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This is a make or break offseason for the Cincinnati Reds

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Winter Meetings are coming.

Cincinnati Reds Introduce David Bell Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

75 Wins Above Replacement is quite a number. WAR, while an imperfect statistic when used as an end-all, be-all, still gives a pretty accurate realm of total performance relative to one’s peers, and is a decent enough way of framing just how good certain players have been.

Johnny Bench posted 75 career WAR, for instance, and the Cincinnati Reds legend is widely regarded as the greatest catcher in baseball history. Paul Molitor and Old Hoss Radbourn also were credited with 75 WAR in their careers, at least according to Baseball Reference. If FanGraphs’ version of WAR is more your thing, nary a pitcher in history has been good for exactly 75 WAR, but Hall of Famers Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts both checked in just shy of that number with 74 and change in their great careers.

So, yes - 75 WAR is quite a number. And if you’re wondering why the hell I’m so caught up on that number, look no further than this particular leaderboard.

Team Pitching, 2015-2018

Team W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Team W L SV G GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Indians 368 278 153 2631 646 5775.2 9.29 2.65 1.11 .294 74.9 % 44.5 % 13.0 % 3.65 3.66 3.61 95.2
Astros 374 274 174 2659 648 5810.0 9.23 2.84 1.04 .294 74.6 % 46.0 % 12.5 % 3.72 3.66 3.68 90.4
Dodgers 379 270 193 2899 649 5819.1 9.31 2.66 1.04 .287 75.6 % 45.2 % 12.6 % 3.48 3.57 3.58 89.5
Yankees 362 286 181 2613 648 5791.0 9.26 2.98 1.19 .293 74.1 % 45.8 % 14.0 % 3.93 3.92 3.75 88.4
Nationals 357 291 173 2673 648 5787.0 8.85 2.82 1.07 .291 74.2 % 43.3 % 11.8 % 3.77 3.79 3.91 81.2
Red Sox 372 276 168 2636 648 5829.0 8.83 3.00 1.12 .299 74.0 % 42.3 % 11.9 % 3.96 3.94 4.04 74.5
Cubs 387 261 170 2835 649 5844.2 8.69 3.20 1.00 .278 75.2 % 46.2 % 12.4 % 3.53 3.85 3.88 73.3
Cardinals 357 291 186 2755 648 5818.2 8.21 3.15 0.94 .298 74.4 % 47.1 % 11.5 % 3.72 3.86 3.99 70.3
Mets 324 324 180 2740 648 5805.0 8.61 2.94 1.10 .303 73.2 % 44.3 % 12.3 % 4.03 3.91 3.96 70.2
Pirates 333 313 181 2654 647 5815.0 8.00 3.09 1.00 .303 73.6 % 46.5 % 12.0 % 3.92 3.98 4.07 60.4
Blue Jays 331 317 161 2772 648 5799.0 7.92 3.04 1.19 .292 72.2 % 44.5 % 12.5 % 4.22 4.24 4.26 58.7
Rays 318 330 207 2727 648 5773.0 8.55 3.07 1.16 .285 73.9 % 42.4 % 12.1 % 3.92 4.04 4.11 58.4
Diamondbacks 323 325 157 2859 648 5822.0 8.45 3.31 1.13 .300 72.9 % 46.7 % 13.3 % 4.14 4.11 4.02 57.9
Rockies 321 328 171 2833 649 5745.2 7.85 3.42 1.16 .310 70.3 % 47.6 % 13.8 % 4.70 4.33 4.19 56.8
Brewers 323 326 189 2767 649 5776.0 8.12 3.36 1.11 .295 73.6 % 45.3 % 12.8 % 4.02 4.20 4.18 56.2
Phillies 280 368 155 2758 648 5760.0 8.17 3.10 1.24 .307 71.4 % 43.3 % 13.1 % 4.51 4.29 4.22 52.5
Giants 308 340 152 2831 648 5818.0 7.70 2.92 1.01 .293 73.0 % 44.6 % 11.0 % 3.97 3.97 4.18 50.5
Mariners 329 319 193 2697 648 5809.0 8.01 2.85 1.28 .292 73.2 % 43.1 % 13.3 % 4.18 4.30 4.22 50.1
Athletics 309 339 149 2730 648 5774.2 7.49 2.98 1.17 .288 71.0 % 44.9 % 12.5 % 4.29 4.28 4.30 46.3
Twins 305 343 150 2787 648 5765.1 7.46 3.04 1.26 .304 71.4 % 42.8 % 12.7 % 4.57 4.44 4.43 46.3
Tigers 288 358 151 2679 646 5720.2 7.47 3.12 1.27 .302 70.2 % 41.5 % 12.4 % 4.71 4.48 4.52 45.2
White Sox 283 365 139 2616 648 5758.0 7.94 3.56 1.23 .295 72.1 % 42.7 % 12.5 % 4.43 4.49 4.52 45.0
Orioles 292 356 160 2526 648 5738.2 7.71 3.44 1.31 .302 72.3 % 44.1 % 13.6 % 4.61 4.59 4.46 44.1
Angels 319 329 153 2837 648 5740.0 7.93 3.10 1.26 .292 74.3 % 41.5 % 12.6 % 4.14 4.37 4.37 43.4
Padres 279 369 157 2726 648 5768.0 8.33 3.37 1.19 .301 71.2 % 46.3 % 14.0 % 4.41 4.28 4.11 42.3
Royals 314 334 169 2634 648 5761.2 7.53 3.24 1.19 .299 72.9 % 43.5 % 12.1 % 4.38 4.39 4.47 40.4
Rangers 328 320 172 2595 648 5751.0 7.01 3.27 1.26 .294 71.4 % 44.2 % 13.1 % 4.56 4.65 4.58 39.7
Braves 297 350 159 2849 647 5771.0 7.88 3.61 1.08 .295 71.4 % 43.9 % 11.7 % 4.35 4.29 4.42 38.7
Marlins 290 356 154 2817 646 5746.2 7.80 3.66 1.06 .296 71.7 % 42.7 % 11.2 % 4.42 4.30 4.50 34.3
Reds 267 381 134 2701 648 5766.1 7.88 3.66 1.42 .296 71.8 % 43.7 % 15.2 % 4.77 4.81 4.46 19.3

