To date, MLB’s Winter Meetings have been light on rumor and even lighter on substance, with a minor trade of Ivan Nova from Pittsburgh to the Chicago White Sox the lone real action we’ve seen thus far. One thing does remain certain, however - the Cincinnati Reds sure seem to be asking about a lot of pitching, with presumptive hopes that they might, might actually ‘get’ it before the 2019 season rolls around.
Their latest focus, if the rumors are to be believed, revolves around Cleveland, as MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported earlier today that the Reds have interest in both Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer.
Either would require quite the trade package, of course, with Cleveland known to be focusing on MLB-ready outfield help as they try to retool their burgeoning payroll and remain competitiv while stars Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are still under team control. With an envious glut of starting pitching, it seems their strategy is to leverage that depth to pick up other important pieces that can help them stay atop the AL Central.
In Kluber, the Reds would be targeting a two-time Cy Young Award winner, a pitcher whose 23.6 fWAR over the last four seasons ranks third in all of baseball behind only Max Scherzer and Chris Sale. The five year, $42.3 million contract he signed prior to the 2015 season includes team options for both the 2020 and 2021 seasons, and after factoring in the performance bonuses that he has earned through excellent form the past few seasons, he’s essentially under team control for three years at some $52 million going forward. He’s no spring chicken - he’ll pitch in 2019 at age 33 - but hasn’t really shown any signs of slowing down, with his 215 IP in 2018 actually leading the entire American League.
Bauer, on the other hand, is fresh off a breakout 2018 campaign that saw him valued at 6.1 fWAR in his 175.1 IP, his 2.44 FIP the lowest mark in the entire AL among starters. He’s in his second year of arbitration eligibility, slated to make some $11.6 million in 2019, and is set to reach free agency after the 2020 season, so he would come with a year less control than Kluber. That said, he’d also cost some ~$20-25 million cheaper over the course of his team control and only turns 28 years old in January, so his slightly less impressive resume does at least come with youth on its side.
For the Reds, the obvious question here is how pricey it would be to acquire one of these elite starters, and whether they match up with a team that’s looking for immediate help in the both the outfield and in their bullpen. Cleveland’s outfield group was good for a middle-of-the-pack 5.6 fWAR in 2018, for reference, but the bulk of that came from now free agent Michael Brantley, and they don’t have a true, ready-made replacement for his production. Meanwhile, their bullpen ranked fourth worst in total fWAR last season, and that was before elite lefty Andrew Miller reached free agency. This is purely speculative, but it’s worth wondering if the likes of Jesse Winker and Raisel Iglesias and the immediate impact they could provide would be of interest to Cleveland, especially given the net money they’d save on payroll for next year.
The other aspect of Cleveland exploring roster maintenance trades - meaning they’re not rebuilding, they’re just shuffling dollars - is that they’re apparently considering attaching Jason Kipnis to any deal of Kluber or Bauer to shed the roughly $17.1 million guaranteed on his contract (a $14.67 million salary for 2019 and a $2.5 million buyout on a $16.5 million team option for 2020). The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal relayed that information yesterday, noting that taking on Kipnis’ salary would certainly weaken the return Cleveland would receive, which makes sense, and it’s worth wondering if the ‘record payroll’ the Reds plan to roll out in 2019 could stomach such a pricey add-on in order to keep more talent out of the trade package. Kipnis is far from his two-time All Star form, but did at least provide a serviceable 2.1 fWAR in 2018 with 18 dingers, and has even logged some time in CF over the last two years - a spot that’s currently completely void on Cincinnati’s roster.
We’ll have more if this latest attempt to ‘get the pitching’ actually begins to materialize.