Where the Reds should focus on free agent pitching Doug Gray December 6, 2018 55 Comments As I wrote yesterday, the Cincinnati Reds should avoid signing Dallas Keuchel. That’s not to say that he wouldn’t improve the team. He would. It’s not to say he’s a bad pitcher. He’s not. And it’s not to say that the Reds don’t need help improving their rotation. They really, really do. It’s that the cost simply doesn’t make sense. As noted yesterday, the projected contract for Dallas Keuchel seems to be four or five years at $21M per year. So, basically 4-years, $84M, or 5-years, $105M. That’s a lot of money. It would be more than double the amount of money the Reds have ever spent on a free agent in the history of their franchise. That, though, says more about how the Reds have gone about their business than anything else. We can have the discussion on whether or not Keuchel is going to be worth that kind of money or not, but I’d rather take the conversation in a different direction. If the Reds are willing to spend that kind of money on a pitcher, I believe they should go in a different direction.You can’t force someone to sign with your team. But you can offer them more money and try to entice them to sign with your team. And that is where I believe that the Reds should go. And they should start with going after J.A. Happ. And they should follow that up by going after Charlie Morton. Let’s look at some blind resumes here for Happ, Keuchel, and Morton over the last three seasons. Which of those pitchers would you prefer if the money and years were equal? For me, the answer would be Pitcher C, by far. He has thrown the most innings (tied with Pitcher A), has allowed fewer hits, has a low walk rate, has a good strikeout rate, and he’s been easily the best pitcher when it comes to keeping runs off of the board. Who to choose between the other two is tougher. Pitcher A has a track record of staying on the mound more, but he’s also not nearly as good as keeping runs off of the board. At that point you’re weighing innings versus run prevention. So, who are the pitchers? Pitcher C, the best one of the bunch, is J.A. Happ. Pitcher B is Charlie Morton. And Pitcher A is Dallas Keuchel. Let’s go back to that second paragraph and the part where I noted that you can’t force someone to sign with you, but you can try to offer them more money to entice them. The Reds are going hard after Dallas Keuchel. And he’s more expensive and would require more years than J.A. Happ would. So why aren’t the Reds going after Happ? He’s clearly better. And the commitment in both years and dollars would be lower. I don’t think that J.A. Happ would sign with Cincinnati for what he would sign with the Yankees. But this is exactly where the Reds could be smart, and take money they would be willing to give to Keuchel and throw extra towards Happ. The projected deals for Happ are either 2 or 3 years and $13-15M per year. Offer him 3-years and $17M per year. If he can be had for that price, you’re getting the best pitcher available in free agency, and you could get him for fewer years and less money than if you gave Dallas Keuchel what he’s rumored at getting. For some of the same reasons, the Reds should be pursuing Charlie Morton. He’s not been able to stay on the mound quite as much over the last three years as Dallas Keuchel, but he’s thrown 313.2 innings over the last two seasons after missing almost all of 2016. He’s got an elite strikeout rate for a starting pitcher and he’s got an above-average groundball rate, too. When he’s on the mound, he’s better than Keuchel. He just hasn’t been able to throw as many innings. Last year he made 30 starts and threw just 167.0 innings. With how the game is shifting, though, preventing runs may be more important than eating innings, to a point, of course. He, like Happ, isn’t looking at a 4-5 year contract offer. And the money he’ll get will also be far less than $21M per year. Shorter commitment, better results in recent history. Any of the three of these pitchers would be big upgrades for the Cincinnati Reds rotation. But J.A. Happ and Charlie Morton just make so much more sense for the Reds. They are better pitchers when it comes to keeping runs off of the board and they both leave more wiggle room in the budget to try and add other pieces to the team. And with the shorter deals, there’s less risk involved in being stuck with no production at all if a guy were to get hurt. If the team can get in either a Happ or a Morton, then they can focus on the guy to put behind him in the rotation. Whether that’s someone on the free agent market, or someone via trade is unknown. But their top target in free agency probably shouldn’t be Dallas Keuchel, and should be one of those other two guys. 55 Responses Oldtimer December 6, 2018 Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, the two-time Tommy John surgery survivor and recent postseason hero for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, has agreed to return to Boston, sources said Thursday morning. Eovaldi’s deal is for four years and $67.5 million, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand. The Athletic was first to report the sides had reached an agreement. Wes December 6, 2018 Kuechel will sign for closer to that money than Corbin deal. If he was gonna get paid- it would have already happened. Kuechel on a 4 year deal at less than 20 per is best case for reds. Ground ball pitchers last longer than power pitchers so Keuchel has less risk than signing a guy who’s almost 40. Reds need to focus on bargains and not fall in love w a guy. It’s much wiser to keep your stud prospects and sign quality players who are below market value than give a way your future to open a small window. MuddyCleats December 7, 2018 Good topic, and like u, I found Eovaldi / Carrasco signings interesting. Nate’s age and contract length suggest real upside, but his TWO TJ surgeries do not! Carrasco has a TJ to his credit, a heart surgery and at 31 will probably not see the end of this new contract. Nevertheless, both signings R strategic looking 4-5 yrs down the road, and I think that’s what the Reds should be focusing on as well. I get the impression they’re trying to sign a vet SP just to appease the fans 4 a couple of yrs? IMO, if they R going to trade major young building block prospects, it needs to be for 4-5 yrs of quality return. At 35 and 36 yrs of age, I don’t think Happ or Morton fit that objective. Both have had a hard time staying healthy & R not getting any younger. Harvey has significant arm questions, but at 29 and yrs and quality MLB success, he has the potential to bounce back and be a respectable 2-3 SP for another 3-5 yrs and at below market prices if 9M a yr is an accurate #. Likewise, that contract would be a lot easier to move if needed. Overall, Reds need another Jose Rijo type signing; that’s what they need to be looking for. MH would be nice, Castillo is on the cusp and another w/ his upside or better would be ideal. DocProc December 6, 2018 You didn’t mention age in this piece. In their last season of a 3-year deal, Happ would be 39 and Morton 38. Hard pass on signing guys this old to a multi-year contract. Doug Gray December 6, 2018 I don’t think age matters nearly as much here as ability. MuddyCleats December 7, 2018 Same concerns I have Doug. I’d rather they look long term. Trade a piece or two for a quality AA or AAA prospect and use $$$ to lock them up long term. Harvey and Wade Miley could be $$$ well spent? Do you like Miley at all; any idea if Pitching Coach would like having him in Cincy? Just seems Reds have so many position player questions that improving SP for a couple of years to win 15-20 more games really isn’t improving the rebuild. If anything, it could be slowing it down? Colorado Red December 6, 2018 This is what I am concerned about. I am not sure how long he can keep this up. Just saying. Doug Gray December 6, 2018 Isn’t that the question with everyone, though? Short of Harper/Machado – every free agent out there is entering their 30’s and “the decline phase” of their career. Dan December 6, 2018 Not Kikuchi! He’s only 27. Doug Gray December 6, 2018 Kikuchi is only 27, but he’s also a guy who has dealt with multiple shoulder issues, including last year, that led to his stuff taking a step backwards….. There’s risk with all of these guys. Dan December 6, 2018 True re: Kikuchi, but we’re going to have to take on SOME sort of risk. Otherwise we’re “buying high” – at the peak of the market (for that pitcher), essentially. Like the Nats did w/ Corbin. It would be like being an enormous house in 2008 (sort of). I, for one, want Kikuchi here. (Though sounds like he’s likely to wind up on the west coast.) Assuming his medicals look OK, of course. Greenfield Red December 6, 2018 I think age is exactly why the Reds should target these two. They have proven track records, yet neither would require 4 or 5 years. If they can get either or both for 3/39 or 3/42 it would be really good for the Reds. I wouldn’t mind just one at 3/39 and they Harvey or another b/c lister for 3/24 leaving some money for CF. It’s very unlikely the Reds will compete in 2019. With Homer coming off the books next winter, the Reds would have money to add to the roster again next year with Senzel, Trammell, and others coming along. The other thing they could do is nothing. One final last place finish, and one more top draft pick before going all in with all the extra money (the 30 pledged for this year and the 25 from Homer next year) for 2020. Although, I think the fan base would implode should that happen. Doug Gray December 6, 2018 I’d say the chances of getting either of them for 3/39 or 3/42 are very, very, very slim. Greenfield Red December 6, 2018 What will it take? MuddyCleats December 7, 2018 How many wins do you think Happ and Morton would add ? Doug Gray December 8, 2018 $15-17M per year. As for how many wins those two would add…. between the two of them, probably something like 7-8 “wins” between the two of them. How many actual wins – who knows. Sometimes you can pitch like deGrom and have a worse record that someone that has an ERA twice as high as his because of just how the team