Will Trading Johnny Be Bad?

The Reds aren’t good, finishing with a losing record while facing a fall from contention in 2014, nursing a prolonged absence from their superstar, Joey Votto. So, with this season lost and little room on the payroll, what will the team do to improve? Likely…nothing. Ownership clearly didn’t have any intentions of improving the roster, at least not at the cost of…a cost. Last winter left a lot to be desired, as the loss of Shin-Soo Choo led to the promotion of Billy Hamilton, yet, there was little to nothing done to off-set the loss of offensive production between those two players, as the Reds can only take solace in the fact that Choo wasn’t nearly as productive in 2014 with the Texas Rangers as he was in 2013 with Cincinnati. The addition of Skip Schumaker wasn’t enough, and the loss of Choo on top of two trade deadline (2013 and 2014) with no movement whatsoever leaves the Reds in a situation that isn’t favorable for the club’s future.

Courtesy: twinsdaily.com
Courtesy: twinsdaily.com

Now, with Homer Bailey paid handsomely with his extension, the Reds are unlikely to see a large enough increase in payroll to allow the team to add an offensive weapon, and with Jay Bruce‘s horrific season and the questions surrounding Votto’s health hovering over the future of the franchise, it appears time to sell off the pieces that the club can move and hope for the best with some young talent.

Enter Johnny Cueto.

Heading into Friday night, Cueto has made 100 starts since the start of the 2011 season. They have been very good:

51-25, 2.52 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 661.1 IP, 553:178 K:BB

While Cueto doesn’t have the innings over the last four seasons that Mike Leake or Homer Bailey have, he has shown the consistency that neither have presented, and, while Mat Latos has top-of-the-rotation stuff, his injury history and ability to handle his emotions have played a role in his inability to become an elite pitcher in MLB. Cueto, however, continues to improve, and with another season with 200 innings (his second, 2012 being his other), the 28-year-old right-hander has done enough to emphasize his value to the rest of the league.

The Cincinnati Reds have a team option on Cueto for 2015, as they can pay him $10 million to keep him or $800,000 to buy him out. That option is an easy decision, but Cueto is the lone player on the Reds who has positive value in trades, as Votto and Bruce certainly aren’t worth dealing considering the loss of market value and the remaining money on their contracts.

Cueto is a bargain. While $10 million seems like a lot of money, consider that Tim Lincecum will earn $18 million in 2015, Ubaldo Jimenez will earn $12.25 million in 2015, and Edwin Jackson will earn $11 million in 2015. Even a single year of control would have tremendous value for the Cincinnati Reds in a potential trade, and with so many question marks for the club offensively (as they rank 28th in MLB in runs scored), dealing from their strength, starting pitching, is necessary, and getting the most value out of their strength would force a trade of the club’s ace, Cueto.

So, who would be interested?

Boston Red Sox: Piecing together a rotation, especially if they are unable to make a deal with Jon Lester in free agency. They also have plenty of outfield depth after signing Rusney Castillo and trading for Yoenis Cespedes. Mookie Betts or Jackie Bradley would be excellent pieces to start a deal, and acquiring a young arm, like Henry Owens or Anthony Ranaudo, or infield prospect from their loaded farm system could be very lucrative and beneficial to the future of the organization.

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs are loaded with offensive talent, but they don’t have much pitching depth in their system, especially in the upper minors and the majors. Cueto would be an excellent piece to anchor the rotation, but it is fair to question if the Reds would trade Cueto in-division, as well as whether the Cubs can trust all of their existing young pieces enough to be competitive by adding Cueto.

Reds RHP Homer  Bailey
Reds RHP Homer Bailey

Baltimore Orioles: The O’s may be looking to get Cueto for one final push before the makeup of their current, AL East winning club begins to fall apart. After the 2015 season, both Chris Davis and Matt Wieters will be free agents, and it is fair to wonder if either would be non-tendered after the 2014 season, joining Nick Markakis in the land of confusion, as their right fielder is owed $17.5 million or a $2 million buyout (which appears to make his days in Baltimore numbered). If the Reds want pitching depth, the Orioles have it, but they could have some interest in Jonathan Schoop as a starting piece, as well.

It would be unfortunate to see Cueto leave Cincinnati. He has been fantastic during his career when he is healthy, which has been the leading factor in his ability to fly under the national radar. Cueto would certainly be missed in the Reds’ rotation, but the club is in desperate need of offense, and after signing Bailey, they won’t be able to extend their ace. Did they extend the wrong pitcher? In my opinion…absolutely. I’d much rather pay Cueto $20 to $22 million per season than to pay Bailey the $10 million that he will earn in 2015, let alone the $18 to $25 million he earns annually between 2016 and 2020. Cueto has proven to be capable of greatness, and his time in Cincinnati needs to come to an end so that the team can return to greatness at some point in the near future.

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How the Cincinnati Reds Ruined Their Window

Over the last nine games of the season, the Cincinnati Reds were 2-7, including their National League Wild Card loss in Pittsburgh, which would be their fifth loss against the Pirates in the nine game span. Needless to say, after a disappointing collapse in the 2012 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, the collapse at the end of the 2013 season wasn’t pleasing to the fans, or the front office. Dusty Baker was canned shortly thereafter, replaced by pitching coach Bryan Price, who, in his first year as manager, has been dealt with the task of rebuilding a roster with a lot of question marks into a perennial power, all the while continuing to look up at the St. Louis Cardinals, who have built a system of winning from within.

Now, the Reds must replace their lead-off hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, who only managed a .423 on-base percentage and 107 runs scored while reaching base 305 times by hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch, after watching Choo run to the Texas Rangers in free agency for seven-years, $130 million.

