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How the Cincinnati Reds may navigate the deep free agent pitching market

The Reds have piles of pitchers, but they may want more. Older ones, probably. They smell like leather.

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If you sat down and tried to conjure up the names of each potential starting pitcher the Cincinnati Reds had at their disposal at the moment, you'd either need to take off a shoe or borrow a friend because you'd run out of fingers to count them on.

As of right now, the Reds 40-man roster boasts the likes of Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, Michael Lorenzen, Jon Moscot, David Holmberg, Tony Cingrani, Keyvius Sampson, and Josh Smith as hurlers who have started at the big league level for the team, and that's a list that doesn't include fireballing lefty Amir Garrett (who just put the Florida State League Co-Pitcher of the Year Award on his shelf and owns a 40-man roster spot as well).  Add in top prospect Robert Stephenson and the electric left arm of Cody Reed, and it takes a bit of work to even fathom that the Reds may look to the free agent pitching market to add "at least one veteran pitcher and perhaps more."

But, as Walt Jocketty told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month, that's exactly what he intends to do.

Your gut likely tells you that there are plenty of arms already on the roster - and for cheap - and that there's no real brilliance in throwing a pile of money at a veteran arm when the budget's already tight.  Your gut, however, often burps coffee and gives you cravings for Taco Bell at ungodly hours of the day, too.  Jocketty's willingness to explore the veteran pitching market is likely guided from  three different angles, each of which make sense given the current state of the roster, the deep National League Central, and the realization that the 2016 season may not have a lot of winning in the cards in Cincinnati.

First and foremost, he's probably on the lookout for someone to eat up innings at a prolific rate, since that's something that young pitchers with little to no tread on their tires simply cannot pull off in the modern game.  Of that lengthy list of rookies, only DeSclafani had what would be considered a full year in the rotation in 2015, and he still came several starts short of reaching 200 innings pitched.  If you take a closer look at the end of the 2015 season, the number of rookies that got starts at the big league level wasn't 100% predicated on their projections as formidable big league starters down the road, it happened out of necessity since innings limits on the other young arms shut them down with games still on the schedule in September, and someone had to take the mound in their stead.  An every-fifth-day workhorse would alleviate what will likely still be a similar problem in 2016, and that's got great value.

Secondly, the old school mentality of the front office and coaches probably means the team is looking for leadership out of parts of their pitching staff that simply cannot be provided by players who have little to no experience.  Bryan Price intimated that leadership would be expected of Bailey - the only actual veteran of the current bunch - but his ability to impart that leadership may be hard to count on in 2016 as he recovers from his second straight season-ending arm surgery.  Eventually, I think Bailey will help fill that role, but Price himself spoke of former Red Bronson Arroyo's prowess in the dugout in previous seasons as something vital to the performance of the staff itself, and there's nothing like that on the roster at the moment.

Finally, Walt's well aware that the upcoming class of free agent pitchers may well be the deepest in history, and that's not just a byproduct of how the game has become much more pitching-dominant in recent seasons.  No, the Reds won't be in on the likes of Zack Greinke, David Price, or Johnny Cueto (sigh), but others certainly will be, and the fallout may well be that pitchers that otherwise would've been the elite arms of their free agent class may be relegated to deals substantially smaller than they'd obviously hoped for.  Take Yovani Gallardo, for instance.  The 29 year old former All Star just posted a 4 bWAR season and was the Game 1 starter for the Texas Rangers in the ALDS against the Toronto Blue Jays, but you could very easily make the argument that he's no more than the eleventh or twelfth best free agent starter on the market this off-season.  Dating back to the 2010 off-season, A.J. Burnett's 1 year, $16 million contract with Philadelphia after 2013 marks the highest dollar-value deal signed by the twelfth highest SP of any of those free agent classes, and none of them even received a second guaranteed year on their deals.  Obviously, this year's class is deeper and front offices have likely been allocating money for just that purpose, but the fact remains that after big money gets tossed around to the top-tier pitchers, some solid veteran names may be around for bargain rates.


Taking a cursory glance at this lengthy list of free agent starters-to-be is tough because it's filled with so much talent.  After Greinke, Price, and Cueto there's a solid second-tier group consisting of the likes of Jordan Zimmermann, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, and former Red Mike Leake.  Gallardo's in there somewhere, too, as are former top-flight guys coming off rough 2015 seasons like Doug Fister, Mat Latos, and Ian Kennedy.  Stalwart rotation cogs like Mark Buehrle and John Lackey figure into the mix somewhere, as do the injury-plagued Brett Anderson, Mike Pelfrey, Brandon Morrow, Jaime Garcia, and Gavin Floyd.

That list didn't even include two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, or the inimitable Bartolo Colon, all three of whom also will be on the market this winter.  It also didn't include former Reds ace Aaron Harang, who just wrapped a reasonably effective 2015 season as a member of the Phillies rotation, logging 172.1 innings of 4.86 ERA ball in his age 37 season.

So, Walt's got options.  He's got option-options.  Triple options.  Tommy Frazier in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl type options, and despite the escalating salaries of Cincinnati's aging core, he'll have enough money to chase a few of the non top tier options available this off-season.  Realistically, it's the prudent decision to do some bargain-bin shopping between now and Spring Training, since this year's bargain bin is overflowing in ways not seen in maybe ever, and doing so could land the kind of valued asset that could help this team dig itself out of the doldrums of the NL Central for relatively little financial risk.

Maybe he'll target Doug Fister, who finished 8th in the NL Cy Young Award voting after a dominant 2014 only to see continued velocity decreases and a forearm issue derail his 2015 season.  Maybe he'll get sentimental and chase Harang, though I find that reunion highly unlikely.  Kyle Lohse and Ryan Vogelsong should both be found for cheap, though while both bring championship pedigrees to the table they can see 40 on the horizon and are off of disastrous seasons.  Perhaps he'll be convinced that Kyle Kendrick's problems were purely Coors Field related and that a few thousand fewer feet of altitude would do wonders for the 31 year old.

Or maybe he'll just sign Jason Marquis one more time.  Old habits do die hard, y'know.