Get “the” pitching seems to enforce the idea that the pitching sought by the Cincinnati Reds at this juncture of the rebuild should be authoritative, and good enough to win “the” baseball games they play more often than not. The roster-building rallying cry of this offseason has largely seen rumors to back up that notion, with elite arms like Dallas Keuchel, Corey Kluber, and Trevor Bauer having had their names connected with Reds-y efforts over the last few weeks.
Get “some” pitching, on the other hand, sounds slightly less dramatic, and that’s certainly what the Reds picked up in Tanner Roark earlier this week. It’s an improvement over what they had, but doesn’t exactly instill the kind of confidence that the pitching rolled out by the Reds on a day to day basis will strike fear in opposition batters. On a similar scale to Roark, I’d opine, are the likes of Mike Fiers and Anibal Sanchez, two other over-30 plodders who’ve had lengthy, largely unspectacular careers to date. Both are free agents, and both are apparently on the wide, wide radar of the Reds now, too, as MLB Network’s Jon Morosi relayed last night.
Sources: Free agent Mike Fiers drawing interest from multiple clubs, including the Reds, Giants, Nationals and Rangers. Fiers, 33, is coming off a year in which he posted his best full-season ERA as a starter (3.56). @MLB @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 15, 2018
Free agent Anibal Sanchez's marketplace has some overlap with that of Fiers. The Braves (Sanchez's most recent team), Reds and Nationals have shown interest in Sanchez, sources say. @MLB @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 15, 2018
Fiers, 33, is coming off a year in which he posted his best full-season ERA as a starter (3.56), as Morosi rightly mentioned, but that tells about as much of Fiers’ 2018 story as saying Carmen Sandiego’s location is ‘in this world.’ Fiers spent 172.0 IP split between the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics, and while his ERA was right nice, his FIP (4.75) and BABIP (.269) suggest there was quite a bit of luck factored into that production - so, too, does the 84.2% strand rate, which was both the highest of his career and the 4th highest among the 116 MLB pitchers who threw at least 120 innings last year. It was largely the importance of those peripherals that saw that shiny ERA only valued at 1.4 fWAR last year, which is less even than the 1.5 fWAR the Reds got from current free agent Matt Harvey.
If that BABIP and LOB% regress back to where you’d expect, Fiers’ 2018 probably would’ve likely looked a lot like his collective work from 2012-2017, where he posted a below-average 96 ERA+ and mediocre 4.25 FIP across 724 IP. Not only is that not really an upgrade over the current options on the Reds staff, it’s also likely to come with an asking price much higher, since Fiers’ agent will surely be using that shiny 2018 ERA to dupe some team into a multi-year contract.
Sanchez, too, is a free agent fresh off an impressive-on-the-surface 2018 season, one where he fired 136.2 IP of 2.83 ball for Atlanta, even doing so in their new ballpark that has already proved to be pretty hitter friendly. Like Fiers, Sanchez’s FIP (3.65) being significantly higher than his ERA suggests there was a lot helping Sanchez out defensively last season, though that 3.65 mark is still plenty solid in its own right. What’s concerning about Sanchez, however, is what he’d been up to prior to those shiny 2018 numbers - namely, a brutal 5.67 ERA and 74 ERA+ in 415.2 IP from 2015-2017 in Detroit, numbers that were likely behind the Minnesota Twins releasing him in spring training and behind why he only was due $1 million from Atlanta if he even made the club after landing there in late March. That he’ll pitch at age 35 in 2019 is also not exactly the strongest endorsement that his 2018 performance is set to duplicate.
Look, these two are obviously fall-back options, though it’s certainly much more realistic to see the Reds signing one of them than it is to envision them doling out $80-90 million to land Keuchel. Neither Fiers nor Sanchez is the kind of pitcher that’s going to truly lead the currently constructed Reds out of the NL Central cellar - and frankly, both of them are projected to have less-valuable 2019 seasons than Anthony DeSclafani, even. They’re serviceable, to be sure - Fiers, for instance, actually led the World Series winning Houston Astros in IP during the 2017 regular season, though he didn’t log a single IP in the postseason - but the question becomes whether or not that’s something the Reds actually need.
I’d argue they don’t. Tanner Roark, DeSclafani, and Tyler Mahle are preciesely the kind of starters the Reds employ to be serviceable in 2019, and the pursuit of outside pitching additions needs to swing higher than that. The Reds need a complement to Luis Castillo atop their rotation, not more middling veterans whose realistic upside is lower than that of, say, Cody Reed - especially not when they’re both coming off the kinds of ‘career’ 2018 seasons that will have their agents asking for more money than they should.