That's a favorite saying in Fantasy Baseball. You do what you can to win the league when you have a chance, and you worry about next year next year. Of course, you only go all out when you've got a legitimate shot.
The Reds have that shot. They've reached the mid-point in first place. They lead the league in hitting and defense and they've got pitching depth, even if they don't have a stopper. That could change, however, with a trade for Cliff Lee. Lee could make the Reds the leading contender to win the division and maybe even the pennant.
Why trade the future for Cliff Lee when they're already in first? Because they want to win when they get to the playoffs, too. Lee is a proven playoff winner. He's been an absolutely dominant pitcher since the Indians first traded him to Philadelphia last year. He's currently on a streak of three consecutive complete games. So he would help the bullpen, too. Plus, he's relatively cheap. His second half would cost the Reds about $4 mil.
First, no question Lee becomes a free agent after the season and the Reds would not be able to re-sign him. So this is clearly a rental. But when he does leave for free agency, the Reds would get a first-round pick and a supplemental first-round pick. That would help replenish what they would send to Seattle in the trade.
Who knows what Seattle would need for Lee, but the Reds have a lot of prospect depth. We do know the Mariners traded Phillip Aumont, a top pitching prospect, Tyson Gillies, a decent single A prospect, and Juan Ramirez, an unremarkable pitcher. But don't forget that Seattle would also be giving up the two compensation picks for Lee if they trade him, so the Reds would have to give up a little more than what Seattle did in terms of prospects.
Here is my proposal: send Yonder Alonso, Juan Francisco, and another prospect, perhaps Devin Mesoraco to the M's. Alonso, a former first-round pick, is blocked by Votto at first, and Francisco, a power-hitting thirdbaseman/outfielder, is blocked by Rolen now that he's been extended. And the Reds drafted another catcher in the first round this year, so Mesoraco, himself a first-round pick, is expendable. Before this year, Mesoraco was a bust, but he's having a great season hitting .311/.377/.602 at two levels in the minors this year. The Mariners have pitching, but they need some good position prospects. All of these guys would be upgrades. They just re-acquired Russell Branyan in a desparate move. Jose Lopez (at third) is likely to move on next year. And boy, could they use a decent catcher.
Conventional wisdom would indicate the Reds would have to send Travis Wood or Mike Leake, but I'm not so sure it would take that much. But I would certainly consider it. I would also consider sending Homer Bailey or Edinson Volquez to get the deal done. Any of these pitchers would anchor the deal and allow the Reds to include lesser prospects.
I do know this, the sooner the Reds pull the trigger (why wait?) the sooner Lee starts helping. You'll recall two years ago when the Brewers traded for CC Sabathia ahead of the deadline and he single-handedly (left handed, by the way) led the Brewers to the playoffs. Like the Brewers with Sabathia, the Reds know they won't be re-siging Lee, so they can work him hard and get as many innings as possible out of him.
Does Lee guarantee the pennant? Of course not, but he gives the Reds the stopper they need to go with their considerable depth. And flags fly forever.