around you plays on the days you happen to pitch. Bryant December 6, 2018 Amen, Doug! Unfortunately, Castellini May be a little vain and a little foolish. Bad combination. Oldtimer December 6, 2018 And yet, he is the first and only Reds owner to get Reds into playoffs since Marge Scott left in 1999. Castellini, Jockey and Baker did it. redlegs4ever December 6, 2018 Get outta here with facts oldtimer you’re gonna hurt some feelings!! LOL SultanofSwaff December 6, 2018 After reading Steve Mancuso’s article yesterday on one of Doug’s other sites (is it too soon to call him a media mogul??? lol), the notion the Reds should be bargain shopping is laughable. When the payroll as a % of the value of the franchise is half of what it was just a few years ago, there simply is no excuse for not fielding a competitive team, small market or not. That said, I wholeheartedly agree with the approach of signing multiple players rather than trying to make one big splash. In the words of our new pitching coach, we need ‘out getters’ in whatever form they may take (reliever or starter). For $40mil you could get 3 starters who can reliably get you thru an order twice plus 2 more proven relievers. Doing that while holding onto our prospect capital seems the smartest allocation of resources………resources that are not as finite as the Reds would like us to believe! Colorado Red December 6, 2018 No one has seen the Reds books, as a private organization. Some number are know, but not all. So, it is hard to say what the Reds make or the profit it. That being said, I still agree with you. redwolf December 6, 2018 I would love to know the ballpark of what Cleveland is asking for Kluber before I decide on any of these guys. Then maybe make one of them your #2 and have some cash for a centerfielder. Wes December 6, 2018 Ballpark is who ever they like best from senzel trammell or Greene and then some. Reds are atleast balling on that for now or he would be a red by now. Thank God they are too! Bill December 6, 2018 I wholeheartedly agree Redwolf. There’s only a few pitchers, I’d consider moving Senzel plus for, but Kluber is a true ace with 3 years of control. To me he’s worth pursuing and $52.5M he’s owed gives the Indians some incentive to deal him. Of course, the “plus” in that trade would have to be absorbable by the Reds. That’s a very tough needle to thread. RedsinWashst December 6, 2018 Bill I usually agree with you but disagree about this. 3 years of Kluber for 6 years of Senzel does not strike me as the way a small market team should behave. Senzel is the only untouchable for me. Bernie December 6, 2018 It’s clear the Reds will have to pay more to attract free agents, especially the top guys. I think they should be trying to get that top guy via the trade route and try to sign multiple middle tier guys as free agents. Billy December 6, 2018 Yep. I agree with this. The premium that the Reds will have to pay to sign a free agent pitcher is just too high. The smart play here is to trade prospects for pitching and to fill holes in the lineup with free agents, when necessary. I think a deal for one of the Indians’ starters, paired with a good CF free agent (Pollock?) and a free agent swingman-type or two, would be a solid offseason. Jonrox December 6, 2018 It’s worth noting that Keuchel got a qualifying offer while Happ and Morton did not. Doug Gray December 6, 2018 It’s certainly something. I wouldn’t let that stop me from signing someone that I thought was a difference maker – even Keuchel. I just think that Keuchel is a guy that is going to be overpaid by quite a bit, and that’s before you would have to probably overpay on top of that to get him to come to Cincinnati. CP December 6, 2018 I like the idea of getting one of Morton or Happ and then going after a TOR arm via trade. What about a combination of Happ and Grienke? Get Happ at 17 mil a season and Greinke at 25 mil (assuming 10 mil or so kicked in by the Diamondbacks). That’s 42 mil added to the budget but will the cutting of Billy Hamilton that’s 5+ mil saved there. Plus Scheblar missed the super 2 cutoff so there’s more cash saved there. So we are looking at being 5ish mil over what they said. Senzel goes to CF until one of Siri/Trammel/Friedl push him out to another spot. Just dream with me Lineup: Winker- LF Senzel- CF Votto- 1B Suarez- 3B Scooter- 2B Scheblar- RF Barnhart- C Pereza- SS Rotation: Grienke Happ Castillo Disco Mahle/Romano/Reed That’s an improvement both offensively next year as well as pitching. I’m no scientist but I would think that add’s up to quite a few more W’s! Oldtimer December 6, 2018 Winker RF and Schebler LF was already announced by Reds. They will switch OF spots. The five or six Reds SP in 2018 were mediocre at best, awful at worst. Almost any change is an improvement. RedsinWashst December 6, 2018 That was Riggleman who announced that. Winker is clearly the left fielder out of the 2. Oldtimer December 6, 2018 Maybe. Schebler not good in RF so Winker better than him there. RF more important than LF. Ghettotrout1 December 6, 2018 Yeah I like this scenario, I wish you were