BruceCertainly, it wasn’t within the budget to re-up with Choo at $18.7 million per year, not with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips combining to make $33 million in 2014, $38 million in 2015, and $45.5 million in 2016, that is, of course, if one of them isn’t traded. The Reds have long had a payroll between $80 and $100 million under current owner Bob Castellini, but is it time to start questioning what the long-term goal of the franchise is, after sputtering around the free agent market while trying to replace their best lead-off hitter since Joe Morgan and Pete Rose were flapping and flopping around Riverfront Stadium. Whether television contracts and Major League Baseball Advanced Media revenue will allow the “small-market” Reds to increase their payroll further is a valid question, but with Matt Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake under team-control through 2015, and Homer Bailey headed towards free agency after the 2014 season, how else can the team remain contenders, especially with St. Louis constantly reloading and the Chicago Cubs reaching their contention window, just as the Reds is becoming questionable?

This offseason was difficult, clearly. The Reds couldn’t be in on Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, or any other big-name free agent, but with very little money to spend, GM Walt Jocketty could have been more active in the trade market, or at least the minor league free agent route. Dick Williams, the VP of Baseball Operations, told me during the Reds’ caravan that the club lost out on Grady Sizemore due to his relationship with one of Boston’s trainers, who had been with Cleveland during his time there. While Sizemore wasn’t a lock to produce, or stay healthy, he fit the bill as a low-cost centerfield option. He wasn’t a leadoff hitter, though, at least he hadn’t shown those skills since his last somewhat healthy season, 2009. Which left the club with little choice but to give their in-house candidate, Billy Hamilton, the job.

The issue with Hamilton, though, is that, though he has otherworldly speed, is he capable of thriving long-term in center, a position that he has been playing since the start of the 2012 season. His experience in Triple-A left a lot to be desired, as he posted a .256/.308/.343 triple-slash, stealing 75 bases and scoring 75 runs in 123 games for Louisville. We all know about his brief September audition, when Dusty Baker allowed him to receive all of 22 plate appearances, while Baker pinch-ran him often to allow the speedy Mississippian to accumulate 13 stolen bases in 14 tries.

In addition to plugging Hamilton into center, here is the laundry list of exciting moves that the Reds have made this winter:

October: Signed LHP Trevor Reckling and RHP Timothy Adleman to minor league contracts; signed OF Jason Bourgeois to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training;

November: Signed LHP Manny Parra, 2B Skip Schumaker, and C Brayan Pena to major league contracts; Signed OF Mike Wilson, LHP Nick Schmidt, and RHP Ross Ismail to minor league contracts; Signed C Max Ramirez, LHP Lee Hyde, and 3B Rey Navarro to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

December: Signed 3B Ruben Gotay and RHP Trevor Bell to minor league contracts; Invited non-roster RHP Jose Diaz and 2B Kristopher Negron to Spring Training; Signed RHP Chien-Ming Wang, C Corky Miller, and SS Argenis Diaz to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training; Acquired LHP David Holmberg from Arizona for Ryan Hanigan;

January: Sign RHP Bob Keppel, RHP Sean Black, OF Thomas Neal, LHP Jeff Francis, 2B John Tolisano, and 2B Hernan Iribarren to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

So, the club lost Shin-Soo Choo, Xavier Paul, and Derrick Robinson from last season’s 90-72 squad, so why should fans feel like this offseason is a failure?

Well, Choo’s production won’t be replaced by Hamilton, speed or no speed. Even if Hamilton increases his on-base percentage to .340 over 600 plate appearances, he doesn’t have the patient approach that Choo had, and, while he can move himself from base to base with his wheels, he just won’t be on as often. If Choo’s production is a clear downgrade, where are they upgrading?

Mesoraco1Is Devin Mesoraco set for a breakout season, replacing the putrid production that Ryan Hanigan provided in 2013? Is Todd Frazier going to post an .829 OPS, as he did in 2012, or something similar to his .721 OPS from 2013? Is Zack Cozart even worth starting anymore, given his career .680 OPS over 1,256 plate appearances? Ryan Ludwick had a nice 2012 and his 2013 was ruined due to his Opening Day shoulder injury, but was he ever worth a two-year, $15 million extension, especially when you consider it was back-loaded with an option for 2015, making him guaranteed $13 million, including his 2015 buyout? Brandon Phillips, 103 RBI or not, saw his OPS fall to .705 in 2013. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce seem like locks for success, but Bruce continues to be one of the streakiest players in all of baseball, while Votto’s patience seems to have overtaken his ability to actually produce at his 2010 MVP level ever again.

As far as the rotation, it remains pretty deep, but once you get past the top five, there are question marks. While that wouldn’t be a huge deal for most clubs, you have to remember that Johnny Cueto only had one full season and he immediately got hurt in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. Bailey, Latos, and Leake are very good options, and Tony Cingrani was impressive, even with just one good pitch, but having Wang, Francis, and nothing else as fallback options is rough, which may lead to the club rushing top prospect Robert Stephenson if there was an injury in 2014, not to mention how the rotation is going to function if Bailey leaves via free agency or Cueto’s 2015 option isn’t picked up. Who will be starting games and why don’t the Reds have options waiting like the Cardinals?

The bullpen is still built to dominate, as Aroldis Chapman is as shutdown as it gets. A full season of Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, a former closer in his own right, serving as a setup man, and J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Manny Parra, and Alfredo Simon rounding out the group helps the Reds bullpen look tremendous for another season…but a bullpen doesn’t have a lot of value if they aren’t protecting more leads than deficits.

