The 2004 Cincinnati Reds allowed a staggering 907 runs, finished 10 games under .500, got 386 PA from 40 year old Barry Larkin, and saw none of the twelve pitchers who threw over 50 innings finish with a WHIP under 1.30.
That same year was also the last in which the Reds organization had no Johnny Cueto in their system, something that eleven years later is again the case after Cueto was traded to the Kansas City Royals on Sunday afternoon. The reigning American League champions will hope that adding Cueto for a half of a season will be enough of an addition to push them back into the playoffs as well as be the kind of dominant starter that can put a team on its back and bring home a World Series title. And while the Reds shed the best pitcher they've had on their roster in over two decades, they picked up a trio of talented pitchers that all could be a part of the core of the next great Reds run.
But who exactly are Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed?
Finnegan is the most recognizable of the three, as he reached the majors last season just months after being taken 17th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft out of TCU. While a Horned Frog, Finnegan made 43 starts over three seasons, and as a junior posted a solid 2.04 ERA in 105.2 IP, his 11.4 K/9 and 1.02 WHIP also being elite. The hard-throwing lefty owns a fastball that can reach up to 98 mph, and that coupled with the Royals heading back to the playoffs in 2014 for the first time in decades helped make his move to the bullpen last year a mere formality. He threw seven solid regular season innings before being tasked with seven appearances in the MLB playoffs, the latter of which didn't go so well.
His 2015 season has been a bit odd, however. He began the season in AA with Northwest Arkansas and was originally used as a starter, but he was called up by the Royals and put back in their bullpen after just a pair of mediocre starts. He was sent back to the minors almost a month later after four solid appearances in the big leagues, and he's moved back and forth between Kansas City and AAA since then. In fact, his season and usage have been so odd that FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan pointed out that Finnegan has yet to throw more than even 62 pitches in any game this year.
At 5'11" and 185 lbs, his height and size have been called into question when it comes to determining whether he can stick as a starting pitcher long-term, but the very player he was traded for was the object of many similar concerns. The Reds intend to use him as a starter, which fits their mold of identifying young pitchers used mainly in relief and attempting to stretch them out into starting roles. Finnegan's still just 22 years old, and each of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com thought highly enough of him to rank him between 55 and 75 on their pre-2015 Top 100 prospect lists. He's mainly a fastball/slider pitcher, but while he's used his change-up significantly less often in 2015 than he did in 2014, it's also reportedly a solid pitch.
Finnegan will report to AAA Louisville to work as a starter, and there's hope that if he evolves into that role well, he could be in play for the Reds' 2016 rotation.
Before Lamb's left elbow popped and needed Tommy John surgery, he was regarded as one of the absolute elite prospects in all of baseball. In their pre-2011 Top 100 rankings, Baseball Prospectus tabbed him as the 11th best prospect in the game, and - for reference - luminaries you're familiar with like Bryce Harper (1), Mike Trout (2), Aroldis Chapman (6), Shelby Miller (15), Chris Sale (18), and Freddie Freeman (20) surrounded him on the list.
A blown elbow and rehab stints in the extremely hitter-friendly AAA Pacific Coast League later, and his prospect star had effectively burned out by the end of 2013.
Since then, however, the now 25 year old has shown a bit of a rebound, and he's continued to do it in a league that's as offense-centric as any at any level. He logged 138.1 innings of 3.97 ERA ball in AAA Omaha in 2014 - which was as impressive from a durability perspective as from a results one - and so far in 2015, he's refined things even more. In 17 starts in 2015, he's sported a 2.67 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 9.2 K/9 with Omaha, and while his stuff hasn't reached his pre-TJ velocities, it has still shown enough life to carry some solid big league projections with it.
MLB.com's Jim Callis noted that Lamb has a fastball that sits 89-93 and can touch 96 mph still, and that he relies primarily on a fastball/cutter repertoire to challenge batters. The Enquirer's John Fay reported that Lamb will also report to Louisville, where the 2008 5th round pick will jump right into their rotation, too. He's an interesting piece to watch, since it's hard to tell if his post-injury development and recovery has him back to his previous levels of prospectiness or if his age and guile have fueled his improving numbers. Either way, he's an arm that will certainly get a shot in the big leagues.
Reed is a mountain of a man at 6'5" and throws a heavy fastball that can hit 96 mph. And - as Quinn Berry mentioned at Minor League Ball - he's allowed fewer walks (26) than earned runs (27) so far in a breakout 2015 campaign.
The 22 year old lefty has enjoyed a 2015 season that has helped allay fears that his wild and hittable 2013 and 2014 campaigns were indicative of his true abilities, and the 2013 2nd round pick out of Northwest Mississippi Community College has shot up prospect lists in the process. He's pitched to a 2.53 ERA across 96 innings split between A+ Wilmington and AA Northwest Arkansas, and he's done it with a fastball/slider regimen that has received pretty universal positive praise.
Reed is easily the least known of the three pieces the Reds received, but he may be the one that's the most projectable as an everyday starter given Finnegan's reliever stature and Lamb's injury history. Realistically, a strong finish to his 2015 season - he'll report to AA Pensacola - could land the big lefty firmly on Top 100 prospect lists.
No, there's no Byron Buxton or Carlos Correa coming back for Cueto, but it's worth reiterating again that the Reds picked up six years of team control on three projectable LHP's for what likely amounted to eleven more starts from Johnny on a team bound for 90 losses this season. On the whole, Walt Jocketty did a solid job ensuring the return came with a mix of upside (Reed), predictability (Lamb), and high floor (Finnegan, should he end up a reliever). Couple that with the wild card that is the Reds' ability to turn arms labeled as relievers into starting pitchers, and there's a chance this trade nets Cincinnati a pile of pitching talent that could, in bulk, help make up for not having a bona fide Cueto atop the rotation as they've had for the last few years.