By this point, most people in baseball consider the Cincinnati Reds contenders. Critics took awhile to come around, but the continued steady stream of success has altered their opinions.

One of the reasons they are here is a trade from the 2009 deadline. The Reds acquired Scott Rolen from the Blue Jays for Edwin Encarnacion, Zach Stewart, and Josh Roenicke. 

Rolen, a 2010 All-Star, has been phenomenal for the Reds, and the proof is in the record. The team is 6-11 without Rolen in the starting lineup and 45-31 with him present.

The offense ranks sixth overall in team batting average, and fellow All-Stars Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are each having career years. Johnny Gomes is among the major league leaders in RBI with 64 after signing right before Spring Training as a platoon right fielder. It seems that everything is going right in Cincinnati.

The starting pitching has been excellent of late. Over the last 30 games, the Reds ERA is 2.70, second best in the majors.

Bronson Arroyo (10-4), Johnny Cueto (9-2), and Mike Leake (7-1) have pitched much better than pre-season expectations. Philadelphia Phillies’ ace Roy Halladay has eight losses on the year; the above mentioned trio has a COMBINED seven.

But that doesn’t mean the Reds should stand pat.

The relief pitching has been less than stellar outside of All-Star Arthur Rhodes (1.43 ERA). This is the biggest need for the Reds as the trading deadline approaches.

Closer Francisco “CoCo” Cordero is right at the top of the leader board with 26 saves—yet most fans are petrified when they watch him run to the mound. He has a knack for digging himself into a hole before somehow getting out of the jam.

He has six blown saves on the year, which is not too great for a guy making $12M. Before Tuesday’s perfect ninth inning, he had walked batters in six consecutive previous outings. But realistically speaking, the Reds will not be acquiring a pitcher that will knock Cordero out of the closer role.

The Reds have offered Jason Isringhausen a contract and expect resolution soon, according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. GM Walt Jocketty told Fay that he expects to hear from Isringhausen within a day or two.

The Reds watched Isringhausen throw, and manager Dusty Baker told Fay that he liked what he saw. But Isringhausen hasn’t pitched since June of ’09, just before having season ending Tommy John surgery.

It’s a low risk/high reward situation, but that’s not enough. They also signed Russ Springer to a minor league deal—but it’s the same situation. Nobody expects either of these two guys to pitch the eighth or ninth inning for the club.

The problem is the lack of good relief pitching out there.

“There’s not a lot available on the market,” Jocketty told reporters.

Kerry Wood, Jason Frasor, Octavio Dotel, Kevin Gregg, Joakim Soria, Matt Capps, Leo Nunez, and David Aardsma are all available. None of them get me too excited.

But how much of the rich farm system do the Reds want to give up right now? With Arroyo, Cueto, Leake, Edinson Volquez, Aaron Harang, Homer Bailey and Travis Wood, the Reds have one of the deepest rotations in the majors.

Matt Maloney could start for a ton of teams right now, and he has been stuck in the minors. I would assume Maloney and former No.1 pick 1B Yonder Alonso are the top two prospects of value on the trading block.

Is giving up one of the two above mentioned players worth a decent to average reliever? The other way to look at it: is it worth it to give up a few prospects for a chance to go to the World Series THIS YEAR?

Maybe the Reds could slide the injured Bailey into relief when he returns from the DL. He has never done it before, but the starting rotation is extremely crowded at the moment.

Another option is to bring up flame-throwing 22-year-old Aroldis Chapman.

He has hit 102 MPH on the radar gun, but his lack of control leads most to believe he wont be up till September when the roster expands. But there is no doubt he could be the next David Price or Joba Chamberlin—pitchers that simply explode onto the late season scene and ride that momentum into the playoffs.

On the offensive side, the Reds have reportedly expressed interest in Blue Jays catcher John Buck. But other than that there has been little talk about adding to the lineup.

Gary Matthews Jr. was signed last month and has hit .310 in Triple-A Louisville. He might be able to grab a roster spot away from somebody like Laynce Nix or Chris Heisey, but either way it’s not going to be a move that infuses much panic in other contending teams.

The Reds are enjoying their best season in 10 years. The time is right to make a strong push, and if that means sacrificing a top prospect, so be it.

Who knows if Cincinnati will be in contention next year? It’s time for the Reds to stop always thinking next year and focus on this year. Pull the trigger on the best available reliever (Capps) and hope he can help right the biggest problem on this team.

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