The Reds haven’t been active enough. The Reds haven’t drafted enough high-ceiling talent. The Reds haven’t had enough success on the international market.

Braun1The Reds are a lot like the Milwaukee Brewers, locking up talent for just a little while, and then watching that talent and the contention window fly way in the breeze. You see, the Brewers were a competitive team until Prince Fielder left. They traded a lot of good, young talent to acquire Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia to help them contend. They bought in to that window and went for it. It is hard for a small-market to commit a lot of money to talent like Greinke and Sabathia, only to watch them leave for big-markets once they hit free agency, but the revenue that comes with a playoff run or a World Series title would alleviate a lot of those dollars. The Brewers, then, went into quite a funk the last several seasons, and they have yet to recover, but the worst part is that their farm system is terrible. If Ryan Braun doesn’t rebound, the club still has Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, but the rest of the organization is quite barren.

The Reds are a lot like the Brewers because they haven’t had many successful recent drafts. While a lot of the key names on the major league roster are homegrown, there isn’t a whole lot of depth currently in the minor league system. The Reds did trade a couple of solid young players (Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Brad Boxberger) to acquire Mat Latos and Choo (Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs), but outside of Stephenson and Hamilton, much of the high-level talent was in Low-A or the Rookie levels last season, specifically Phillip Ervin, Jesse Winker, and Nick Travieso.

So, what will happen when 2015 rolls around without an Oscar Taveras waiting to take over left field for Ludwick? Who fills the rotation without a Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon ready to step in for A.J. Burnett? Who will push Todd Frazier at third base without a Kris Bryant or Javier Baez?

While the Reds and Brewers have weaker farm systems and question marks at several spots, the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates have done it right. They have managed to stay active and have taken risks with draft picks to make sure that they are getting the talent necessary to maintain solid depth within their organization. Sure, the Pirates and Cubs have had higher picks due to their lack of success over the years, but the Cardinals have a lot of talent and they haven’t had a season below .500 since 2007, while making the playoffs in 11 of the last 18 seasons, including four World Series and two titles.

PujolsThe conservative nature of the current regime in Cincinnati may not look awful as the Reds compete in 2014, but when Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis have their high-level minor league talent stepping in within the next two to three seasons, Reds fans will forget about the nightmares that Albert Pujols used to bring, and will instead be kept awake by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Gregory Polanco, Oscar Taveras, and others who will make their names in the depths of the thriving systems in the rest of the National League Central. Meanwhile, the Brewers and Reds will continue to cry small-market when they have, instead, chosen to be smarter at the right times.

There are still names on the free agent market that can help the Reds contend, but none of them will make them as good as they were last season, in 2012, or in 2010, when Cincinnati has reached the playoffs. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point to scrap what has been built. Instead, run out there with what you have and hope for the best, which, apparently, was Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini’s plan all offseason.

Pretend GM: Signings and Trades That Should Be Made

With the big signing of Masahiro Tanaka by the New York Yankees on Wednesday, the market for free agency and trades could explode over the next several days. With that in mind, I was thinking about some deals that would make tremendous sense for several teams…although, they could just make sense to me. Regardless, here are some deals that I’d like to see made over the next few weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

Cincinnati Reds Trade Brandon Phillips to the New York Yankees for Brett Gardner

PhillipsWhy This Trade Makes Sense: The Yankees clearly want to get back to the top, as their $155 million investment in Tanaka showed. With Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, and Scott Sizemore as the current options at second base, New York could use a more reliable name to replace Robinson Cano. While the Reds don’t have an immediate replacement ready for Phillips (outside of Henry Rodriguez or another position change for Billy Hamilton), they need to clear some payroll in order to lock up Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake, all of whom are eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, as well as Homer Bailey, who will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Phillips, who is due $50 million over the next four years, could be a bargain based on the current market, while his ability to play defensively at an elite level will provide quite a bit of value, as well. Gardner is unlikely to provide the on-base skills that Shin-Soo Choo provided last season in Cincinnati, but he would provide elite-level defensive skills, speed, and solid on-base skills (career OBP of .352). Gardner, earning $5.6 million in 2014 prior to reaching free agency after the season, would be an upgrade over a 2014 version of Hamilton, while providing quite a bit of financial flexibility to shore up the rotation for the coming seasons in Cincinnati. Even if Cincinnati had to chip in $10 million in salary relief, it would be an interesting deal for both clubs.

Baltimore Orioles Sign A.J. Burnett to a one-year, $14 million deal

burnettWhy This Signing Makes Sense: In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles surprised the world by contending and finishing 2nd in the AL East with 93 wins. In 2013, there was a slight regression, as the team dipped to 85 wins after doing very little over the offseason. The Orioles have been very active in the minor league free agent market this winter, but they could use a splash, and Burnett would be a tremendous addition to the club’s rotation. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman make a good, young rotation, but Burnett would be the anchor for the staff, and his presence would allow the club to move Norris to a (more appropriate) bullpen role. Burnett is from Maryland and he has been rumored to be retiring if he doesn’t re-sign with Pittsburgh, but Baltimore is close to home and he can keep his wife happy, and the spare change for one year would be worth it for both sides. Burnett rebuilt his value with two tremendous seasons with the Pirates, and he is worth a one-year deal for Baltimore for another shot at the AL East for the tattooed right-hander. Sure, it seems like it is going to be Pittsburgh or bust, but the Orioles are contenders with a healthy Manny Machado and consistent production from Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters – the O’s need to do their due diligence here.

