Free agency is now upon us. The Cincinnati Reds, as currently constructed, project for the 2020 season according to ZiPS to be in that 82-85 win range. That’s a good place to start. But it’s also not likely to be enough to make the playoffs. And that is the Reds stated goal for 2020 – as it should be. They’ve reportedly got plenty of money to spend, too.
We’ve already taken a look at options among the position players on the free agent market. Today we’re going to move to the mound and focus on the starting pitching that could be available to the Reds on the market.
Before diving into who is available and could fit, let’s take a quick look at what Cincinnati already has. At the top of their rotation they’ve got two 2018 National League All-Stars in Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. Behind them they’re going to have former Cy Young contender and former All-Star Trevor Bauer. The fourth spot in the rotation is going to go to Anthony DeSclafani. He’s coming off of a 2019 that saw him post a 3.89 ERA in 166.2 innings over 31 starts. The final spot would seem to be there for the taking. Tyler Mahle would be the front runner for the spot with no acquisition.
The unlikely top of the rotation options
While we can all dream of having three, or even four potential aces, it doesn’t seem likely that the Reds are going to be able to go out and sign Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, or Hyun-Jin Ryu given what it will likely take to get them. But let’s dare to dream for a second.
Fresh off of their World Series match up, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are clearly the top two starters on the market. Cole led the American League with a 2.50 ERA in his 212.1 innings pitched. He also led the league with an absurd 326 strikeouts – giving up just 142 hits along the way. Strasburg wasn’t quite as good. He led the National League in wins with 18, and in innings with 209.0. His ERA was 3.32 on the season and he struck out 251 batters. He was dominant in the playoffs, too – allowing just eight earned runs in 36.1 innings (1.98 ERA).
Landing either of these two pitchers would unequivocally put the Reds rotation at or near the top of Major League Baseball. But while the team does seem to have plenty of money to spend – these kinds of moves just seem like something so far out of where Cincinnati has gone in the past that it seems like a needle in the proverbial haystack.
While not quite on par with those two, Hyun-Jin Ryu is probably still in that top tier ahead of the next group. He’s had some problems staying on the mound since coming to the United States. But when he’s been on the mound he’s been awfully good. He’ll enter free agency with a career 2.98 ERA. It’s been even better the last two seasons – posting a 2.21 ERA in 44 starts and 265.0 innings between 2018 and 2019. The lefty has just gone to the next level the last two years by cutting his walk rate down to elite levels. With his age, and his history with missing time, he’ll likely cost significantly less than Strasburg or Cole, but will still likely be a high-dollar signing.
The more likely middle of the rotation options
If the Reds are looking for a solid option to round out the rotation, there are plenty of options on the market. It may come down to how much money they want to commit to starting pitching versus some of their other needs. The old saying is that you can never have too much starting pitching. And it holds true in just about every case. As things stand right now, 1-4 in the Reds rotation all look strong. It’s that final spot where the questions arise. You can see the entire list of free agents
Cincinnati was linked for a time last offseason to Dallas Keuchel. He’ll hit the market for the second consecutive season. This time a year older, but with fewer innings on his arm than the previous offseason thanks to Major League Baseball’s strange offseason when it comes to non-elite free agents. Once he signed with Atlanta after the draft, he made 19 starts and was better than he had been the previous season with Houston. He posted a 121 ERA+ in his 112.2 innings pitched. The former All-Star would likely be a big upgrade to the starting five in Cincinnati given his history and expectations. His 3.75 ERA would have been third best among the Reds starters. Unlike the rest of the group, he doesn’t miss bats. Instead he relies on tons of ground balls and keeping the ball in the park.
He hasn’t had a breakout season to this point in his career – at least not on the surface. But his 2019 season very well could have been just that. The 29-year-old right-handed starter went 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA for the Minnesota Twins this season over his 30 starts. He only threw 159.0 innings – but he was quite good when he was out there. His 131 ERA+ is well above-average, and he was an All-Star for his efforts in 2019 with the Twins. He’s going to hit free agency with a career ERA of 3.88. His 131 ERA+ in 2019 was easily a career best. Odorizzi’s been healthy throughout his career, making at least 28 starts every season since his first full season in the Majors back in 2014.
Left-handed pitcher Cole Hamels is hitting free agency at age 36. He’s coming off of a solid season with the Cubs where he made 27 starts and threw 141.2 innings with a 3.81 ERA. That’s pretty much in line with where he’s been at over the last five seasons (3.72). There’s age working against him, but that might also mean that signing him won’t require 4+ years to bring him on board, either. He misses bats and generally has kept the ball in the park.