the GM. redlegs4ever December 6, 2018 I just don’t see either of these guys coming to Cincinnati no matter how much more money you offer. Especially Charlie Morton who basically said Astros or retirement after the season, though it seems those comments have been walked back. Phillies and Yankees both seem to love Happ and are mild on Keuchel, understandably, so I think a bidding war is emerging and Happ could get 20 AAV from either of those. I would prefer these guys as well, but I have a hard time seeing them even entertaining Cincinnati other than maybe some leverage if they even need it… MuddyCleats December 7, 2018 Tend 2 agree & think Reds should act on Harvey & Miley before they r gone. I am sure they like the publicity, but don’t have the coin to go after top SP redlegs4ever December 6, 2018 https://twitter.com/JonHeyman/status/1070743518803574785 Boy that would be the ultimate nightmare scenario for me if the Reds overpayed for both those volatile assets… The Duke December 6, 2018 I’m ok with taking a risk on Keuchel, especially if it can be on a 4 year deal. Pollock only has 1 year in his career where he played a full season. That said, he also had an .865 OPS that one full season. Playing in the GABP, he could be capable of that again. He doesn’t walk a ton (although not a terrible walk rate either), but he also doesn’t strike out much. Depending on how healthy he is, it may be worth the risk. We can dream on the Reds being able to sign exactly the guys we want, but they don’t get to just pick and choose. Wes December 6, 2018 They can’t overpay. They are a small market team. If someone wanted to sign either kuechel or pollock for market value they would both have a team by now. No one is willing to pay- enter cincy. Let them scoop both those guys for less than market value while still offering the most. Best case of cincy and I think it’s almost a done deal. Then keep ur stud prospects to build around for future. The Duke December 6, 2018 If Cleveland is willing to deal Kluber on a deal centered on Hunter Greene, then maybe go that route. The Reds offense is going to need Nick Senzel and Taylor Trammell in the next couple years as Votto declines, Scooter moves on, and we aren’t quite sure what we have with Schebler and Winker. redlegs4ever December 6, 2018 I guess we have different definitions of overpay. Overpay to me for Keuchel is more than 3 years or 15 AAV, or basically getting anything more than JA Happ will, since he’s losing 1 tick away from being out of baseball, and that’s not mentioning how AWFUL are defense is even if you get a couple good years outta him. Overpay for Pollock is anything more than a 1 year deal. I would hard pass on both these guys, spend the time negotiating with players and teams that can bring us cheaper, safer, smarter assets. Dan December 6, 2018 How about Pomeranz? (Is he healthy?) No one is talking about him. He’s got to be a buy-low candidate. Sure, he was terrible in 2018 (and hurt, I guess), but look at his 2016 and 2017 years. I’ll take those all day! https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/p/pomerdr01.shtml Not sure about his current health though… Anybody know? Morton + Kikuchi + Pomeranz – that’s my formula for success! (Assuming the $$$ is reasonable, of course.) MuddyCleats December 7, 2018 Agree on Pomeranz 2 a degree. He’s only 30 and has been respectable in the past. Coming off injury, cost to sign could be very reasonable w/ nice upside in the NL. Guy is fm Memphis area; Cincy not too far fm home if that matters? Perhaps D. Johnson can rework Wade Miley magic w/ Pomeranz; very similar styles w/ a little more top end on the FB if I remember correctly Jon Ryker December 6, 2018 Happ is a fly ball pitcher. In this ballpark, that’s a problem. I’m not real big on any of them. Try to get Sonny Gray and trade for one or two of the Cleveland pitchers. Reaganspad December 6, 2018 He has also been pitching in the AL East. That bodes very well for someone coming to the NL Central. I agree with Doug on Happ for performance, the fact that he is left handed and that he has been in the AL East. I like the 3 year S51 million contract offer with no forfeit of draft pick. Best value on the board, just like our last big time free agent who we also had to overpay for, Coco Cordero. I then spend the rest of the money on bullpen. Miller would be a good target as a long inning super reliever to go with the rest of our guys AirborneJayJay December 6, 2018 JA Happ would be nice in the Reds rotation. But they will have to go up against the Yankees for Happ since they lost out on Corbin. Yankees and Phillies look like frontrunners. Morton would also be nice to have. He is reported to want to be closer to his Delaware home, if he leaves Houston. So Philly could be the choice, now that the Nats have Corbin. Again the Yankees will be highly involved if they don’t get Happ. But it looks like Houston will re-sign him. However, Cincinnati is closer to Delaware than most ML cities. For Cincinnati, it will take an extra year or more $$$ on AAV to get Happ. Morton is operating more