Toronto Blue Jays Sign Matt Garza to a five-year, $60 million deal (I know he was rumored to have signed with Milwaukee for four-years, $52 million pending a physical, but it isn’t official…yet)

GarzaWhy This Signing Makes Sense: The Jays need another solid option in their rotation to compliment R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow, so that their offense isn’t wasted on sloppy rotation options like Esmil Rogers, Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Laffey, and Rickey Romero, who combined to make 27 starts last season. While Garza has some injury concerns, the Blue Jays have already given him a dynamic weapon – Dioner Navarro. With Navarro as his catcher, Garza has logged 338.1 innings and managed a 3.25 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, while Garza has posted a 4.07 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP with anyone else behind the dish. While there is risk involved due to Garza spending 170 team games on the disabled list the last three seasons with right shoulder and elbow injuries, the Jays need a pitcher who is capable of pitching in the AL East (Garza has done it before), can toss 180 or more innings (Garza has done it four times), and would be a significant upgrade over Rogers, Todd Redmond, and J.A. Happ, while the club waits for Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Alberto Tirado, Daniel Norris, and Sean Nolin to reach the majors. Garza may not be a number one starter, but he is a strong number two or three option on a club that should compete with an absolutely loaded offensive group.

Philadelphia Phillies Sign Ubaldo Jimenez to a five-year, $85 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Phillies first round pick, seventh overall, is protected, so while Jimenez would require draft-pick compensation, it would only be a second round pick going to Cleveland for Jimenez. After a tremendous second half in 2013 (1.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP over 84 innings), Jimenez rebuilt his value, and, at the age of 30, would be a solid right-handed option for the Phillies to place between Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Jimenez has had some success during his career in the NL East:

I Split W L ERA GS GF CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
Atlanta Braves 3 5 3.79 9 0 1 1 54.2 47 25 23 6 28 66 1.372 10.9 2.36
Miami Marlins 1 2 4.07 5 0 0 0 24.1 23 19 11 1 16 31 1.603 11.5 1.94
New York Mets 2 3 3.40 6 0 0 0 39.2 27 15 15 4 21 29 1.210 6.6 1.38
Washington Nationals 5 1 2.61 7 0 0 0 48.1 39 14 14 1 16 36 1.138 6.7 2.25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.

For those who don’t want to do the math, Jimenez is 11-11 with a 3.39 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 162:81 K:BB over 167 innings and 27 starts, and while that isn’t perfect, especially in a ballpark that is more favorable to hitters, Jimenez should, at least, be worth the money as an innings eater if he isn’t elite like he was in the second half of 2013. The Phillies may not be contenders, but they’ll always be spenders. They don’t have any arms ready in their system and Jimenez would be a huge upgrade over Roberto Hernandez and Ethan Martin, who appear to be options for the rotation currently.

Oakland Athletics Sign Nelson Cruz to a three-year, $27 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Cruz market appears nearly dead after there was draft-pick compensation added to a PED suspension, but Cruz is still just 33 and he is coming off of an All-Star season with solid production (27 home runs and 76 RBI in just 109 games). With very little interest and risk involved, it’s the perfect opportunity for Oakland to swoop in and make an interesting signing. While the club has some solid right-handed pop in Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the remainder of the lineup is filled with left-handed hitters, including Josh Reddick, Eric Sogard, Brandon Moss, as well as switch-hitters Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie. Another right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat would be a tremendous addition, as Reddick or Moss could sandwich between Cruz and Cespedes, providing quite a bit of value and production for a team that struggles to find offense in a cavernous home ballpark. However, Cruz has struggled in Oakland, posting a .192/.248/.352 triple-slash in 202 career plate appearances there. The late first round pick and discounted contract, though, could be enough to overlook his struggles, while providing a little more punch to the Oakland lineup.

Texas Rangers Sign Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $24 million deal

ArroyoWhy This Signing Makes Sense: Arroyo has been homer prone in the past and doesn’t have the stuff to avoid bats, but he has averaged 211 innings pitched over the last nine seasons and is someone whom the Rangers could count on with Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison coming back from injuries and Derek Holland on the shelf until mid-2014. Arroyo survived in a bandbox in Cincinnati over the last eight seasons, so he would be just as likely to post 200-plus innings and an ERA around 4.00 in Texas, especially with spacious ballparks like those in Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim within the division. There isn’t draft-pick compensation tied to Arroyo, and with Masahiro Tanaka gone and no real hope of acquiring David Price in a trade, the Rangers just need five starting pitchers, and Arroyo is a nice, reliable addition for the middle or back-end of the Texas rotation.

Atlanta Braves Trade Alex Wood to the New York Yankees for Gary Sanchez

Why This Trade Makes Sense: C.C. Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Hiroki Kuroda make a great top three and Ivan Nova showed drastic improvements last season, but the Yankees are relying on David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, and Manny Banuelos at the back of the rotation in 2014. While Alex Wood has one of the more violent deliveries you’ll ever see, he has solid stuff and is ready to be productive immediately in a major league rotation. With Brandon Beachy healthy and David Hale and Gavin Floyd capable of filling the back of the Braves rotation, Wood could be expendable for Atlanta to seek a long-term option at catcher with the departure of Brian McCann to the Yankees via free agency. Evan Gattis has a lot of power and Christian Bethancourt has tremendous defensive skills, but neither seem like strong options as an everyday catcher for Atlanta. While Sanchez still needs some seasoning and he could use a change of scenery due to his makeup and maturity concerns, the Braves have several upcoming arms, as usual, and they have a long-term need at catcher. Sanchez could be the answer and the eventual elbow surgery that Wood will need is worth this type of deal for Atlanta, and the production that the Yankees get out of Wood could be useful, as well.