Another big name could be Madison Bumgarner. He’s not quite what he used to be, but he still found plenty of success in 2019 for the Giants. The lefty started 34 games and threw 207.2 innings. He’s a work horse in a day and age where there aren’t many. His ERA was 3.90 while missing plenty of bats and walking next to no one. He’s already thrown 2000 innings in his career if you include the playoffs – and he just turned 30-years-old in August. That’s a lot of mileage on his arm, so if there’s going to be some concern with Bumgarner, it’s probably going to come from that. But if he remains healthy and performs as expected, he’d likely be a big boost to the rotation.
For what feels like the last decade, the Cincinnati Reds have continuously been linked to Zack Wheeler. After bursting int he Majors in 2013 and 2014 with a 3.50 ERA over 49 starts, he missed all of the 2015 and 2016 season. His first season back in 2017 was struggle. But he’s been above-average in the last two years, throwing 377.2 innings with a 3.65 ERA for the Mets. Wheeler misses plenty of bats and he doesn’t walk guys anymore, either. This could be an interesting one to really keep an eye on given how frequently the Reds have been rumored to be interested in acquiring him.
The Atlanta Braves turned down their $12M option for Julio Teheran on Monday. That sends the 28-year-old right-handed pitcher to free agency. He’s been an above-average starter for his career – he’ll enter the offseason with a career 110 ERA+ (10% better than league average). In the last two seasons he’s thrown 350.1 innings, allowed 270 hits, and posted a 3.88 ERA (111 ERA+). That’s come with 167 walks and 324 strikeouts. The walks are a little higher than you’d like to see. That’s also an issue that’s only been there for the last two seasons. This is where you could lean on Derek Johnson and Caleb Cotham to see if they believe they can get his control back to where it was prior to 2018.
The right-handed pitcher has always been a “stuff” guy. But he’s struggled at times to remain healthy, and get the full potential of that stuff. The 30-year-old missed the second half of 2017 and all of 2018 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. It was his second major arm surgery in his career. He missed 2012 and most of 2013 after having shoulder surgery. But in 2019 it was another issue that kept him off of the mound: He failed a PED test. His suspension was shortened after arguing that while he did take what he said, a diuretic, it wasn’t to mask a performance enhancing drug. Still, he faced a 60-game suspension as a result of the test.
He began serving that on September 7th. That means he will have to continue serving the remainder of it to begin the 2020 season. On one hand, that could give teams a pause as they’ll have to begin the season without him. On the other hand, perhaps it means you could acquire a pitcher coming off of a 114 ERA+ and a 4.01 ERA who walks no one and misses plenty of bats at a discounted price and a shorter-term deal.
The Wild Card Options
While this could be filled up with a lot of options, I’m going to look at a few that jumped out to me. The first would be Alex Wood. Clearly the Reds had interest in him and what he could bring to the table. His 2019 didn’t work out. The talent has always been there. When he’s been healthy, he’s been a well above-average pitcher. I don’t want to dive into this much more – if you are reading here at Redleg Nation, you know about Alex Wood.
He’s about to turn 40 (March), making him perhaps the oldest pitcher on the market. The left-handed starter has been pretty stinking good for the last five seasons. That is, at least while he’s been able to stay on the mound. And that’s the rub with Hill – he’s rarely made it through a season completely healthy. Outside of 2007 and 2013, he’s never really been able to do it. In 2019 he missed most of April, then he missed half of June, all of July, all of August, and half of September before returning for three starts in September and another one in the playoffs. That could be why he may be able to be brought in, though. While he has stated he’d like to re-sign with the Dodgers, if they aren’t as interested in his return, he’ll need to look elsewhere. Coming off of a 2.45 ERA season with 72 strikeouts in 58.2 innings – if he can remain on the mound, he’d be a rather interesting addition to the team.
He had a strong four year run from 2014-2017 between Oakland, San Diego, and Boston. He made 81 starts and 55 relief appearances in that span, posting a 3.24 ERA with 506 strikeouts in 499.1 innings. But he really struggled in 2018 with the Red Sox, posting a 6.08 ERA. He signed with the Giants prior to the 2019 season, and he didn’t perform well there, either – at least when it comes to ERA. His ERA was a robust 5.68 in 17 starts and 4 relief appearances for San Francisco, but he struck out 92 batters in 77.2 innings. He simply gave up a ton of home runs and hits along the way.
Still, Milwaukee traded for him at the deadline and he was lights out for the Brewers out of the bullpen. In 26.1 innings he struck out 45 batters and had just eight walks while posting a 2.39 ERA. There’s obviously a difference between the rotation and the bullpen, and his pitch selection did get quite a bit more fastball heavy after the trade – but there could be something worth looking into there as a potential upside play at the back end of the rotation. And if it doesn’t quite work out, well, the bullpen treated him quite well in 2019.
As noted, there are a lot of pitchers out there. Rather than write 10,000 words covering them all, I kept it to 2,000 covering some. The link to MLB Trade Rumors is above if you want to take a look at all of them. You’ll probably be interested in some of the ones that weren’t covered here – especially if you’re looking for middle of the rotation or back end guys.