CINCINNATI -- Only a couple of weeks ago, the Reds were one of the hottest teams in baseball and definitely buyers ahead of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Then they rolled out of the All-Star break with a losing streak and lost ground to the first-place Brewers in the National League Central. Now they seem to need a lot more than just a bat for offense. One could wonder whether the wiser move would be to start selling at the Deadline and start retooling for 2015.
Cincinnati remains without the services of first baseman Joey Votto (left quadriceps strain) and second baseman Brandon Phillips (left thumb surgery) until at least late August. The club has no one with extensive first-base experience in house. It has been using catcher Brayan Pena, third baseman Todd Frazier and even right fielder Jay Bruce, at times, to get by.
General manager and president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty -- in the final year of his contract -- and CEO Bob Castellini both still seem focused on adding help to try to remain in the race. One of the two NL Wild Card spots is still a very realistic possibility, and another hot streak could reel in the Brewers.
"I'd like to add a bat," Jocketty said on July 20. "We just haven't found anything that attracts us yet. It may not happen before the 31st."
If he did bring in a bat, Jocketty would like someone flexible enough to play multiple spots.
"That would be better, because eventually we're going to get Joey and Brandon back, so you don't want to limit yourself if you can," Jocketty said.
A name often linked to the Reds in rumors is Rays utility player Ben Zobrist. But as cold as Cincinnati has become, Tampa Bay is just as hot and back in the American League Wild Card hunt, and perhaps less inclined to sell.
The Phillies contacted Jocketty about outfielder Marlon Byrd, who other than being a bat that can add offense, doesn't check off many other boxes that benefit the Reds. Byrd will soon be 37, can only play the outfield, and is cost prohibitive if Philadelphia doesn't pick up some of his salary. The veteran player is owed $8 million for 2015 and has an $8 million vesting option for '16 if he gets 600 plate appearances next season.
Inside the clubhouse, Reds players have talked recently of the need to add someone.
"We'll see what happens. I think if we didn't have any injuries, there wouldn't be any question," Frazier said on Saturday. "But I know at the Trade Deadline, people talk. If there's an opportunity, our staff knows what to do. Right now, we're not in first place. If you think of it like that, you definitely need another person, wherever it is."
"Anybody that can come in and help us, absolutely. We're in a position where we need to improve," Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco said. "We need to play better. We need to move up in the standings. If we can bring in somebody that can help out with that, then by all means, bring him in."
But there is no doubt that Jocketty is likely getting advice from some members of the baseball-operations staff that selling might be better for the long-term health of the team.
The Reds are facing a large payroll burden heading into 2015 after already spending a club-record $108 million to budget this season's roster. Among the big contracts for next season, Votto is due to make $14 million; Bruce and Phillips will both get $12 million, and pitcher Homer Bailey will earn $10 million. Setup man Jonathan Broxton is due to get $9 million.
There is a $10 million club option on ace Johnny Cueto, while fellow starting pitchers Mat Latos and Mike Leake will get large raises as third-year eligibles for arbitration, and closer Aroldis Chapman will be in his second year of arbitration eligibility this winter.
Players like Cueto, Bailey, Latos and Leake, and possibly Broxton, could command interest for upper-echelon teams in need of pitching help, and bring a strong return. The Reds have some young power arms on the horizon, including No. 1 prospect Robert Stephenson and No. 4 prospect Michael Lorenzen at Double-A Pensacola who could be on the express lane to the Majors if the Reds looked ahead.
There is also the consideration of attendance figures that could quickly sag if the Reds sell. It also wouldn't be optimal to host the All-Star Game next season at Great American Ball Park in the midst of a rebuilding year.
Add all of the factors together, and the Reds will be a very interesting team to watch as Thursday's Deadline nears.