(Data from FanGraphs, with link here)

You can argue all you’d like about when the Cincinnati Reds began ‘rebuilding.’ The fact is, both Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon were dealt away on the same December day in 2014, and while it took longer to shed the rest of the veterans from that previously solid era, that’s the date that I choose to reference as the beginning of the hibernation.

That block of data up there is sorted by team pitching WAR since the start of the 2015 season - or, if you’re on board with me, since the Cincinnati Reds began dismantling things. It’s the far right column, and you might need to scroll over. You might need to cover your eyes and take a deep breath, too, since dead last by a long shot are the Reds in that category. In fact, you could double the 19.3 collective WAR they’ve posted in that four year window and they’d still rank second to last.

The difference between the Reds and Cleveland, who ranks atop that list? Just some 75 WAR. That’s nearly 19 WAR per season, if my fuzzy math is working. That’s a starting rotation of five 4 WAR starters every year for four years. And even if you worry less about the difference between the Reds and the absolute best of the bunch in that span, it’s worth noting that the teams ranked 1-7 on that list have been the absolute Who’s Who of the baseball world for the bulk of that period. Cleveland, Houston, the Dodgers, the Yankees, Washington, the Red Sox, and the Chicago Cubs sit 1-7 on that list, each of whom have had rosters as rock solid as they come during that spell - with postseason runs to boot.

Last in pitching WAR and last in the standings in that time, the Reds have a veritable mountain to climb to become a team known for its pitching. So, when owner Bob Castellini reiterated last week that the Reds are going to ‘get the pitching,’ well, that’s a bit like standing in Dubai, looking skyward, and saying you’re going to ‘get the concrete.’ One gas can will not fill the Reds tank. One George Washington will not get you past this bouncer and into the club. The idea that there is some pool of pitching out there for the pilfering is a fallible one in its own right, but the idea that it’s there and that the Reds are just going to drive up to it and load up their bus with it is downright fiction.

It’s true that there’s a smidgen of pitching out there. The Reds themselves are going to be able to get a bit of it. That said, there’s no one move that’s going to make things suddenly hunky dory. Signing Clayton Kershaw won’t do it. Signing Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel won’t do it, either. Would those kinds of moves help? ABSOLUTELY they would help - but the financial ramifications would likely cripple another aspect of the franchise. Trading for Noah Syndergaard would help, as would acquiring Marcus Stroman or Carlos Rodon or Madison Bumgarner. Those additions would move the needle, to be sure - but they would also cost Hunter Greene, or Nick Senzel, or Jesse Winker, or Tyler Mahle, or all of them.

The fact is, the front office of the Reds has the unenviable task of both knowing exactly what it is they need and knowing that it’s the single most scarce, most costly attribute in the baseball world. They also get to deal with knowing that the entire rest of the baseball world knows that’s what they need and are looking for, too, which certainly isn’t the best scenario to go looking for bargain after bargain. This Cincinnati front office, this winter, is about to try to salvage the last four years of rebuilding with their quest for pitching, and will be trying to do so without crippling the next wave of Cincinnati Reds baseball hopes, too.

A quick glance back at the biggest pitching moves the Reds have made in recent memory only serves to highlight that importance. The Reds simply cannot afford to hand out another $100 million to a pitcher and have it blow up the way the Homer Bailey contract has. On the other hand, finding a cheap, pre-arbitration starter that can slot in atop the rotation the way Mat Latos did would be an incredible addition, but you’ve got to take into account that the current equivalent of trading away Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger, and Edinson Volquez to get that kind of piece would be akin to, say, Taylor Trammell, Hunter Greene, Tony Santillan, and Anthony DeSclafani.

And again...the Reds don’t need one new Mat Latos, they need several.

It’s important to note that pitching, obviously, is not everything. The Kansas City Royals made a World Series run in 2015 and rank just 26th on that WAR list, though you’ve obviously seen the slide they’ve endured after they pushed all of their chips in to hang that banner. The Atheltics, Brewers, Rockies, and Rays rank in the middle of the pack on the list, yet each has made the playoffs or topped 90 wins in recent years. The Reds have a position player group that’s solid enough to be able to win without absolute elite-level pitching, but even then, they have a mountain to scale just to get to that level - and while that’s obvious to all, the front office now has public pressure from their owner to make it happen ASAP.

It seems inevitable that there will be some major arms added to this pitching staff this winter. That much of a baseline has been established. The major question now, though, is how much future talent and payroll are the Reds willing to sacrifice to make those moves with 2019 as a priority?