In close Central race, Reds may be players at Deadline

In close Central race, Reds may be players at Deadline

CINCINNATI -- The Reds have been at or near the top of the National League Central all year, but they have not been able to separate themselves from the pack. In order to close the deal and reach the postseason, general manager Walt Jocketty might need to make a deal.

Plan on Jocketty being a buyer as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches.

"We have been looking at ways to improve the club, whether it's improving our pitching or the offense," Jocketty said.

The Reds' pitching has largely been solid, as the rotation closed the first half strong and the bullpen overcame early injuries to become one of the stronger staffs in the NL.

As for the offense? That portion of the roster could use an infusion of help.

Cincinnati has had trouble getting people on base at the top of the order to create run-producing situations. The team's leadoff hitters, which have primarily been Zack Cozart or Drew Stubbs, are batting a combined .203 from the top spot this season, with a woeful .246 on-base percentage.

Brandon Phillips was moved to the cleanup spot in April to pick up some slack when Scott Rolen struggled. But despite Phillips' respectable RBI numbers from the four-hole, he and the club could benefit from a move back to the leadoff spot.

"We're still looking for a hitter that can hit leadoff or cleanup," Jocketty said. "Those guys are probably going to be hard to find. People are starting to call around a little bit and so we're trying to see what might be available. We'll see where we're at the next couple of weeks. I don't see us doing anything for a few weeks."

An easier spot to address should be the bench, where the Reds could find a role player without having to give up as much in return.

"We're still looking for a left-handed hitter off of the bench," Jocketty said.

Cincinnati currently has no lefty hitters on its bench after attempts to try Willie Harris and rookie Mike Costanzo backfired. Both players are back at Triple-A Louisville. The right-handers on the bench, like Miguel Cairo and Wilson Valdez, have largely struggled at the plate and offer little punch.

After moving young talent like Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Travis Wood in trades last winter, the Reds don't have much to offer in terms of big league-ready prospects, but the organization is loaded at the lower levels.

It's likely teams will inquire about top shortstop prospect Billy Hamilton or pitchers Daniel Corcino and Tony Cingrani. It would seem unlikely that the Reds will listen to deals involving those types of players.

The big-picture trade landscape could also impede the flow of deals around the league. A total of 19 of the 30 teams are at or above .500 records at the All-Star break.

And then there is a newly added wrinkle to the scenario.

"It's tougher this year because of the new Wild Card," Jocketty said.

Major League Baseball added a second Wild Card team to each league and an added layer to the postseason.

Since taking over in 2008, Jocketty and the Reds have largely been quiet around the July 31 Deadline. The last Deadline deal made was the one that brought Rolen from the Blue Jays for Edwin Encarnacion and two prospects.

But one thing is guaranteed: there will be rumors swirling and intrigue galore in the days leading up to the end of July.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.