philosophically because he only wants to pitch 1 or 2 more years. Where are his chances better where he can win another ring in the next 1 or2 years?? The $$$ won’t be an over-riding factor with Morton. It might help more on Happ though. I still think trading for a top of rotation arm is the more feasible route to take and get a mid-tier free agent starter and a good bullpen arm via trade or free agency. Pollock also looks good in CF. Jim Delaney December 6, 2018 If the Reds are really willing to spend big money on a starting pitcher I would rather acquire Zack Greinke then any of the current free agents. Arizona is looking to unload Greinke’s salary. Greinke is a high quality starter who has been pitching well in a pitcher friendly environment and he knows how to pitch and has a great work ethic. He could be a great leader for the REDS staff. To acquire him will likely cost minimal in acquisition return and/or they may also be willing to take Homer Bailey’s albatross contract. Adding a great TEAM player like Greinke and getting rid of a SURLY individual in a deal is worth upping the acquisition return. The new Manager and coaching staff shouldn’t be burdened with having to the deal with Bailey… I still think the REDS should resign Harvey, he pitched OK for the REDS and another year removed from injury and having a fastball in mid 90s may lead to some additional growth. Harvey took the ball every 5 days for the REDS once they acquired him and kept them in many of his starts. I think Harvey’s market is minimal and likely won’t require a HUGE overpay. I just don’t see HAPP or Morton coming to REDS unless it’s a HUGE overpay. I think both of those starters sign with more likely contending ball clubs. You add Greinke and bring back Harvey and add Castillo, you have three fifths of your rotation in place. Also, maybe you see if Wade Miley wants to come to REDS as he had strong year in Milwaukee and may like working with Johnson.. You add him then you have numerous options for the 5th spot… I don’t include DeSclafani as he is very injury prone and he struggled in September, I think he has to win spot to be considered for rotation.. MuddyCleats December 7, 2018 Dittos Jim, MH had one bad start a month that negatively affected his overall numbers. He’s not a #1 or maybe even a #2 going in, but if he continues to recover, he could be a decent #2. My fear is they’ll wait too long looking at all the others they CAN’t afford and lose out on Harvey too ? Like your idea on Greinke IF in fact he is willing to share his Work Ethic w/ our young guys. Ultimately, Reds have 2 find a way to develop their own SP and a solid character guy like Greinke and injury rebound like MH & a PC from a team that wasn’t suppose to be in the playoffs w/ NO Big Name SPs….could go a long way to that overall goal….. redwolf December 6, 2018 Trade for Kluber as long as we keep Nick, Taylor, Eugenio, India, and Santillian. Anyone is open game (Kluber 3 years at 17.5 million I would take all day) redwolf December 6, 2018 17.5 mill a year…. sorry Redsvol December 6, 2018 Totally agree with your assessment Doug. Hopefully the front office thinks like you do. There are some really good 2nd tier pitchers available this year. Pitchers that will keep you in games and give you a chance to win – something the starting pitching the last 2 years was totally incapable of giving you. MuddyCleats December 7, 2018 Yes, but the other side are the position players. Can Schebler and Winker stay healthy and produced consistently? So far they haven’t. Winker lacks speed, arm strength & power; not exactly a cornerstone IMHO. Schebler is very streaky, Ks a lot and injury prone. Who plays CF. Many say Senzel or Ervin, but more than likely they struggle over the long haul if not platooned? Votto was terrible last season and who knows how much longer Scooter continues to hit. Pereza had a nice yr n 2018; is that who he is or will he regress? I just don’t see this team ready for playoffs so what’s the pt n spending for big name pitching via trade or n FA Simon Cowell December 7, 2018 58% ground ball rate would look fabulous in cincinnati. Not a huge fan of k rate because that probably comes at the cost of higher rate of dingers especially in Cincinnati. Options A and C make the most sense to me. Moses December 8, 2018 There was a team in California (where I live) that always had to overpay for free agents. They had some good years but not as many good as bad. And when they did overpay for free agents, it nearly always turned out badly. And even most of their trades went south. But things changed dramatically when they started to draft well and develop their own draft picks. They got better and better and then free agents wanted to sign with them. And then free agents started signing with them for less than market value. That might be the avenue that the Reds need to take. Building smart from within. Not a direct parallel, but any guesses on who this California team is? Muddycleats December 9, 2018 Problem is, Reds struggle 2 develop players…especially SP. They haven’t done all that well w/ FAs either.