CINCINNATI -- Many of the recent trade rumors about the Reds could possibly be false, but there is no disputing the fact that Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is in a buyer's mentality as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline closes in. "Oh yeah, definitely," Jocketty said. "We would like to improve our club since it's easier to do before the 31st. There is some urgency -- but not tremendous urgency. I still have a lot of confidence that we're good enough to win, but if there is a chance to upgrade the club, we would try to pursue it." Of course, this immediately begs the question -- who might the Reds be pursuing?
The two leading names linked to the club in various reports have been pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and James Shields. After starting for the National League All-Star team last year and winning 19 games with a 2.88 ERA for the Rockies, Jimenez has a more pedestrian 6-8 record and 4.00 ERA so far in 2011 for Colorado. As for Shields, he has a 2.60 ERA and seven complete games for the Rays this season.
Both pitchers have something attractive in common besides their quality right arms -- both have affordable long-term contracts. "I'm not going to be specific about guys, but I'd prefer guys who are under contract for a while," Jocketty said. "I'm not sure anything will develop. We're trying to win this year, but we want to stay full of talent so we know we can compete for years to come." Jimenez, 27, is being paid $2.8 million this season and is owed $4.2 million in 2012. He has a $5.75 million club option for 2013 and an $8 million club option for 2014 that can be voided if he's traded. Being paid $4.25 million this season, the 29-year-old Shields has club options each of the next three seasons, valued at a combined $28 million. A relatively younger veteran player with long-term certainty usually means a high price must be paid in return. The Reds have strong depth with young prospects. The Rays, who are seeking help at both catcher and first base, could find fits with top catching prospects Devin Mesoraco or Yasmani Grandal. Yonder Alonso, currently blocked at first base by Joey Votto and playing left field at Triple-A Louisville, would give Tampa Bay a left-handed slugger. As part of a bigger package of players, Alonso would also be a solution for Colorado when mainstay first baseman Todd Helton is ready to retire. Just because the Reds are flush with prospects doesn't guarantee they will deal them. "Obviously clubs know we are deep in talent, but there are a lot of high expectations about players who we wouldn't move," Jocketty said. Rather than syncing into a groove and pacing their division as expected before the season, the Reds have mostly sputtered. At 48-50, they are only four games out of first place entering Thursday's day off, but they are looking up to three other clubs in the NL Central. Every time the Reds go one step forward, they just as quickly seem to move one step back. Case in point -- they got stellar pitching this week, but still dropped two of three to the Pirates. The Reds were shut out twice by scores of 2-0 and 1-0, and won Wednesday's game by a 3-1 score. Getting a pitcher like Jimenez or Shields wouldn't help if the Reds' lineup can't score for them. Don't discount the possibility that offensive help could be brought in. The Reds have uncertainty in left field and at the leadoff spot. "We're underachieving," Jocketty said. "A lot of guys are capable of doing better. I'm hoping we can get something going. We haven't had a real good run yet. We need to get our rotation and our offense clicking at the same time."