The Cold Stove: Waiting for the 2015 Free Agent Class

 

Seattle Mariners' 2B: Robinson Cano
Seattle Mariners’ 2B: Robinson Cano

Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Shin-Soo Choo, and Carlos Beltran all signed big deals within a matter of weeks, and then…baseball fans were left wondering what happened to the stove, and while a watched pot never boils, the wait for the next big signing seems to be longer than the Cubs World Series drought…ZING!

The 2014 free agent class certainly had some impressive names on the list, and after Clayton Kershaw signed his seven-year, $215 million extension on Thursday, the list of 2015 upcoming free agents took a major hit. Teams have a lot of money due to the incoming television mega-deals that Major League Baseball has signed, and that revenue is allowing clubs to lock up many of their homegrown players prior to reaching free agency. With so few superstars actually reaching free agency, it appears that those who do are going to cash in with some lucrative deals, even if they aren’t necessarily worthy such an investment.

Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka

Teams seem quite hesitant to lock up the likes of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana, and while Garza doesn’t require draft-pick compensation like Jimenez and Santana, can you blame teams for not wanting to give out a five-year, $80 to $100 million deal to those types of pitchers? The pitching market will likely be set and begin to move after Masahiro Tanaka signs, which will require a team to give $20 million in a posting fee on top of a $100 million deal for a player who has never thrown a pitch at the Major League level. It seems terrifying from these poor, baseball blogger’s eyes to see teams shelling out this kind of money to:

  • Masahiro Tanaka: Tanaka has gone 53-9 with a 1.44 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 611.1 innings over the last three seasons in Japan – while tossing 30 complete games and averaging eight innings per start over 76 starts. The wear and tear on his arm rivals that of Daisuke Matsuzaka, yet he’ll be the top free agent and teams are clamoring to invest heavily in him. It’s as if teams forgot that Matsuzaka’s shoulder and elbow looked like road kill after 61 starts in Boston – and his career was a train wreck. Is Tanaka worth nine figures?
  • Ubaldo Jimenez: Jimenez was 20-25 in his first 61 starts in Cleveland, posting a 5.10 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over 340.2 innings…and then the second half of 2013 happened, and Jimenez was 6-5 with a 1.82 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 13 starts and 84 innings and he is suddenly an ace! Sure, Indians’ pitching coach Mickey Callaway helped Jimenez with his balance and delivery, but did he make him into the same pitcher who went 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in the first half of 2010, or will Jimenez return to the mess that he was in his first 61 starts in Cleveland? Is Jimenez worth $75 to $90 million?
  • Ervin Santana: Santana was a salary dump last winter, as the Los Angeles Angels sent him to the Kansas City Royals with $1 million (the Royals paid the remaining $12 million of his contract) after Santana posted a horrific 5.16 ERA, 74 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP and 9-13 record over 30 starts and 178 innings in 2012. Then, Santana went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA, 127 ERA+, and 1.14 WHIP over 211 innings and 32 starts, and he is the second coming of Christ…or is he? If Santana was the top state-side arm on the market, wouldn’t he be worthy of an offer? Maybe clubs are being cautious of Santana, who has had three full seasons with ERAs over 5.00 and ERA+ under 90, while tossing in five seasons with an ERA under 4.30 and an ERA+ of 106 or more, and they aren’t too keen on the idea of giving $100 million (which Santana was said to be seeking) for such dramatic, roller coaster production. Salary relief or not, Santana was acquired for Brandon Sisk, who missed all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, a 28-year-old relief prospect. Is he worth this type of commitment?
Courtesy: twinsdaily.com
Courtesy: twinsdaily.com

Perhaps the slow movement of the pitching market is because of how ugly it actually is once you look at the numbers, while teams could be looking ahead to the 2015 free agency class. Even without Kershaw, there appears to be much better options available, and with so many pitchers with options, could teams be hoping to cash in on acquiring strong pitchers coming off of down seasons who won’t necessarily cost their respective clubs draft-pick compensation?

Here are the names of some pitchers who could reach free agency next winter if their options are not picked up:

While these pitcher WILL (at least currently scheduled) reach free agency after the 2014 season:

Homer BaileyJosh Beckett, Jorge De La Rosa, Ryan Dempster, Gavin Floyd, Kyle Kendrick, Jon Lester, Colby Lewis, Justin Masterson, Brandon McCarthy, Jake Peavy, Wandy Rodriguez, Max Scherzer, and James Shields.

HanRam
Los Angeles Dodgers SS: Hanley Ramirez

With San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, Colorado Rockies outfielder/first baseman Michael Cuddyer, and designated hitters like Detroit Tigers Victor Martinez, Boston Red Sox David Ortiz, and Chicago White Sox Adam Dunn, the hitting market is also relatively strong; although, not as enticing as the possible pitchers who could be available next winter.

There are still some useful names out there on the free agent market, but is it time to wonder whether it is the player names (Nelson Cruz), the draft-pick compensation (Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew, Jimenez, Santana), or teams looking to the potential free agent market in 2015 that is causing the hot stove to have frozen? With teams reporting to Spring Training in about five weeks, there could be busy days ahead of us, or there could be a lot of agents being replaced by dissatisfied baseball players who were left behind.

Looking Ahead: The 2014 Cincinnati Reds

Votto1While I write about as much of baseball as I can, I always come back to my hometown Cincinnati Reds, a team that I grew up watching that I continue to root for. I’m fairly certain that the 2013 season will end in some sort of playoff appearance, likely a one-game playoff with the St. Louis Cardinals or Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, but I am also not too confident in the club reaching the World Series this season, either. You can say that I am a “doubting Thomas” if you want, but with the talent in St. Louis, Atlanta, and Los Angeles this season, I just don’t see the Reds going very far. For that reason, I wanted to take a look ahead to the 2014 season to see what the club could look like.

