The idea of paying some $10 million for a 5th starter type isn’t wholly outlandish. Heck, you only have to go back to last year to see the Cincinnati Reds paid Alex Wood nearly that much to throw just over 35 IP, and even if he’d been healthy he’d have slotted somewhere towards the back-end of their stellar rotation.
Still, it’s yet to be determined whether Kevin Gausman has a future as a starter in the big leagues at all, much less in a crowded Reds rotation heading into 2020. And if he’s slated to be a reliever - and not even the team’s most high-leverage reliever - paying that much seems a bit more than the market rate. With the MLB deadline to tender contracts to team-controlled players this Monday, December 2nd, that has Gausman firmly on the potential non-tender list, one that MLB Trade Rumors broke down in further detail earlier this weekend.
Their own model has estimated Gausman will deserve a $10.6 million salary for 2020, and while Gausman looked electric at times while working mostly out of the Reds bullpen after being plucked off waivers from the Atlanta Braves, it’s hard to ignore just how rough his stats with Atlanta were in a much larger sample. In all, he posted a 5.72 ERA in over 102 IP between both clubs, good for an ugly -1.0 bWAR, and that’s hardly the kind of thing that makes a) doling out that projected arb3 salary make sense and b) might make you think you could non-tender him and still see very tepid interest in his services from most every other club out there.
The question, of course, becomes whether the Reds would be interested in keeping Gausman around at a much less impactful salary for 2020, as well as whether they’re interested in him solely as a reliever. Then, there’s the obvious inverse of those questions: whether Gausman, 29 in January, is even willing to abandon his starting status after 154 career big league starts, some that have come with very solid success.
Gausman’s peripherals suggest that he was rather unlucky on the whole last year - he did post a 3.17 FIP with the Reds and a palatable 3.98 FIP in his total 2019 work - and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him get an opportunity in his walk-year to start games elsewhere should the Reds choose to balk at tendering him at what looks like a salary in excess of $10 million. Perhaps the Reds could coax him into such consideration by negotiating a multi-year deal at a lower average annual value, but even that seems a bit of a longshot at this juncture.
On a similar level, the Reds are in an interesting position with Jose Peraza, who struggled mightily during the 2019 season and is set to earn some $3.6 million in his second trip through arbitration this winter. After a promising 2018 season in which he hit .288/.326/.416 in 683 as the club’s primary SS, Peraza slipped to just a .631 OPS in 2019 and lost his spot to Jose Iglesias. Obviously, Iglesias is now a free agent and there is a dearth of SS options in-house beyond Freddy Galvis, and there are also umpteen unanswered questions at 2B, too, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Reds cannot still address those spots while also moving on from Peraza.
The biggest question with Jose, I think, is that he’s still got 3 years of team control, and since he still won’t turn 26 years old until late April 2020, there’s a chance the former top prospect still has the opportunity to evolve into a still-valuable position player. For a club like the Reds who have been very willing to suggest they’re going to continue to raise payroll, it seems like a serious gamble to simply non-tender Peraza for such a relatively paltry sum, but doing so certainly would signal that they’re intending to bring in serious reinforcements up the middle from outside the organization this winter - and that’s a seriously exciting thing to ponder.
It’s certainly worth emphasizing that non-tendering a guy doesn’t mean the Reds still can’t have them on their roster in 2020, it just means that each and every other team out there would have the chance to negotiate with the newly minted free agent, too. Regardless, we’ll see in the coming two days a bit of the Reds’ larger intentions this winter when they make their final calls on these two.