[This post was submitted by loyal Nation member Warren Leeman, otherwise known as Shchi Cossack. Thanks Cossack!]
By my count from the Old Recliner, the Reds now have 38 players on the 40-man roster, so there is room to add players and make starting rotation moves necessary to begin the season. Bryan Price previously identified two locks for the starting rotation (Anthony DeSclafani and Raisel Iglesias) and seven starters (Michael Lorenzen, Brandon Finnegan, Jonathan Moscot, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Tim Melville and Jonathan Sanchez) competing for three rotation spots on the opening day, 25-man roster. The perfect scenario for 2016 has already been disrupted by injury and ineffectiveness. As things stand now:
- Homer Bailey will be on the 15-day DL to begin the season.
- John Lamb will be on the 15-day DL to begin the season.
- Lorenzen will be on the 15-day DL to begin the season.
- Iggy will not be ready and stretched out to begin the season.
- Disco is a lock for the #1 starting rotation spot.
- Finnegan will take the #2 starting rotation spot.
Two more starting rotation spots must be filled before Iggy might be ready to step into the #5 spot by April 18th.
If the Reds are serious about their reload in 2016, Stephenson and Reed will NOT be options for the 2016 starting rotation.
Moscot has under whelmed in his last three appearances and has now experienced an intercostal strain, but he might still be stretched out and ready for a starting rotation spot.
In a competitive season, Melville would be the option Walt Jocketty would use for his own unfathomable reasons while fans screamed bloody murder, but for 2016, Melville will be stretched out and ready for a starting rotation spot.
Pedro Villarreal is a forgotten man, for good reason, but he has extensive starting experience and he could still be stretched out and ready for a starting rotation spot.
Once teams start waiving players without options available or space on the 40-man roster, there may be additional names to throw into the hopper for less than desirable fill-ins for the final two starting rotation spots.
With the stipulation that 2016 is a retooling season and under no circumstances should the Reds sacrifice future wins to possibly win 2-3 more games in April of 2016:
I like Villarreal for one of the final two temporary starting rotation spots. He was after all, the designated long man out of the bullpen and has had a good spring training. Villarreal would need to be added to the 40-man roster, but there is room available on the 40-man roster and he could just flip to the bullpen and fill his familiar long relief role once the starting rotation stabilizes.
Unless Moscot proves unserviceable in a starting role or falls to the intercostal strain, he needs to begin the 2016 season as a starter. The 2016 reboot season is for determining future value and roles, not squeezing every win out of the season. Moscot should have three more spring training starts to demonstrate some utility as a starter, with Melville waiting in the wings to step in if needed. The final three starts in spring training will be against better hitters and starting pitchers will begin to stretch out past five and six innings in preparation for opening day.
If those three internal options for the opening day starting rotation all fall on their collective faces during the final two weeks of spring training (or 1st two weeks of the season), then there’s always the external waiver claims or roster cuts looking for a starting opportunity. Adding one or two more starting pitchers would be a good idea in any event, just as potential starting rotation depth.
Iggy will be stretched out and ready to join the starting rotation by April 18th. This will create a full 5-man contingent for the starting rotation.
Bailey should be ready to join the starting rotation by early May. By late may or early June, Lamb and Lorenzen should be ready to join the starting rotation. As Bailey leads the return of the final three starters to join the starting rotation from the DL, any pitcher not producing in the starting rotation should be moved to the bullpen or sent packing off the 25-man roster. From that point, the auditions for starting rotation spots in 2017 begin in earnest.
Bailey, Disco, Iggy, Lamb and Lorenzen lead the 2016 contingent of competitors for the starting rotation and should be given every opportunity to succeed or fail in the starting rotation. Based on performance, Finnegan and Moscot are also in that discussion of the seven candidates for the starting rotation and Finnegan gets an early jump to show what he can do in the starting rotation. Villarreal and Melville are simply starting rotation fillers for 2016 and should not be in the starting pitcher discussion at all if everyone else is healthy.
Planning for 2017 and 2018
Now let’s move to the point of this dissertation. As viewed from the Old Recliner, any and all decisions regarding the starting pitching rotation must avoid the situation that put the Reds in their current predicament with the entire starting rotation replaced en-masse and paying market price for FA starting pitchers.
Potential starting pitchers for 2017 & 2018:
- Homer Bailey (age 29, FA 2020, owed $68MM from 2017-2019)
- Anthony DeSclafani (age 26, 1st Arb 2018, FA 2021)
- Raisel Iglesias (age 26, FA 1st Arb 2021, FA 2022)
- Michael Lorenzen (age 24, 1st Arb 2018, FA 2022)
- John Lamb (age 26, 1st Arb 2019, FA 2022)
- Brandon Finnegan (age 23, 1st Arb 2019, FA 2022)
- Jon Moscot (age 24, 1st Arb 2019, FA 2022)
- Amir Garrett (age 24, no service time)
- Rookie Davis (age 23, no service time)
- Cody Reed (age 23, no service time)
- Robert Stephenson (age 23, no service time)
- Nick Travieso (age 22, no service time)
- Keury Mella (age 22, no service time)
In addition to the 7 pitchers competing for a starting rotation spot during the rebooting 2016 season, Garrett, Davis, Reed and Stephenson will join that competition for the 2017 season with Travieso and Mella added to the mix for the 2018 season. The Reds management must adjust and prepare for the 2021, 2022 and 2023 seasons prior to those seasons beginning. Stephenson and Reed look like solid bets to crack the starting rotation on the 25-man roster in 2017. If the Reds were playing to win in 2016, they would almost certainly be among the five best starters for 2016.
