Like any sane Met fan, I love Carlos Beltran and don't want the Mets to trade him. But if you can get someone that actually stands a chance of being a productive player for you down the line, you kind of have to move Beltran.
So who would make sense for Beltran? Contrary to popular belief, teams like the Yankees and Red Sox are exactly who shouldn't give up anything for Carlos. Even if you think Beltran is a huge upgrade at DH and RF, respectively, for these teams, why would they give up anything of value to slightly increase their chances of winning the World Series when they can win the World Series as is, and they are going to contend every year for the foreseeable future? The same thing applies, albeit to a lesser extent to Philly and Atlanta, for whom Beltran would be a substantial upgrade, but can win as is and look well suited contend for the the next few years with only minor tinkering.
The team trading for Beltran should probably be one that feels they aren't going to get many shots at this, and, as you may have heard, flags fly forever. So why not the Reds? But wait, you're wondering, don't the Reds have a good young core to build a long-term contender, and a great offense, right now?
The answer is a definite maybe. For starters, the Reds aren't quite as good as you'd think offensively. By wRC+, they do stand fourth in the NL, according to Fangraphs, but their 100 wRC+ is significantly off from their 106 pace last season. But most importantly, it doesn't matter where you add. Scoring more doesn't help you any less than letting up less runs does, even if you already have a really good offense.
Now, there's still the matter of the Reds young talent, which would seemingly prime then to contend for the foreseeable future, but I'm not so sure. That young core is basically Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto and Drew Stubbs. Votto and Bruce are two of the top players in baseball, no doubt, though hardly enough on their own (as Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran himself can attest). But Cueto has never surpassed 185 innings, and is only on pace for about 145 this year. And while Stubbs's down year could simply be a down year, it's also possible that last year was just a randomly good year. It has to be at least a little bit of a red flag that the home run power Stubbs flashed last year never showed in the upper minors, where he hit 5 homers in about 150 games. Of course, you could make similar points about Joey Votto and Ike Davis, but still. Now, that's still a nice young core, don't get me wrong. And add to that Mike Leake and Homer Bailey, who, while not great, are good cost-controlled assets for the back of the rotation, and Arroldis Chapman, a definite asset and things look good.
On the flip side, their second best player is probably Brandon Phillips, who is 30, and will hit free agency after next season. Bronson Arroyo has been terrible and has two years and $33.5m left on his contract after this season. Scott Rolen looks done and is signed next year for $8m. And another two of the Reds useful veterans -- closer Fransico Cordero and catcher Ramon Hernandez -- could become free agents after the season. Add this all up, and the Reds have $53m committed next year to Votto, Bruce, Cueto, Stubbs, Arroyo, Rolen, Miguel Cairo (!), Yonder Alonso, as well as some other youngsters like Leake, Travis Wood, and Zack Cozart. Picking up the options on Phillips and Cordero will cost the team another $22m, bringing them right up against their 2011 payroll of $80m, and that's before arbitration for Edison Volquez and Homer Bailey.
Now, you'd imagine that the Reds would probably try to save some money by not bringing back Cordero and replacing him with Chapman, but that hardly leaves the Reds in a much better place. Basically, you have this year's team minus Ramon Hernandez -- the team's second best hitter this season -- with something like $10m to spend. They could obviously resign Hernandez with some of that money, but their best prospect -- Devin Mesoraco -- is a C, and that wouldn't leave them any better than this season in any case. In order to improve they'll either be depending on impact free agents or a trade; health and effectiveness from Cueto and Volzquez; immediate impact from young players, always a dangerous proposition; or bounce-back seasons from Arroyo and Rolen.
In 2013, the Reds have the same amount of salary committed, but now only to Arroyo, Votto, Chapman, Cueto, Bruce, and Ryan Hanigan. Assuming their payroll won't go much over its current level of $80m, its highest ever, and that their young players will achieve relatively average rates of success, the Reds might be as well suited to contend now as any time in the near future.
So then with Beltran looking to be the best available player and one of the 15-20 best hitters and all-around players in baseball, period, he would likely be the most substantial upgrade the Reds could make this year, as a LF of course. Jonny Gomes has his moments, but, in the grand scheme of things, he stinks. It appears Jose Reyes will not be traded. Prince Fielder and Albert Puljos definitely won't. Aramis Ramirez is probably the second best player available, but plays on a division rival, always a complication. The best pitchers that were, at some point, supposedly available are Ryan Dempter (who plays on the same division foe), Edwin Jackson (whose team is in contention), Hiroki Kuroda (has a full no-trade clause), and then Livan Hernandez and Carlos Villanueva, neither of whom would cost much in terms of prospects, meaning there's no reason the Reds couldn't acquire one of these guys and Beltran, and neither of whom would be a particularly big upgrade anyway.
To me, it looks like the Reds may be in the midst of a 2-3 year window, and they should try to make the most of year two by acquiring the best available player, Carlos Beltran, assuming he's available.