Dick Williams–the Reds general manager or the guy in charge of the rebuild or the guy who took over for Walt Jocketty or the guy who literally pilots the Reds off-the-field decisions and thus holds a fair amount of importance in this baseball world we choose to inhabit–mentioned the other day that the Reds will be targeting three areas of concern this offseason. Those three areas, in order from the most logical to the least, are: a right-handed bench outfielder, a fifth man for the rotation, and a reliever.
That wish list is the equivalent of a straight-A student saying their main area of concern is getting A+’s this semester. Do the Reds resemble a straight-A student to anyone?
Williams’ inability to articulate any pressing issues beyond simple cosmetic problems–because let’s be honest, your fifth outfielder, fifth starter, and bullpen are mostly cosmetic problems–is probably the largest area of concern for this club, but that’s beside the point. Matt Wilkes looked at the potential free agent candidates for the outfield bat yesterday, so today I’ll look at the best candidates for the relief corp. But remember folks, spending money on a free agent reliever is about as useful as burning the trash in your dumpster to dispose of it.
What We Have:
So, on the Reds’ 40-man roster are a bunch of familiar faces with very few departures. J.J. Hoover, Ross Ohlendorf, and Alfredo Simon are all on their merry ways which is a promising development for the watchability of 2017 Reds games. Williams has also expressed that Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias might take on larger roles in the back of the pen, which would be ideal. Rounding out the returners are names like Tony Cingrani, Jumbo Diaz, Blake Wood, etc. Some better than others, most just serviceable enough.
What We Could Have:
So in sum, there are 53 relief pitchers on the free agent market, two of which have already signed with the Angels. That might seem like a rather large sample size, but when you rule out pitchers over 35 (13), pitchers that have already played for the Reds (5), and pitchers I could make up a name for and still convince you they existed (9–One of them was named Joe Smith for crying out loud), we’re left with 24 pitchers. That is just way too many pitchers.
I whittled down the list of suitable Reds targets a bit more through sheer subjective judgement. On the 60-day DL? Sorry, Jordan Walden. Former starter trying to rejuvenate your career as a reliever? Take a hike Jonathan Niese, Scott Feldman, and Tommy Hunter. Generally just haven’t pitched well? Bye Eric O’Flaherty and Drew Storen, we miss 2013 too, believe us.
Which brought me to a list of five potential targets:
1. Kenley Jansen
Ha, yeah right. We don’t have that kind of money for a bullpen arm. Who do you think this guy is, CoCo Cordero?
2. Jerry Blevins
2016 Stats (Mets) : 3.05 FIP, 2.79 ERA, 52 K, 15 BB, 4 HR, 42.0 IP
Okay, so he’s pushing my arbitrary age limit at 33, but Blevins represents the perfect kind of effective bullpen guy the Reds should target. Yes, he is a LOOGY and would likely carry a price tag well above what the Reds should pay for a reliever (probably around $5 million for a year I’m guessing), but he’s not breaking the bank and the Reds haven’t had a true LOOGY since Sean Marshall’s shoulder ran away. Nothing about Blevins stats screams regression, and if he can manage 0.7 WAR across 40ish innings again, he might be worth the investment.
3. Mark Melancon
2016 Stats (Pirates/Nationals): 2.42 FIP. 1.64 ERA, 65 K, 12 BB, 3 HR, 71.1 IP
A true closer and an elite one at that, Melancon should absolutely be out of the Reds’ budget. He was on a one-year, $9.6 million deal last year and is probably looking for a three-year deal with a bit of a pay raise on the open market, something that would be absolutely dumb for the Reds.
That said, he is a pretty dang good reliever, averaging over 2.0 WAR over the past four seasons, all the while never having a FIP above 3.00. He’s come to rely on his cutter far more the past two years at the expense of his fastball, which is probably due to their mirrored velocity but radically different movement.
4. Mark Rzepcynski
2016 Stats (A’s/Nationals): 3.57 FIP, 2.64 ERA, 46 K. 29, 1 HR, 47.2 IP
On the one hand, Rzepcynski is another super effective LOOGY (.266 wOBA career against lefties) and far cheaper than Jerry Blevins at that. On the other hand, he’s completely useless against right-handed bats (.352 wOBA career) and would probably just be taking a roster spot from a more deserving young player. Yet to be determined as a pro or con is his nickname of Scrabble. He wouldn’t be the worst pickup in the world, especially considering that his price tag almost wouldn’t factor into the end of the year budget, but if the Reds are truly looking for a reliever to make an impact, they won’t find one here.
5. Dustin McGowan
2016 Stats (Marlins): 4.19 FIP, 2.82 ERA, 63 K, 33 BB, 7 HR, 67.0 IP
McGowan is the human embodiment of picking up a painting at a garage sale for a quarter and hoping it turns out to be worth something because it vaguely resembles Van Gogh’s style. That is to say: the Reds wouldn’t have to pay McGowan very much at all and his arm does seem to function at a normal level so there are some potential diamond in the rough-like qualities. However, a .241 BABIP points to a bit of luck on McGowan’s part in a season where he put up a 0.0 WAR, so the Reds should probably take a hard pass.
So that’s a great list right? Of the 53 potential relievers on the market, the five that would make the most sense for the Reds in their present iteration are all deeply flawed or too expensive or a combination of both.
If you’ve made it this far, you know it is no secret that I don’t think the Reds should be spending any money on a centerpiece reliever at all, but if they insist, Jerry Blevins makes the most sense to pursue. His cost runs middle of the road, he’s effective for his role and can compliment Iglesias and Lorenzen nicely.
What the Reds have in-house — a bevy of young starting pitchers with nowhere to start — is probably more valuable than any resource they could find on the market. Maybe converting Robert Stephenson to the bullpen or Dan Straily. Maybe hope Tony Cingrani can patchwork the gap from 2017 to 2018. Whatever the fix is, the Reds will make it work…as long as it isn’t sinking large amounts of cash into a relief pitcher. That’s dumb.
Steve Mancuso said it best a few days ago in his profile of the 2017 season to come.
Fans need to give the organization breathing space to not chase ephemeral bullpen help.
And this is me giving Dick Williams breathing space. Do not go chasing bullpen help, Mr. Williams, I beg of you. Please, please, let the young guys play and let the old guys play too, just for different teams. It’s better this way, I promise.