The club has a lot of money invested in Joey Votto going forward, but the $20-25 million annual salaries won’t start until 2016. Below is the payroll breakdown for 2014, featuring expected arbitration figures (courtesy Baseball Reference):

Age 2013 2014
Joey Votto 29 $17M $12M
Brandon Phillips 32 $10M $11M
Jay Bruce 26 $7.5M $10M
Bronson Arroyo 36 $16.45M FA
Johnny Cueto 27 $7.4M $10M
Aroldis Chapman 25 $2M $3M
Jonathan Broxton 29 $4M $7M
Sean Marshall 30 $4.5M $5.5M
Ryan Ludwick 34 $2M $8.5M
Mat Latos 25 $4.25M $7.25M
Shin-Soo Choo 30 $7.38M FA
Nick Masset 31 $3.1M FA
Homer Bailey 27 $5.35M Arb-3
Ryan Hanigan 32 $2.05M Arb-3
Jack Hannahan 33 $1M $1M
Mike Leake 25 $3.06M Arb-2
Logan Ondrusek 28 $950k $1.35M
Chris Heisey 28 $1.32M Arb-2
Manny Parra 30 $1M FA
Alfredo Simon 32 $890k Arb-2
Cesar Izturis 33 $800k FA
Zack Cozart 27 $527.5k Pre-Arb-3
Todd Frazier 27 $527.5k Pre-Arb-3
Sam LeCure 29 $510k Arb-1
Xavier Paul 28 $505k Arb-1
Devin Mesoraco 25 $497.5k Pre-Arb-3
J.J. Hoover 25 $492.5k Pre-Arb-2
Corky Miller 37 Arb
Henry Rodriguez 23
Tony Cingrani 23
Pedro Villarreal 25
Justin Freeman 26
Donald Lutz 24
Curtis Partch 26
Derrick Robinson 25
Neftali Soto 24
Shin-Soo Choo Shin-Soo Choo traded to/from Cleveland Indians -$3.5M
Ryan Madson Ryan Madson buyout $2.5M
2013 2014
Signed Players With Guaranteed Contracts (does not include players with options) *27 11
Dollars Committed Value of Guaranteed Contracts (no options are exercised and includes buyouts) *$104.1M $76.6M
Contract Options Players with any type of option
Option Values Maximum value of options if all are exercised
Arb Eligible Number of arbitration eligible players (1st-2nd-3rd-4th, “Arb” players = 3rds) 2-3-2-0
Arb Costs Rough estimated value of all arbitration cases (uses 3-year averages for 1st yr, 2nd,..) $19.3M
Other Players Additional Players Needed to Fill 25-man (no options exercised) 7
Other Costs Estimate of Remaining Players Costs (based on 1-year avg of all pre-arb players) $3.5M
Payroll (no options) Est. Total Payroll w/o Options (Guaranteed + Arb + Other) $99.4M
Payroll (options) Est. Total Payroll w/ Options (Guaranteed + Options + Arb + Other) $99.4M
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/24/2013.

With the depth that the club has in starting pitching, barring another lost season from supposed ace Johnny Cueto, the Reds can afford to let Bronson Arroyo walk via free agency, unless, of course, he is willing to take a dramatic pay-cut in his age-37 season. How does the club look as far as depth overall?

Based on the current 40-man roster:

Players reaching free agency – (5) – Arroyo, Manny Parra, Nick Masset, Cesar Izturis, and Shin-Soo Choo

Starting Pitchers – (8) – Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani, Carlos Contreras, Daniel Corcino, and Ismael Guillon

Relief Pitchers – (13) – Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, Nick Christiani, Justin Freeman, JJ Hoover, Sam LeCure, Kyle Lotzkar, Logan Ondrusek, Curtis Partch, Josh Ravin, Alfredo Simon, and Pedro Villareal (has been pitching in relief recently).

Catchers – (3) – Devin Mesoraco, Ryan Hanigan, and Corky Miller

Infielders – (7) – Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier, Jack Hannahan, Henry Rodriguez, and Neftali Soto

Outfielders – (7) – Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey, Donald Lutz, Derrick Robinson, Xavier Paul, and Yorman Rodriguez

Sizemore1

The loss of Shin-Soo Choo is pretty dramatic considering the skills that he has provided as the leadoff hitter for the Reds, as he is 2nd to Votto in on-base percentage in the National League. His production will have to be replaced, but who can provide the same skills. The Reds were likely hoping for another excellent season from Billy Hamilton, one of the team’s top prospects, in Triple-A Louisville this season, but, while he has stolen 73 bases, he is hitting just .259/.311/.347 after stealing 155 bases and hitting .311/.410/.420 in 2012 over two levels. If the Reds aren’t going to be in on Choo in free agency due to costs, it is also unlikely that they would make a play for Jacoby Ellsbury or Curtis Granderson. However, the club could look to a reclamation project in center to pair with Hamilton, such as: Chris Young (who has an $11 million option with a $1.5 million buyout, coming off of an unspectacular season but still possessing plenty of skills), Franklin Gutierrez ($7.5 million option with a $500,000 buyout, coming off of another injury-filled season but still a solid defender with occasional right-handed pop), or, my wife’s favorite, Grady Sizemore (a player well on his way to a Hall of Fame career before knee injuries stole his ability to stay on the field). Certainly, the club has had decent production, at times, out of Paul, Heisey, and Robinson this season, as they platooned in left field and kept the Reds in contention when Ludwick was out for several months, but they would need to upgrade from that group in center to come close to replacing Choo’s production.

