Late last night Jon Morosi of MLB Network and Fox Sports reported that the Cincinnati Reds were interested in two different free agent starting pitchers. His first tweet noted that the team was interested in Mike Fiers. Less than twenty minutes later he indicated that they were interested in Anibal Sanchez.
In some ways, the two pitchers are similar. In 2018 they both posted better than average ERA’s. Mike Fiers had an ERA of 3.56 in 172.0 innings. Anibal Sanchez was even better, posting an ERA of 2.83 – but he only threw 136.2 innings. Both pitchers were stingy with walks, and had good strikeout-to-walk ratios. Another way that both are similar is that just one year prior, both did not pitch well. In 2017 they posted ERA’s of 5.22 (Fiers) and 6.41 (Sanchez).
Anibal Sanchez has had more than a few strong seasons in his career. Back in 2013 he led the American League in ERA and FIP while making 29 starts for the Detroit Tigers. From 2009-2014 he posted a 3.47 ERA, a 3.23 FIP, had a WHIP of 1.26, and he threw 981.0 innings. He also allowed just 73 home runs in that span. And then everything changed. From 2015-2017 his ERA was 5.67 and he allowed 85 home runs in 415.2 innings. His home run rate went from above-average to among the worst in the league. And then in 2018, it went back to being solid, and his ERA rebounded in a big, big way.
Mike Fiers hasn’t quite been as good as Anibal Sanchez has in his career. He’s been mostly a league average pitcher for his career – though it’s been a bit up-and-down, too. From 2011-2016 he threw 572.2 innings with a 3.87 ERA. That came with a strong walk and a strong strikeout rate. But then in 2017 his home run rate and walk rate both jumped way up and his ERA followed. In 2018 his ERA dropped, posting that 3.56 mark, but his home run rate remained quite hit. He gave up 32 home runs over 172.0 innings. He did mitigate the high home run rate some by lowering his walk rate to elite levels.
With the Reds targeting pitchers like Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Dallas Keuchel, Noah Syndergaard – these targets seem like a big step down. And it’s true. They are a big step down. But they are also expected to cost a whole lot less to acquire. The highest projected contract that we saw for Anibal Sanchez was a 2-year deal at $22M total. Other places thought he’d only get a 1-year deal and $7M or less. None of these places looked at a contract for Mike Fiers as he was non-tendered and wasn’t scheduled to be a free agent.
Of course, there’s also a reason that both of these pitchers aren’t looking at big deals, or big money. There’s a bunch of risk involved with them – even on shorter deals. If Anibal Sanchez watches his home run rate return to the 2015-2017 rate, things will get very ugly in Great American Ballpark. For Mike Fiers, the home run rate has always been high, and that alone is a big issue. But if that also comes along with the walk rate he showed in 2017, well, that’s going to work out very poorly.
The Cincinnati Reds needed to add multiple pitchers to their roster. They’ve aimed high. They’ve been rumored to have been interested in elite pitchers. And they’ve also been rumored to have been interested in more than a few non-elite pitchers. The Reds are simply looking at every possible option that’s out there to improve their roster.
If they bring in one of these two guys, that’s not likely to be the end of things and them calling it a day. They know that they need better pitching. And they have been targeting just that. And they’ll keep looking to do that as they know these two aren’t the types that will anchor the top of their rotation. As Steve Mancuso showed the other day, the Reds should have plenty of money to spare right now. Even if one of these signings happen, there will still be a good chunk of money remaining to keep trying to get the pitching.