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On trusting Brandon Finnegan and Anthony DeSclafani

Can the Reds do just that?

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MLB: Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals
Finny does look a bit like Russell Crowe, though.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Mesoraco will make over $13 million bucks during the 2018 season while also likely sitting on the bench for the majority of games. Adam Duvall, Jesse Winker, and Scott Schebler are three human beings who play corner outfield positions, of which there are only two in everyday lineups. Zack Cozart had a monster 5 WAR season, but is going to cost a pretty penny to keep around thanks to free agency. Oh, and mashing superprospect Nick Senzel is on the cusp of the big leagues with 2017 breakout performers Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett now blocking him at his most familiar defensive positions.

The Cincinnati Reds have endless questions to address this winter, obviously. Despite all those already listed, however, it’s how they assemble their pitching staff that has me scratching my head. It has my utmost attention because it’s the question they face that has the highest percentage of who the hell knows moving parts.

Quick exercise, here. Before you dive into Baseball Reference to chum up the answers, ask yourself which pitchers currently on the Reds’ 40-man roster have pitched the most career innings? You’ll get Homer Bailey, without having to stress your brain too hard on a Monday morning. After that, though, you’ll probably start to dissect my question a bit. Are guys on the 60-day DL right now actually on the 40-man roster? Wait, aren’t like half the pitchers I’m familiar with on the 60-day DL right now? If they don’t count (since they aren’t added back or released until after the World Series), who the heck does that leave?

Raisel Iglesias. Next on the list is Raisel Iglesias, the team’s closer, with 249.2 career IP. It’s not Tim Adleman, who led the club in IP and Ks and will turn 30 years old in a month. Behind Iglesias? Michael Lorenzen, also now a multi-year bullpen arm, with 246.1 career IP. Yes, the Cincinnati staff threw 1430 innings on the dot in 2017, and at this juncture their three most proven staff arms consist of a guy who missed the bulk of three straight years with three major arm surgeries and the back of the team’s bullpen.

That 60-day DL list is worth exploring, of course, and that’s where we’ll head next. There’s no secret Madison Bumgarner or Chris Archer there, either - no controllable workhorse with multiple 200 inning seasons logged who makes the murky situation much clearer. There are Bronson Arroyo and Scott Feldman and Drew Storen with thousands of innings to their credit, yet one has already retired and the other two are free agents. Then, though, you stumble into Anthony DeSclafani and Brandon Finnegan, the giant who the hell knows portion of the potential roster that got us this far into this post in the first place.

450 words into a post about trusting Finnegan and DeSclafani as parts of the team’s pitching staff and I’ve barely even mentioned them, let alone attempted to define them. That’s completely on purpose, though, given how hard it is to know what to expect from them at this point. How do we go about defining them within the current framework of the Cincinnati staff?

Let’s take Finnegan, first, since he actually took the mound 4 times to throw 13 innings in 2017. He’s a former 1st round pick, former Top 100 prospect, once a future ace in the eyes of FanGraphs’ Eno Sarris, and a guy who once threw in the College World Series and big boy World Series in the very same year. Also, he’s been on the Reds in each of 2015, 2016, and 2017, which makes him seem like an ancient piece of the roster given how much turnover its seen in that time. With that much of a resume in place, it sure seems like he’d have more career innings pitched at the big league level than, say, Iglesias and Lorenzen. He doesn’t, though. With just 240 IP to his credit, he’s thrown less than both those two, and he’s currently recovering from a muscle tear in his left (throwing) shoulder AND a surgery on his right (non-throwing) one.

When healthy, Finnegan’s shown enough promise to make the early exploits on his resume look like they’ll translate well to being a big league starter. Still, I get the impression that many are banking on him stepping seamlessly back into 30+ starts in 2018 as if his 2017 issues won’t be at all a bump in the road, and I’m not sure that’s the surest of bets to be making.

That brings us to DeSclafani. Disco, the closest thing to that mythical controllable workhorse I mentioned earlier, has actually topped the relief duo in career IP, with 341.0 on his ledger to date. Of course, this is also the Disco whose elbow issues kept him from taking a big league mound at all in 2017, as well as whose oblique injury limited him to just 123.1 innings in 2016. In many ways, Disco is Homer Bailey lite, albeit without the third standard deviations on both ends of Bailey’s career bell curve; like Bailey, he’s proven more while on the mound than the rest of the bunch, but he’s also spent more time on the shelf than the rest of his pitching peers. The partial UCL tear in his pitching elbow had healed enough for him to throw some 75 pitches in a simulated game in mid-September, but that’s the last real update we’ve heard from the Reds once-former top of the rotation arm.

When healthy, this blurb about Disco will probably read almost exactly like the one I wrote about Finnegan just two paragraphs ago. And yes, I also get the impression many expect Disco to step seamlessly back into the rotation and log 200 innings in 2018 despite the fact that he’s never done such a thing in his career.

The point here, I think, is that the Reds can’t simply bank on Finnegan and Disco to both be 100% on day one of the season, day one hundred of the season, or day one fifty. It’s what they hoped to see from them in 2016, which didn’t work out. It’s what they hoped to see in 2017, too, and that spectacularly didn’t work out. And given that the one more proven starter on the current list (Bailey) has been the poster boy for thinks not working out as hoped, it’s hard to trust the would-be second and third options given similar context. The Reds can still wholeheartedly trust the potential upside both Finny and Disco project, but they can’t trust their dependability at this juncture - at least not if actually trying to win more games than they lose is in the cards for the 2018 season.

These two need to be treated as found money. If they’re healthy enough to have a fully productive winter of season prep, if they flash their best stuff in spring training, and if the baseball gods actually toss some luck Cincinnati’s way in Goodyear, you open the door for them both into the 2018 rotation and run with it. You don’t plan for that to happen, though. When Scooter was plucked off waivers at the outset of 2017, for instance, the Reds added him as insurance on a flier, much in the same way Dan Straily was added the year before and even Josh Hamilton was brought in years ago - not to be counted on as team cogs, but great upside plays and depth to augment the rest of the roster. Found money, not the only bill in your wallet.

Fortunately, the Reds have finally reached a point in their rebuild cycle to afford such an opportunity. With Bailey, Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, Robert Stephenson, Tyler Mahle, Adleman, Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Rookie Davis, and the likes, there’s an army of contingency in place. That contingency paired with the pending log-jams in the infield and outfield could - and should - be used to go get at least one more proven starter whether Disco and Finny show signs of life before 2018 anyway. Just passively trusting in a triumphant return from both isn’t sound enough strategy or a good enough talent infusion to get this club back in the NL Central fight, anyway. A combination of both those scenarios, though, just might be what it takes.