Only three members of the seven candidates from the 2016 starting rotation will be necessary for the 2017 rotation. Some of those seven candidates will have already been moved to the bullpen based on capabilities and performance (for discussion purposes without those 2016 performances known, let’s arbitrarily identify Moscot and Lorenzen as bullpen candidates). That leaves 2 more starting pitchers from among the 2016 staff (Bailey, Disco, Iggy, Lamb & Finnegan) that will not be needed as starting pitchers in 2017.
The Reds certainly don’t want to lose any clear-cut, top-of-the-rotation (#1 or #2) starters from that group, but performances during the 2016 season will determine if such a situation exists and we have no way of knowing how that situation will play out. This is where the critical decisions come into play. If the Reds have five (or more) successful starters in 2016, somebody has to go. The Reds management needs to decide if there is more value to moving a successful starter(s) with multiple years of team control to the bullpen in 2017 or trading a successful starter for a frontline position player and/or top prospects. Any and all of the 2016 starters must enter into that decision (Bailey, Disco and Iggy included).
If Bailey or Disco do not separate themselves as clear-cut, superior, top-of-the-rotation starters from the other starters, then the Reds should look to trade one of those two pitchers after the 2016 season (and possibly even market them at the 2016 trade deadline for a windfall trade without any pressure to make a deadline trade). This could happen by multiple starters performing during 2016 as superior, top-of-the-rotation starters (please let this happen!) or Bailey and/or Disco putting up a more pedestrian performance in 2016. The same situation will present itself after the 2017 season as additional pitchers (Garrett, Davis, Travieso and Mella) enter the discussion for 2018.
It is imperative that the Reds have a real ascension plan in place for the starting pitching staff, rather than just waiting for player control to run its course and then punting. Throughout the ascension plan, sufficient depth must be maintained to cover injuries to the starting rotation.
After resolving the starting pitching for 2016, the bullpen needs must be considered. The Reds will need seven or eight bullpen pitchers to start the 2016 season. They can easily carry an extra bullpen pitcher until April 18th when the Reds will need a 5th starter. I’m going to assume two of the three internal starting pitching options (Villarreal, Melville and Moscot) make the opening day starting rotation, with the odd man out moving to the bullpen for long relief or AAA. I’ll arbitrarily name Melville as that odd man out pending the final three starts of spring training, but any combination or permutation of those three pitchers provides similar results.
The bullpen will lack experience in 2016, so what limited experience is available, must carry some early emphasis. Hoover, Cingrani and Jumbo begin the season as late inning/high leverage relievers. (The discussion of late inning vs. high leverage will not be addressed or resolved here.) The remainder of the opening day 2016 bullpen will be filled from: Sanchez, Cotham, O’Grady, Sampson, Contreras, Dayan Diaz, Somsen, Johnson and Moscot. The 40-man roster may be an issue if multiple non-roster pitchers are considered for the major league bullpen, but there is baggage on the 40-man roster and a 60-day DL may be justified for a couple of players on the 40-man roster.
Under no circumstances should Weiss, Howard, Crawford or Romano be considered for the 25-man roster. There are plenty of other bullpen options to sort through in 2016 before beginning their service time. Their consideration will come in 2017 and 2018 as the bullpen performances during the 2016 season will eliminate some relievers going forward and roles will become more defined in the 2016 bullpen as some starters are shuffled into the bullpen.
The 2016 bullpen will be a work-in-progress, inconsistent (Hoover?) and probably a real weakness (Jumbo?) on the team. There will also be solid bullpen performances (Cingrani, Sampson, Somsen?) along with some later bullpen additions as the starters shuffle to the bullpen (Moscot, Villarreal & Lorenzen). Just like the starting rotation, the Reds must use the opportunity during the 2016 reboot to evaluate the bullpen and identify the pitchers capable of assisting the team going forward in 2017 and identify the pitchers not part of the future.
Potential relievers for 2017 & 2018:
- JJ Hoover (age 28, FA 2019, owed $1.4MM for 2016)
- Jumbo Diaz (age 32, 1st Arb 2018, FA 2021)
- Tony Cingrani (age 27, 1st Arb 2017, FA 2020)
- Pedro Villarreal (age 28, 1st Arb 2018, FA 2021)
- Jonathan Sanchez (age 33, minor league contract for 2016)
- Caleb Cotham (age 28, 1st Arb 2019, FA 2022)
- Chris O’Grady (age 26, no service time)
- Keyvius Sampson (age 25, 1st Arb 2019, FA 2022)
- Dayan Diaz (age 27, no service time)
- Layne Somsen (age 26, no service time)
- Tim Melville (age 26, no service time)
- Stephen Johnson (age 25, no service time)
- Zack Weiss (age 24, no service time)
- Nick Howard (age 24, no service time)
- Jonathan Crawford (age 24, no service time)
- Sal Romano (age 22, no service time)
At the end of the 2016 season, the bullpen must also be evaluated for trade value (Hoover?) to possibly return a future prospect and the process should be repeated after the 2017 season (Cingrani?) and after each season. The Reds have the opportunity to properly plan and stock a successful bullpen after 2017 without focusing on FA acquisitions to fill bullpen holes at FA salaries or paying high, late-arbitration salaries for relievers. Due to the questionable repeatability of bullpen performances, the need to trade extra bullpen contracts isn’t nearly as necessary or important as starting pitcher contracts. The value return for relievers will not approach the value return for starting pitchers and the arbitration contracts for relievers will not approach the arbitration contracts for starters.
The elephant in the room regarding planning for future moves is the rule changes that will occur with the next CBA contract.