

Pick any low level, C-grade prospect. Robinson Yambati. Frank Schwindel. Zane Evans etc...


It's hard to see a match for Cueto or Latos, but Leake and Simon are intriguing options of the Royals are looking for a one-year rental to hold them over until Zimmer, Manaea, and Finnegan are ready to start games in the majors. The Reds need to shed some salary, apparently, and the Royals have a little room in their budget. Simon is more appealing financially, but Cincinnati might be more interested in shedding Leake's salary -- which is projected to be nearly twice that amount; and the Royals would presumably benefit much more from having Leake on the mound.

The Royals haven't been rumored to be in the mix for any of Cincy's starters, but if Dayton Moore performs his due diligence before the Reds have things squared away for the winter, he might find a solid arm to lean on while the next wave of prospects gathers.