The Cincinnati Reds rotation is in shambles, at least from the standpoint of what was expected as the team entered February. Homer Bailey went down with surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow and is out until about June. Monday we learned that Anthony DeSclafani will miss at least the next four weeks before even attempting to throw again. That’s two guys that the team was counting on when they planned things out over the winter.
The Reds organization has an embarrassment of starting pitching prospects. And they need every last one of them if we’ve learned anything in the long history of the Cincinnati organization. With the organization now needing to fill three spots in the rotation to open the year it’s probably a good thing that so many guys are at least close to the Majors.
The options seem to be, at least from the minor league guys, left handers Cody Reed and Amir Garrett, and right handers Robert Stephenson, Sal Romano, Rookie Davis and Luis Castillo. Tim Adleman and Bronson Arroyo also seem to be in the conversation. Dick Williams told reporters on Monday evening that he’s not sure if they will look at free agency as an option to fill a spot.
Who fills out the rotation is a difficult question to answer. If you were to choose who would follow Brandon Finnegan and Scott Feldman based purely on performance in spring training, things would get a tad bit easier. With that said, it still wouldn’t be easy as things sit today. Many of the options have pitched well in a majority or all of their outings so far. We also know that making roster decisions based on spring training performance is generally a bad idea since the sample size is incredibly small and the competition level is all over the place. Toss in the fact that the players past is full of much more information about the players skillset that it’s not funny, and it’s just a bad idea to use spring training performance to hand out roster spots.
Of course, when you are dealing with a bunch of young players, that changes things a little bit. Young players can, and sometimes do, alter their skillsets very quickly. That can be especially true when it comes to pitchers where one small tweak in mechanics, or a grip that gives them a slightly different look on a pitch can turn a career around on a dime. Or maybe a pitcher finds extra velocity now that they are healthy (we’re looking at you Rookie Davis).
Even if the Reds were to look at spring training performance as one of the factors that come into play in handing out the three rotation spots, there’s a big giant standing in the corner that may be even more important: Service Time. Amir Garrett, Sal Romano, Rookie Davis and Luis Castillo have no Major League service time. That’s very important to consider. If those guys spend 10 or more days in the minor leagues in 2017, then come up, the Reds will get an entire extra year of service time out of them. That means that instead of becoming a free agent after the 2023 season instead of the 2022 season. All of that for what amounts to less than two weeks in the minor leagues in April of 2017.
If you’ve read my work for a while, you know that I’m as vocal as I can be about paying minor leaguers significantly more than they are currently paid. I also find it ridiculous that teams can manipulate service time in the way I describe above (for such a short amount of time to get an entire additional year). But for the Cincinnati Reds organization, it just makes too much sense for the future of the baseball team to do everything in their power to put someone else in the rotation instead of any of those four players with no service time under their belt in April. As unfair as that is to the players involved, for the Cincinnati Reds it would be absolutely stupid to lose out on an entire year of a 29-31 years old pitcher in favor of two starts in April of their rookie season.
With the injuries mounting up, the organizations hand may be forced on at least one of those players. They would probably prefer to hand the three spots to Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson and one of Bronson Arroyo or Tim Adleman for the long term ramifications that would come about with going in the other direction. The team will have to hope for good performances from some of those guys over the next three weeks to go that route, though. Amir Garrett and Sal Romano in particular have been dominating for the most part this spring. Rookie Davis has looked quite good as well. If Bronson Arroyo can’t throw 5-6 innings (and he’s stated this spring that he’s not sure if he can), or Tim Adleman and Robert Stephenson struggle in the spring moving forward, the Reds may find themselves in a very tough position. They could grab a waiver wire pitcher at the end of the spring to help make their decision easier, but right now they have to be hoping some of the guys with service time put together a strong couple of weeks to end the spring so they can at least put on the face of decision makers that aren’t trying to manipulate the service clocks of young players like the Cubs did a few years ago when they sent Kris Bryant and his 1.600 OPS to Triple-A to “work on his defense”, only to call him up the exact day that he no longer would be eligible to reach free agency in six years (giving them a seventh).