Blue Jays Trade Rolen To Reds, Get Younger In Process

The script called for the Blue Jays to trade Roy Halladay at the deadline in an effort to bulk up the farm system and cut payroll. Halladay is still a Blue Jay, but Toronto did manage to cut payroll and get younger by dealing away 34-year-old third baseman Scott Rolen, exchanging him with the Reds for third baseman Edwin Encarnacion and righthanders Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart. As part of the deal, the Blue Jays will pay the final $4 million of Rolen’s 2009 salary. He’s signed for one more year at $11 million.

By acquiring Rolen, the Reds have significantly upgraded their defense at third, while acting on their desire to add veteran leadership to the clubhouse. When healthy, Rolen is still an above-average offensive player. He was batting .320/.370/.476 through 338 at-bats, with eight home runs and 43 RBIs at the time of the trade. But persistent back trouble had caused Rolen to miss approximately 97 games in 2007 and ’08. A move to Great American Ballpark, with its inviting dimensions and natural grass playing surface, figures to bolster both the veteran’s production and health.

For Encarnacion, a change of scenery will both help and hurt. While the 26-year-old has out-hit Rolen in two of the past three years, his below-average defense combined with an injury-plagued 2009 had caused the Reds to sour on him. In 43 games for the Reds, Encarnacion batted just .209/.333/.374 with five homers and 16 RBIs. That output was especially disappointing in light of the career-high 26 homers he had hit in ’08. A career .261/.344/.448 hitter, Encarnacion has fared significantly better at home in his five-year career, posting an OPS that registered a full 100 points higher at the GAP.

The Young
Stewart has been a revelation this season. The righthander bounced between starting and relieving at Texas Tech before the Reds selected him in the third round of the 2008 draft. At the time, he was viewed as a potential closer, but with the Reds he showed the potential to be a solid starter with a heavy 92-95 mph fastball that he locates down in the zone, a solid slider and an average changeup. At the time of the trade, he ranked third in the minors with a 1.67 ERA. The 22-year-old has climbed from high Class A all the way to Triple-A Louisville this season, going 4-1 in 23 games (14 starts) while compiling a 79-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 91 2/3 innings.

Roenicke, 26, didn’t start pitching until late in his college career at UCLA, but the one-time Bruin wide receiver and outfielder quickly showed that he could make the adjustment. His secret: a 93-97 mph fastball that explodes on hitters. He also throws a cutter that can be a plus pitch when he commands it. But command remains Roenicke’s biggest question. He’s never going to paint corners, but if he can simply throw strikes, his stuff is good enough to allow him to be a set-up man who could develop into a closer. For Louisville this season, he converted 12 of 15 save attempts while compiling a 2.57 ERA and racking up 32 strikeouts and six walks in 28 innings. Roenicke had fared similarly well in Cincinnati this season, compiling a 2.70 ERA over 13 1/3 innings with a nifty 14-to-4 ratio of whiffs to walks.

On a side note: Josh’s brother Jason, who also is a righthander, already is a member of the Blue Jays organization, having been drafted from UC Santa Barbara in ’08. Their father Gary spent 12 seasons in the big leagues, mostly with the Earl Weaver Orioles of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

This move makes lot of sense for the Blue Jays, who add a younger, cheaper third baseman while also adding a late-innings reliever and a potential middle-of-the-rotation arm. For the Reds, the reasoning is much less clear. Cincinnati paid a premium in prospects to acquire Rolen with two months left in the season—and the money headed their way to pay Rolen helps account for the prospect bounty. But at the time of the trade the Reds were 13 games under .500 and have Jay Bruce, Chris Dickerson and Edinson Volquez on the disabled list, so there is virtually no chance of a playoff run this year.

But to add Rolen, a 34-year-old with a history of back problems, the Reds traded away their best starting pitching prospect, their best relief prospect and a 26-year-old third baseman who had posted above-average offensive production in each of the past three seasons. A healthy Rolen is still better than Encarnacion, but expecting him to stay healthy is asking a lot. Rolen has played more than 115 games in only one of the last three seasons and will play all of next season at age 35.

But beyond that, Rolen’s $11 million salary will likely eliminate any roster flexibility the Reds have in the offseason, unless they can trade away another veteran. Cincinnati has already committed $57.5 million to six players for 2010: Aaron Harang ($12.5 million), Francisco Cordero ($12 million), Rolen ($11 million), Bronson Arroyo ($11 million) and Brandon Phillips ($11 million). Considering that the Reds entire payroll has hovered around $75 million in recent years and will not likely increase, the club is looking at having less than $20 million to spend for the rest of its roster.