We continue Red Reporter's player-by-player look at the 2015 Cincinnati Reds. We'll profile every player who got time for the Reds this year, and will imagine their tenure with the Reds going forward.
Back in 2013, the Reds had four solid, young, proven MLB starting pitchers under team control, and enough money to sign one of them long-term. Johnny Cueto had an injury-shortened season (which may have shifted his price into a palatable range for the Reds budget, if both sides had been inclined to a deal at the time), while Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey were in the midst of the best seasons of their careers to that point. Latos and Leake were 25 years old, Cueto and Bailey 27, so all were reasonable candidates for an extension, even if a rather lengthy one was required to get them to sign.
The Reds chose to lock up Bailey. In the two years since, Bailey has pitched less than one full season and accumulated in the neighborhood of 1 WAR. Injuries are a part of baseball, especially for pitchers, but it is hard to separate Bailey's production from the expectations set by his contract - being the second largest in team history by a solid margin - even if his disappointing production is largely not his own fault.
The $19 million from the past two years is water under the bridge. In front of Bailey and the Reds is either $86 for four seasons or $106 million for five. Hopefully Bailey can return to the form that prompted the investment in 2016.
Virtually the entire 2015 season for Bailey was lost because of the need for Tommy John surgery. But what should we expect from him moving forward?
In 2012 and 2013, Bailey was a durable starter and showed the ability to pitch 200+ innings effectively. Most likely, he won't be able to begin the 2016 season in the rotation, but it's not unrealistic to hope he could step back in to his spot within the first two months, in the optimistic view. It probably is unrealistic to expect he'll be back in top form right away, even if (especially if?) he does come back that soon, though. In the less optimistic view, he should be back after the All-Star break, at least, if nothing goes seriously wrong during the rehab.
One piece of good news is that Bailey's velocity peak in 2013 was replicated in 2014, even though he suffered an injury to the flexor tendon that year that he may have been pitching through for some period of time. Another piece of encouraging information is that many of the facets of Bailey's 2013 breakout year seem reproducible. Bailey became more of a groundball pitcher that year, which seems to be strongly tied to pitch selection: he decreased his reliance on the four-seam fastball in favor of his two-seamer and his changeup. If the pitch mix was a major contributor to the success of 2013, that's not difficult to replicate. Bailey actually improved his groundball rate further in 2014. The only part that will likely be difficult to replicate is the K rate from 2013, which was notably higher than Bailey had/has shown in most other seasons.
It bodes well that Bailey's breakout 2013 campaign wasn't buoyed by factors that would suggest luck played a large role. Now if Bailey can get and stay healthy, ideally he will prove it. The best case scenario is that he recreates that production over the rest of the contract, anchoring the top of a rotation that could sorely use a consistent performer among the plethora of young and unproven starters and their attendant highs and lows.
The Reds are counting on Bailey to be a veteran presence in the rotation, given the aforementioned surplus of youth filling out the rest of it. They are also expecting him to be the top performer on the staff. Given his role on the team, and the current unattractiveness of his contract to teams who would be interested in trading for him, it's all but certain that Bailey's 2016 season is spent entirely with the Reds.
Chance of making the 2016 Reds roster: 99%