The Winter Meetings may have come to a close last Thursday, but that doesn't mean the offseason wheeling and dealing is over. That became obvious when the White Sox, Dodgers and Reds announced a whopper of a seven-player deal. On the big league side, Todd Frazier moving from Cincinnati to Chicago created the buzz, but the other six involved in this blockbuster are all prospects of various shapes and sizes.
The biggest question that comes to mind when trying to unpack this deal is this: Why didn't the Reds just go straight to the White Sox and cut out the middleman (the Dodgers)? After all, Montas has one of the bigger arms among pitching prospects, with a 70 fastball on the 20-80 scale, to go along with a plus slider. Given his average changeup and his improved command, he has a chance to stick as a starter. At worst, the No. 54 prospect on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 list has the stuff to pitch in the back end of a bullpen in the big leagues, and very soon.
Johnson didn't hold onto the second-base job in Chicago, but he righted the ship once he was back down in the Minor Leagues and continued to do what he's done throughout his pro career: hit for average, get on base and steal bases. He's hit .301/.368/.431 with 153 steals in four Minor League seasons (including his summer debut after being drafted in 2012).
Thompson, the third prospect to go to Los Angeles in this deal, has always had tools, with a power-speed combination that has long been intriguing. With that, though, has come a very high strikeout rate, along with low batting averages and on-base percentages. That said, Thompson played better than anticipated during his Major League debut in 2015.
At first glance, that package of prospects looks superior to what the Reds received from the Dodgers. Clearly, Cincinnati felt otherwise. Breaking it down player by player, there is room for discussion.
An easy case can be made that Peraza is a superior prospect than Johnson at second base. Ranked No. 24 on the Top 100 Prospects list, the infielder has table-setting skills, with a career .302/.342/.387 line in the Minors. Peraza makes a ton of contact and rarely strikes out, though he doesn't draw as many walks as you'd like to see from a true leadoff hitter. He's a solid defender at second and has the chops to play shortstop if needed, and he got some work in the outfield last year as well. Peraza's star has faded a bit in the past year, thanks partially to his .694 OPS in Triple-A in 2015, and he will likely drop in the '16 rankings. Still, giving him the "win" in a head-to-head against Johnson is a fairly easy call.
The Schebler vs. Thompson debate might be a bit closer. Thompson could have a bit more ceiling, but Schebler is a better bet to reach his. While not blessed with the same raw tools as Thompson, Schebler has also shown power and basestealing ability in the Minors, with double-digit home runs and steals in each of the past three seasons. The Reds have a possible hole to fill in left field, and they must believe Schebler has a better chance at stepping in than Thompson.
This is the point where trying to understand the trade from the Reds' point of view gets a little shaky. No one would argue that Dixon is a better prospect than Montas. Even if it's believed Montas will be a reliever only in the future, surely he has more value than Dixon, a utility type who isn't on the Reds' Top 30 Prospects list following the trade. Especially if the Reds deal Aroldis Chapman -- and they are still actively working on that -- a potential short reliever would be welcomed, it would seem.
That curiosity aside, it's important to note that the Reds aren't done with their rebuilding plan. There are hopes to move Chapman as well as veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips (opening the spot for Peraza, perhaps). It has been reported they are the favorites to land Cuban shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez once he becomes available on the international free-agent market. Cincinnati has the second pick in the 2016 Draft and, by virtue of its Competitive Balance Round A selection, the highest Draft pool.
Does this make the Frazier deal more palatable to Reds fans? Perhaps not. But it's important to lay it all out to make it clear there is a long-term plan in place for Cincinnati. Maybe the Reds could have done better in their return for Frazier, but president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty has built winners before. Waiting to see how all of these pieces fall into place is really the only choice Cincinnati fans have.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayo on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.