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Rebuilding the Starting Rotation

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The Reds boast plenty of wild cards, but is there an ace in the deck?

MLB: Cincinnati Red-Workouts The Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

As my colleague Mitchell Clark (arf-diggity) said this morning, the Reds rebuild could very well be on the upswing. The offense has been hummin’ good so far, and their defense is certainly elite. The one thing really holding them back is the rotation. And with Homer Bailey returning Saturday, Brandon Finnegan not far behind, and impressive strike-throwing artist Luis “I have never met Juan Pierre” Castillo coming up from AA to start this evening, the Reds might finally have enough good ‘n healthy arms to compete.

I’m optimistic, myself. the Reds need five good starting pitchers, and out of Bailey, Finnegan, Castillo, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett, Rookie Davis, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, and Anthony DeSclafani, the odds aren’t horrible that they can put together a decent rotation. Every one of those prospects has an interesting pedigree and the established veterans coming back from injuries have interesting track records. I’m hoping it will work itself out.

However, hope is a dangerous strategy for building a pitching staff. Homer Bailey last pitched a quality, full, injury-free season way back in 2013, which was the same year Bronson Arroyo last did the same. Brandon Finnegan showed last season that he can be successful in the rotation, but a shoulder injury this year has cost him over two months. Also, while he wasn’t a disaster last year, he did carry a FIP over 5. One hopes his skill will catch up with his talent, but he’s hardly a sure thing. Castillo is coming up from AA. Reed, Stephenson, Garrett, and Davis have all been given opportunities to start this year and they all have failed to one horrible degree or another. Romano and Mahle have impressed in the minors, but again, TINSTAAPP.

The Reds seem to be putting a lot of hope in the arm of Anthony DeSclafani. I really like him, but in the one healthy season he has had in his career, his ERA was league-average. And with the recent set back in rehabbing an arm injury, it seems the ghost of Tommy John could be haunting his closet.

So look, there is plenty of reason to be hopeful about this rotation. But it is also not unrealistic to look at this whole group and see zero rotation anchors. So it got me wondering: should the Reds do something about it at the upcoming trade deadline or this winter?

The rumor mill has mentioned a few established arms that could be on the trade market. The Rays, who just took two of three from the Reds, could decide to move Chris Archer and/or Jake Odorizzi. They are only 2.5 behind the Yankees as of today, so they might stick with it and try to compete. But they could perhaps listen to offers this winter. The White Sox have already begun clearing house, trading both Chris Sale and Adam Eaton this past winter. Jose Quintana looks almost certain to be traded at the deadline. The A’s have Sonny Gray on a last place team. Folks have been talking about him as a trade candidate for over a year. If the hard-luck Mets keep failing, they might be coaxed to let go of Jacob DeGrom before he gets expensive.

Any one of these fellas could serve as a cornerstone of a Reds’ rotation hoping to develop a bunch of talented young arms. They have all established themselves with steady high-quality performance but are also young enough to come with multiple years of control. Basically, the Reds should replicate the Mat Latos deal before the 2012 season. If you can remember way back then, they were a young team on the come-up with a talented but inconsistent starting rotation. They used their stock of quality prospects to buy a top-end starter with plenty of years of team control. Now, that stock of prospects includes an abundance of pitchers and infielders. They all won’t be successful in the bigs and they all can’t play at the same time, so perhaps the best way to get value out of them is in trade.

In AA, AAA, and the majors, the Reds boast a huge stack of talented infielders. Nick Senzel, the #2 pick in the draft last summer, is the headliner, but there is also Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza, Dilson Herrera, Alex Blandino, and Shed Long. Again, they can’t all play at the same time.

Latos turned out to be an amazing asset for the Reds, pitching 420 innings in 2012-13 and leading the team to their first back-to-back playoff births since the Big Red Machine. Someone like Chris Archer could do the very same thing.

You know, I wouldn’t blame the Reds for checking and hoping one or two of these guys turns up aces. It’s a risky move to trade highly-rated prospects for established talent, especially for a pitcher. But when you consider that the lineup and the defense are already playoff-quality, it’s not crazy to think they are one top-line ace away from competing.