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Finding a Jeremy Hellickson-esque fit for the Reds’ struggling rotation at the deadline

Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

When news broke late Friday night that the Baltimore Orioles had traded for Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, my reaction was similar to the way most of the baseball world reacted: “Buh?”

The Phillies are very bad this year and obvious sellers. The Orioles, though, aren’t exactly in a position to be buying – sitting at 48-54, good for fourth place in a highly competitive AL East. And as Ken Rosenthal would later report, this was not a weak attempt by the Orioles to load up for some run at the playoffs in the last two months of the season. The Orioles are still soft sellers and are looking to move bullpen pieces at the deadline.

But the Orioles rotation – and this should sound familiar around here – has been awful this year. Dylan Bundy owns a 5.03 FIP and an ERA+ of 96 and he has been by far the best pitcher in Baltimore’s rotation this year. Otherwise, you’re looking at ERA’s of 5.79 and 7.65, respectively, for Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman, a pair of guys who were supposed to anchor the rotation, and a 5.89 ERA for Wade Miley, the Orioles’ prize of last year’s trade deadline. The only other guy is Ubaldo Jimenez, whose numbers aren’t even worth the energy to type.

Hellickson, then, even with his 4.73 ERA and 5.50 FIP, is a marked improvement over 80% of the Orioles rotation. And because he’s in the last year of a contract, all it cost Baltimore to land him was their No. 27 prospect, some international bonus pool cash, and a platoon outfielder who is under team control through 2021, but is already 29 years old and has an OPS+ of 62 in 2017. In other words, the Orioles got a respectable enough innings-eater for two months, and didn’t have to invest anything of tangible substance to get him.

Which brings me to the Reds, who are in last place in the NL Central by a large margin, and are most certainly not buyers. They won’t be in on deals for Yu Darvish, Sonny Gray or Justin Verlander. They could, however, still benefit from bringing in a rental pitcher if the price is right, for the singular purpose of adding a guy to the rotation who isn’t going to do the pitching equivalent of pouring hot soup on his crotch for three innings every fifth day.

The Reds’ current rotation is in the middle of dire times. Homer Bailey is back, but even with a couple of quality starts, owns an ERA of 8.37 in seven appearances. Scott Feldman, the most consistent rotation piece the Reds have had this season, is hurt. Anthony DeSclafani appears weeks away from making his season debut. Tim Adleman has been mostly fine, but hardly a guarantee to go six innings every five days. Beyond that, it’s a patchwork of Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett, and other young guys who, with the possible exception of Castillo, have done little to prove that they can be dependable options to go deep into games.

Even on a team that isn’t necessarily trying to win over these next two months, an extra starter stepping in and being reliable enough to take some weight off the shoulders of an exhausted bullpen could be very valuable to both the short and long-term health of the club. And judging from the Hellickson deal, it may not cost the Reds much of note.

Are there options out there? Sure there are.

There’s Jaime Garcia, who would be my favorite option based on silliness alone, considering the Twins just traded for him a week ago but are already reportedly mulling over shipping him off somewhere else. Garcia, who is a free agent after this season, has made 19 starts this season, averaging just under 6.1 innings per start and holding opponents to a 4.29 ERA. His FIP sits just under that at 4.04. All it cost the Twins to acquire him was the No. 22 prospect in their system, a lottery ticket 19-year-old pitcher who is still in rookie ball. If the Reds were to offer the Twins a Keury Mella-type arm and some cash for Garcia, it may be enough to persuade the Twins to ship him off again.

The other options available likely wouldn’t even cost as much as Garcia. There’s the PadresClayton Richard, pitching on a one-year contract, and also averaging six innings a start. His ERA sits at 5.37, but his 4.46 FIP suggests he’s been a little unlucky this year. This is his first full season starting since 2012, and he sat out all of 2014 with an injury, so there’s caution with Richard in the durability department, but he could still be worth pursuing.

Somebody who’s been nothing but durable in the last seven or so years is R.A. Dickey, the 42-year-old knuckleballer and current owner of a 4.31 ERA for the Braves. Again, he’s averaging better than six innings a start, and likely wouldn’t cost the Reds much of anything to go out and get.

If soft-tossing knuckleballers aren’t your thing, what about Francisco Liriano? Now, this has been a career-worst year for Liriano, who owns a 5.99 ERA but a little bit more friendly 4.91 FIP. He’s still striking out more than eight batters per nine, but also carries the caution flag of walking nearly five per nine – not exactly music to the ears of the Reds, who have seen walks doom them all season long, and correlate to quick exits and more work for the bullpen. Still, Liriano proved last year that a change of scenery midseason can be a good thing for him, going from a 5.46 ERA in 21 starts with the Pirates to a 2.92 ERA in eight starts for the Blue Jays. He’s also, like every other pitcher I’m mentioning, a free agent after this season.

Finally, there’s Yovani Gallardo, who’s currently pitching for his fourth team in four years, and has gotten knocked around to the tune of a 5.58 ERA in 2017. He’s actually been demoted from the Mariners rotation and struggling to get whiffs this season, but he also owns a friendly FIP of 4.94, and has plenty of experience pitching in the NL Central with the Brewers. Seattle GM Jerry DiPoto loves making trades, and a move like this for a low-profile Reds farmhand or even a bench bat like Patrick Kivlehan would be right up his alley.

I’m not at all suggesting the Reds use a top-20 prospect to go buy 50-60 innings of mediocre pitching over the last two months of a losing season. But if it costs them no more than a prospect that ranks somewhere in the 30-50 range of their system, along with a small sum of cash, I don’t see a real downside to making a few calls to gauge what the price of some of the guys listed above would be.

I thought the answer to the Reds’ rotation woes would be the healthy returns of Bailey, Brandon Finnegan and Anthony DeSclafani. But Bailey’s returned to mix results, Finnegan got hurt again, and the jury is still out on when DeSclafani’s return will take place or how effective he will be.

There would be tangible value to getting a durable, consistent arm to lighten the load on the bullpen down the stretch. If it costs little more than what the Orioles spent on Hellickson, I’d personally like to see the Reds pull the trigger.