Due to the recent elbow surgery that Jonathan Broxton had to undergo and Sean Marshall‘s inability to pitch for most of the 2013 season, the Reds may need a couple of back-end bullpen arms to pave the way to their shutdown closer, Aroldis Chapman. Bullpens are tough to predict and it wouldn’t be a good idea to invest in another large, multi-year deal (as they did with Broxton) this offseason. Some relievers who will become available may include: Javier Lopez, Rich Hill, J.P. Howell, Jamey Wright, LaTroy Hawkins, Jason Frasor, and Joe Smith.

Additional items the Reds may want to address this coming offseason:

  • Lock up Mat Latos to an extension. Latos is due $7.25 million in 2014 and will be arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2015 prior to reaching free agency prior to the 2016 season. Would the Reds be willing to commit to Latos at five-years, $65 million and is that enough to keep Latos in Cincinnati?
  • Due to Tony Cingrani relying so heavily on his fastball, what can the club do to enhance his secondary pitches so that he can have extended success as a starter? Is he a relief pitcher long-term? With Broxton and Marshall coming off of injury, would it be wise to commit to Cingrani in a set-up role?
  • Should the club re-sign Bronson Arroyo to a one-year deal to keep a rotation spot warm for Robert Stephenson or should they gamble on Cingrani, Carlos Contreras, or Daniel Corcino next season as the No.5 starter? If they look elsewhere in free agency, are pitchers like Colby Lewis, Jason Hammel, Phil Hughes, Josh Johnson, or Ubaldo Jimenez (if he voids his $8 million option) better options than Arroyo?
  • Who is the catcher? Should the Reds truly commit to the offensive potential within the bat of Devin Mesoraco or continue to share the duties between Mesoraco and Hanigan at nearly 50-50?

Cincinnati has a pretty bright future, having locked up Votto, one of the top 15 players in baseball, to be the cornerstone of the franchise, while having solid pieces within the rotation and plenty more talent on the way. Hamilton, Stephenson, Jesse Winker, Phil Ervin, and Michael Lorenzen are going to rise quickly through the organization, just in time for the Reds current 2015 championship window.

Mesoraco: Finally Taking Off?

Since the All-Star game, Devin Mesoraco, the 25-year-old catcher for the Cincinnati Reds, has been electric. In eight games (six starts), this is what the product out of Punxsutawney has done:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip
2nd Half 8 6 29 28 4 12 3 0 2 8 0 1 4 .429 .448 .750 1.198 21 .455
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Mesoraco2He has taken advantage of the injury to Ryan Hanigan by producing solid numbers as the everyday backstop; however, this hasn’t been the first time that Mesoraco has been given regular at-bats. Earlier this season, when Hanigan missed time due to an oblique strain, Mesoraco started 12 games. While he only hit .222/.294/.311 over 51 plate appearances, he only struck out 8 times and he was hitting more than Hanigan was at the start of the season (.079/.182/.079 in 44 plate appearances).

With Hanigan set to reach free agency after the 2013 season, it is likely time for Cincinnati to see what they have in Mesoraco.  After committing to him as the 15th overall pick in the 2007 MLB Draft and allowing him to develop, albeit slowly at times, to become the club’s minor league player of the year in 2010, the Reds have handled him pretty erratically since his promotion to Cincinnati. In 2011, Mesoraco played 120 games at Triple-A Louisville, while playing just 18 in Cincinnati late in the season. Mesoraco played in just 54 games in 2012, starting only 48 of those, while Hanigan and, eventually, Dioner Navarro, earned additional playing time, seemingly as discipline for Mesoraco bumping an umpire, which earned him a demotion to Triple-A on August 23.

Certainly, a six game hitting streak isn’t going to guarantee that Mesoraco is the next Mike Piazza. His .455 BABIP will likely fall back to a realistic level (around .300) and his overall line will fall back in line, as well; however, with the Reds committing so much money to Joey Votto and the need to eventually extend Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Jay Bruce, why shouldn’t they save some cash by letting Mesoraco, who isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2015, prove his worth? Hanigan, who is in the final year of a three-year, $4 million deal, will be 33 next season and could be a useful backup, considering the Reds don’t have any other prospects ready after including Yasmani Grandal in the deal for Latos.

Overall, the Reds are 31-21 (.596) in games started by Mesoraco and 25-18 (.581) in games started by Hanigan, but Hanigan does have more experience, because Dusty Baker actually plays him, with the pitching staff. In 2013, this is how the pitching staff has performed:

Mat Latos:

Split G IP ER ERA PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS TB
Ryan Hanigan 6 40.2 14 3.10 162 149 15 36 7 1 5 0 3 9 44 4.89 .242 .288 .403 .690 60
Devin Mesoraco 15 92.0 36 3.52 404 364 41 93 20 5 6 9 1 32 92 2.88 .255 .318 .387 .706 141
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Homer Bailey:

Split G IP ER ERA PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS TB
Ryan Hanigan 11 76.2 22 2.58 291 272 22 51 13 1 2 6 1 13 78 6.00 .188 .231 .265 .496 72
Devin Mesoraco 4 22.2 17 6.75 108 93 16 32 7 0 5 1 1 11 20 1.82 .344 .419 .581 1.000 54
Corky Miller 5 29.2 16 4.85 130 121 16 36 7 1 3 1 0 7 35 5.00 .298 .336 .446 .782 54
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Mike Leake (Mesoraco is his “personal catcher”):

