Yesterday we kicked around the idea that the Cincinnati Reds might be able to solve their starting pitching woes not by adding better starting options, but rather by using their ineffective starting options less and less. Of course, it’s just hair-brained enough to ensure that the Reds - rarely a team to try things too far from the central train of thought - would never pursue such an idea, meaning the addition from outside the organization of some more quality starting options is likely to be what we see from them this winter.
With owner Bob Castellini’s recent assertion that team payroll will climb to a record number in 2019 - meaning an infusion of some $20 million or more might be in the coffers - that’s something that’s increasingly realistic. What’s interesting, though, is that we have long sought young, pre-arbitration (or first year arbitration) eligible players that the Reds should target to augment their pitching staff, since those are the specific kinds of players who haven’t yet reached the earning power to price themselves out of Cincinnati’s usual tight budget. The likes of Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard come to mind in particular as examples of those types, and we’ve focused on both as legitimate targets before.
Obviously, there’s the opportunity to splash cash in free agency this winter, too, with Matt Harvey a favorite of Castellini himself, Dallas Keuchel and Clayton Kershaw (ha) likely to be available, and a plethora of other name-brand options for the team to sign.
One category of pitcher that we might have been overlooking, though, is the group of recently signed free agents with large price tags who either a) haven’t quite lived up to their lofty price tags and might be available because of it, b) are on teams now embarking on rebuilds and will be looking to shed those salaries, or c) both. Honestly, there are a lot of those types in this cyclical world of baseball, and if the Reds are serious about bumping their payroll while adding starting pitching depth, these options could well be on the table.
Danny Duffy - LHP, Kansas City Royals
The Royals just wrapped a miserable 104 loss season, and they’ve already parted ways with almost the entire core of their World Series run from just a few minutes ago. Danny Duffy, though, is still around, with some 3 years and $46 million left on the 5 year, $65 million deal he signed to be a cornerstone of the organization.
After combining to throw 326 innings of 3.64 ERA, 3.66 FIP ball between 2016 and 2017, his numbers dipped a bit in 2018, as he posted a 4.88 ERA and 4.70 FIP in 155 IP, and was shut down in early September due to a sore shoulder. There was no dip in his average fastball velocity - at 93.1 mph in 2018, it was actually up a bit year over year - but his change and slider suddenly went from valuable pitches to ones that were mashed.
If the Royals are truly going to invest in another rebuild and are looking to move him, he certainly seems like a reasonable bounce-back candidate, though his low 35.4% groundball rate might not be the best fit for GABP. Still, the soon-to-be 30 year old would be an infinite upgrade.
Mike Minor - RHP, Texas Rangers
After injuries wrecked some two full years of the former Atlanta Braves starter’s career, Mike Minor landed with the Royals in 2017 in a make-good year, and performed excellently in a relief role for the first time. That landed him a 3 year, $28 million deal from the Texas Rangers prior to 2018, and in his first year of the deal he provided solid work.
Minor’s 157 IP were his highest since 2013, and the former 1st round draftee posted a 4.18 ERA that was good for a 3.8 bWAR season. FanGraphs was a tad more sour on him at 2.2 fWAR, but that’s still a worthy mid-rotation starter upgrade in Cincinnati’s case. And with just 2 years and some $19.6 million left on his deal, he wouldn’t break the bank.
Texas, of course, is fresh off a 67-95 season, fired their manager, traded away Cole Hamels at the trade deadline, and might well lose both Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus this winter to retirement and free agency, respectively, meaning they might well be up for any and all rebuilding moves.
Alex Cobb - RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Cobb waited until the last week of spring training to sign his 4 year, $57 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles, and it was clear at the start of the season that not having a usual offseason and run-up to the big league season was a disastrous idea for him. He allowed 17 ER in his first 3 starts, logging just 11.2 IP total in those, and he carried a 7.23 ERA through his first 11 starts all the way through June 10th.
After that, though, things finally began to click, and he looked every bit the capable pitcher that the Orioles thought they were signing in the first place, pitching to a 3.55 ERA over his final 16 starts, with just a .707 OPS allowed across 96.1 IP. All told, he finished with a 4.90 ERA that was worth 1.1 bWAR on the season despite the late signing and putrid beginning, and he looked much more like the guy who pitched to an excellent 3.50 ERA across 7 years with the Tampa Bay Rays before his stint in Baltimore.
The Orioles, of course, are a complete train wreck. They just fired their GM and manager Buck Showalter, Adam Jones is set to be a free agent, Manny Machado and Kevin Gausman were traded away, and Chris Davis is the owner of a contract that makes Homer Bailey’s look like a gift. Frankly, I’d be shocked if Cobb and the 3 years, $41 million left on his deal aren’t shopped early and often this winter as Baltimore embarks on a massive rebuild, and if he’s anything like the pitcher who finished the season on a tear, the Reds should frankly be lined up to acquire him - for the right package, of course.