The thunderbolt firing of Dusty Baker marks not the end, but the beginning of a momentous offseason for the Cincinnati Reds. An important part of their decision-making concerns the future of Homer Bailey. Mark Polishuk at MLB Trade Rumors offered one opinion on Monday:
“It wouldn’t be shocking” if the Reds traded Homer Bailey to create some payroll space, MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon opines. Bailey earned $5.3MM last season and will get a healthy raise in his third and final time through the arbitration process this winter. Though Bailey has been one of the Reds’ best pitchers over the last two years, he “has shown little interest in signing” a multiyear deal with the team, Sheldon writes, so the Reds could move him now before possibly losing him in free agency after next season.
Sound about right? Not really and here’s why:
1. If the Reds do decide to trade Bailey, it won’t be to create payroll space for 2014.
Every major league team north of South Beach would gladly pay the $8-10 million the arbitration process will award Bailey. That’s a bargain for a pitcher who earned 3.5 WAR last season (average of BR and FG). And Bailey’s 2014 salary alone won’t prevent the Reds from inking long-term deals with Mat Latos or Shin-Soo Choo.
The clear-eyed case for trading Bailey — or Mike Leake — is leveraging a relative surplus to upgrade a position player in the short-term. Right-handed bat, score more runs, etc.
In the context of a starting rotation of Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Tony Cingrani and Aroldis Chapman, the Reds may reasonably decide an impact bat is worth more than Bailey’s final season. The hitter may actually cost more than Bailey, so the trade wouldn’t really be about 2014 dollars.
2. Trading Bailey may not be as easy as it seems.
Because Bailey has just a single year remaining before becoming a free agent, his acquisition would appeal only to teams in certain situations. Think contenders or teams on the brink of it. The Reds would have to find a trading partner from that set of teams that is willing to part with a 2014 offensive contributor – one that’s an upgrade over the current Reds player at that position.
A match for Homer isn’t impossible, but nowhere near open-and-shut, either. It might actually prove easier to trade Mike Leake for a 2014-bat because of his two years of remaining team control.
And there’s no chance a Reds’ front office that just fired Dusty Baker over “next level” concerns will suffer the huge 2014-hit entailed by giving up Bailey for prospects. Especially because if the Reds let Homer leave via free agency, they’d almost certainly qualify for a compensation draft pick. The Reds could keep Homer and his fastball for all of 2014 and still add a top prospect.
3. The concern about Bailey not getting along with local media is overblown
There’s little reason to doubt the rumors that Homer Bailey would like to return to play in his home state. Heck, he wouldn’t even be the first Texan with multiple no-hitters and wearing #34 to do it.
But that preference has more to do with the front end of Homer’s horses than it does with local broadcast celebrities who at times resemble the back ends.
Nothing we’ve been able to glimpse about Homer Bailey’s personality indicates he’d much care what Marty Brennaman or the Hall of Famer’s comrades at WLW think. A guy who bow hunts animals that view humans as food probably wouldn’t let that bother him. If Bailey comes to believe that signing an agreement with the Reds is in his financial and professional interest, he won’t pass on it because of local media commentary.
The fans at GABP treat Bailey with warmth and enthusiasm. Outside of pitchers who throw 100 mph, he’s the crowd favorite. If the tall right hander is looking for public support (doubtful), he can find it in those red seats on the bank of the Ohio River. The only folks who believe that broadcasters play a larger role than fans in the affirmation department are the self-important media personalities themselves.
4. Bailey may now be motivated to sign an extension
A long-term extension this offseason would afford Homer Bailey insurance against the downside risks of serious injury or regression in 2014. The Reds are the only team that can offer that. It’s increasingly common for players to factor in security and sign extensions before reaching free agency. Jay Bruce and Joey Votto are two up close examples.
Bailey need look no further than the cautionary tale of Tim Lincecum’s unexpected regression.
If Bailey’s WAR were to fall next season from 3.5 to 2.5, it would end up costing him millions to have not signed an extension. That might result from something as simple as uncontrollable bad luck. Bailey’s BABIP (.284 in 2013) might rise to its career level (.298) or worse in 2014. He’d have pitched just as well, but not have the same numbers for his free agency negotiation.
Conventional wisdom holds that Bailey didn’t express much interest in a long-term agreement last offseason. Assuming that’s factually correct, it doesn’t mean that he won’t be looking for a deal this winter. Bailey may have felt previously that he hadn’t quite reached his potential and wanted to pocket another strong, healthy season before entering negotiations over a long-term contract. He accomplished that. Maybe that makes this winter the right time to deal.
On the other hand, if Bailey can make it through 2014 without injury or regression, he’ll be able to negotiate without having to trade money for downside insurance. He might feel that he can take that risk.
5. The Reds have the cash for Latos and Bailey and more
Be skeptical of outdated claims about payroll austerity. The Reds will reap growing stacks of revenues in the next few years from several sources: MLB national broadcast rights, MLB digital platform sales, more generous revenue sharing, continued attendance increases, a new local media contract and (possibly) future postseason revenues.
The team’s annual revenues could easily grow by more than $100 million over the lifetime of Homer’s extension. If ownership follows through on their promise to invest new revenues into player salaries, total payroll could exceed $160 million by 2017. The upward trajectory has already begun. Payroll in 2013 ($107.5 million) was $25 million more than in 2012.
When Joey Votto’s salary peaks at $25 million in 2018, it will represent just 15 percent of club payroll. So the Reds have room in future budgets for several significant new contracts.
Again, you don’t axe a manager who wins 90 games and then hamstring the next guy with the same team or worse. Owners naturally want to loosen the purse strings to help make the firing/hiring decisions look smart.
It’s going to be a fascinating offseason.