In comparing the rebuilds of the National League Central-leading Cubs and basement-dwelling Reds, so far we have looked at how the current rosters and potential future lineups match up.
Thursday we asked, “Can the Reds match the Cubs talent soon?” but we came away with only a partial answer.
That’s because while the Reds have already started rebuilding, they still aren’t done tearing down the roster that won two division titles in the decade. For the answer to be yes, they will likely need to make the most of whatever remaining veteran assets they still plan to move.
The Cubs’ stacked roster and upper farm system is a result of both good drafting and shrewd trading. A deep-pocketed ownership group helps, too.
In the past few years, Chicago flipped assets (pitching, to be exact) into 2016 All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell, among others.
They drafted slugger Kris Bryant in the first round out of San Diego, and they signed Jorge Soler after he defected from Cuba. Up-and-coming catcher Willson Contreras is also an international free agent signing, while talented youngsters Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora and Javier Baez were all not just first-round picks but top 10 talents.
Chicago supplemented that base by signing outfielders Dexter Fowler and Jason Heyward and second baseman Ben Zobrist in free agency. Those three are due a total of $39.5 million this season, including $21 million for the 26-year-old Heyward.
More than half of the rotation also came via free agency, including big-ticket lefty Jon Lester ($25 million). Free agents John Lackey and Jason Hammel make Lester’s salary combined.
The Cubs acquired the other two members of their rotation via trade, and it is fair to say both have probably outperformed expectations. That’s certainly true of Jake Arrieta, who won the NL Cy Young Award last season after never realizing his potential with the Orioles. Hendricks, meanwhile, is seven games over .500 as a major-league pitcher despite Baseball America never ranking him among the top 10 of Cubs prospects.
The Reds appear to be taking the opposite approach from the Cubs, who loaded up on hitting prospects in the draft and figured out the pitching situation later.
Cincinnati acquired newly minted All-Star reserve Adam Duvall in a trade of Mike Leake last season, but more of their acquisitions have involved pitching. (That trade also included pitching prospect Keury Mella.)
Trading ace Johnny Cueto last season brought back three pitching prospects, including former first-round pick Brandon Finnegan.
Moving All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier netted a package including utility man Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler, both of whom were top 10 prospects in the Dodgers’ system in 2014 before slipping a bit last year.
Trading Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees yielded four players but only one of New York’s Baseball America top 10 prospects – starting pitcher Rookie Davis, a former 14th-round draft pick. Also in the group was Eric Jagielo, a first-round pick who slipped from New York’s No. 5 prospect in 2013 to 13th last season.
Given how many of the Cubs budding stars and top prospects were top 10 picks, it also has to be noted Cincinnati has yet to bottom out to the degree Chicago did before getting on the road to recovery. The Cubs lost 87 or more game five years in a row from 2010-14 while the Reds are less than three years removed from making back-to-back postseason appearances.
The Reds have a first-round pitcher (Robert Stephenson) and a first-round outfielder (Jesse Winker) in Triple-A, but it’s unclear if any other recent high picks are close to making it to The Show.
The emergence of left-handed pitcher Amir Garrett, also in Triple-A, gives them another bright spot, but the Reds’ system still doesn’t appear to be all that close to as stocked as the Cubs was before some of its best prospects made it to the majors.
Snagging Tennessee infielder Nick Senzel with the No. 2 pick in the draft last month looks like a good start, but Cincinnati may be looking at a few more lean years and subsequent high picks before they can match what Chicago is doing.
Pending trades of Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce could help, but they are not likely to bring the kind of return they got for Cueto, let alone what the Cubs got when they moved Jeff Samardizja and Hammel for Russell and others.
There’s also the issue of money.
Per Spotrac.com, Chicago’s payroll of $173 million is roughly $60 million more than the Reds’, and the Cubs’ ability to fill out their roster with big-money free agents like Heyward and Lester was obviously key to their rise from the penthouse to the outhouse.
In this case, Cincinnati’s commitment to developing young arms could save them money when it comes to filling out its own roster because nothing is more expensive than top-of-the-rotation arms.
That means Reds management might be able to find their final pieces less expensive than Chicago’s.
Of course, that also requires actually getting to the point the finish line is in sight.