Split G IP ER ERA PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS TB
Devin Mesoraco 20 128.2 38 2.66 529 482 42 123 18 3 14 6 2 30 78 2.60 .255 .303 .392 .695 189
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Bronson Arroyo:

Split G IP ER ERA PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS TB
Ryan Hanigan 14 90.2 33 3.28 370 344 34 85 21 1 12 0 2 17 51 3.00 .247 .285 .419 .704 144
Devin Mesoraco 6 42.0 14 3.00 167 160 15 39 6 1 5 2 0 6 24 4.00 .244 .271 .388 .659 62
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Overall, the Reds’ catchers have done an excellent job:

Pitching Stats
Age PA ERA
Devin Mesoraco 25 2014 3.17
Ryan Hanigan 32 1568 3.49
Corky Miller 37 293 3.88
League Average 3.77
Team Total 3875 3.35
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

However, it is the running game and Hanigan’s skills there that have really set him apart:

Age PB WP SBO SB CS CS% SB2 CS2 SB3 CS3 RBA RK SBlev
Devin Mesoraco 25 3 18 749 29 7 19% 26 6 3 1 71 7 1.10
Ryan Hanigan 32 2 17 512 10 11 52% 8 8 2 3 46 13 1.06
Corky Miller 37 1 2 90 6 1 14% 4 1 2 0 10 2 0.92
League Average 29% 1.29
Team Total 6 37 1351 45 19 30% 38 15 7 4 127 22 1.07
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/26/2013.

Mesoraco1To get a little more offensively, however, is it worth the risk of having a defensively lacking catcher? I say yes, and with experience comes the defensive gains that Mesoraco will need to make to become an elite catcher in MLB. While the success that he has had over the last week has shown that he has the skills to produce, it is a small sample size, and he needs more consistent at-bats over the second half to showcase the type of player that he could be for the Cincinnati Reds.

 
//

Too Much of a Good Thing

CingraniIn 2012, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, and Mike Leake combined to start 161 of the Cincinnati Reds 162 games, with Todd Redmond starting the second game of a double-header against the Chicago Cubs on August 18. In 2013, the Reds haven’t been quite so lucky with pitching health, as Johnny Cueto lasted just three starts before a strained lat shelved him on April 13.

While losing a pitcher who has managed to go 29-14 with a 2.58 ERA over his last 390 innings would probably leave most teams in a panic, the Cincinnati Reds had the luxury of calling up Tony Cingrani.

Cingrani was dominant in the minor leagues in 2012 and the beginning of the 2013 season, posting an overall 11-4 record, 1.57 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 198:54 K:BB in 160.1 innings. While he managed to get by with his fastball, which he varies the speed on from 88 to 96 miles per hour, it appears to be enough.

After just three starts in Cincinnati, Cingrani is going to make life very, very difficult on Walt Jocketty and Dusty Baker. After posting a 28:4 K:BB over his first 18 innings (three starts) with a 1.50 ERA and 0.89 WHIP, who will have to leave the Reds’ rotation to allow the flame-throwing left-hander to continue to occupy a spot in the rotation?

Courtesy: twinsdaily.com
Courtesy: twinsdaily.com

Cueto will be welcomed back with open arms, Homer Bailey has finally become the dominant arm that the Reds hoped he would become when they drafted him, and Mat Latos is basically the 1(b) to Cueto’s 1(a) status as duel aces. That would leave Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake.

Arroyo hasn’t been awful this season. While his 4.24 ERA is a little high, the 1.09 WHIP shows that he is limiting damage by not allowing many base runners. He is averaging just under seven innings per start, as well, and he seems to have a rubber arm, having made 32 or more starts each season dating back to 2005, the poster-boy for reliability.

LeakeLeake had a rough 2012, posting a 4.58 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, but he hasn’t really rebounded to this point; his ERA is 4.34 and his WHIP is up to 1.52. At just 25, Leake still has a very bright future, but he needs to figure out a way to keep the opposition off of the base paths. His BB/9 is at a career high this season (3.4) and his hits per nine innings is 10.2, the highest since his rookie season.

While sending Leake to Triple-A Louisville would allow the Reds to keep their starting pitching depth fresh, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that whoever gets bumped from the rotation will end up in the bullpen. Sean Marshall just returned from an early season disabled list visit, which will greatly assist a pretty brutal group in the bullpen, which was so dominant last year. Outside of Aroldis Chapman (0.73 ERA, 0.65 WHIP) and Sam LeCure (1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP), the Reds’ bullpen has combined to go 1-5 with a 5.24 ERA in 55 innings this season.

Cingrani2Would the Reds even consider sending Cingrani to the bullpen at this point? Because of his reliance on his fastball, it would limit his innings while shoring up the back-end of the bullpen, where Jonathan Broxton has been very unimpressive in setting up Chapman. The Reds could then handle Cingrani much like the Atlanta Braves handled Kris Medlen in 2012, allowing him to start from mid-June or early-July until the end of the season, getting valuable innings during a potential playoff run.

While the Los Angeles Dodgers looked to be loaded with starting pitching as spring training broke, only Clayton Kershaw has been worth the price of admission. With Zack Greinke out with a broken collarbone, Chad Billingsley tearing his already torn elbow ligament further, and Aaron Harang traded away, the Cincinnati Reds look to have the most starting pitching depth right now. While the St. Louis Cardinals have plenty of young arms (Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, and Michael Wacha, to name a few), the Reds have it all ready to go and ready to contribute.

Now…what do they do when Cueto returns?