I apologize for how often I have lately turned this into Vanderbilt Reporter. Despite the general fondness I hold for my alma mater and the decidedly B-/C+ effort I gave while there, it was never my intent to continually recreate my glory days in lieu of blabbing about Cincinnati Reds baseball.
The problem is, however, that Vandy has had a pretty rockstar baseball program for quite the long time now, and the Reds themselves continue to be the go-to big league vacuum that’s whisking it all up. First came the pitching guru combination of former Vandy pitcher Caleb Cotham and eventually the pitching coach for whom he threw in Nashville, Derek Johnson. The Reds acquired Sonny Gray last winter and signed him to a feel-good extension to get him reunited with that pair, also so he could throw to his catcher while at Vandy, Curt Casali.
Blah blah blergh...here I go again.
What’s newsy today is that the Reds are yet again being linked to potentially acquiring a former Commodore, this time the program’s all-time leader in big league bWAR. That would be Boston Red Sox starter and former Cy Young Award winner David Price, as MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand revealed earlier today. The Reds are among five teams with whom the Sox have engaged in trade talks, which is hardly surprising given their very public intent to shed salary this winter and get under the luxury tax line.
With 3 years and some $96 million remaining on his deal, Price certainly seems like precisely the kind of contract they’d be looking to dump, especially since that would allow them the opportunity to keep other big-money players around (a la Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts). And if you’ll allow me to still be in awe of the fact that this is the second straight winter in which we’ve seen the Reds connected to a huge market club and being potentially willing to take on money to get a veteran player, there’s at least a smidgen of this that could make some sense.
Price, of course, is not as good as he once was. Still, he pitched to a tidy 3.62 FIP with a career best 10.7 K/9 just last season, though admittedly injuries once again forced him to just 107.1 IP. At this point, that’s the bigger issue with Price - his injury history, as the pitcher who has twice faced the single most batters in all of baseball in individual seasons has logged just 358 total IP across the last trio of seasons. He’s been good in that time - 3.75 ERA, 3.82 FIP - but that’s a hefty amount of risk for a now 34 year old arm with that much guaranteed money left on his deal.
Here’s the thing, though - Boston would absolutely be eating a giant pile of money to make this deal go through. The Reds could, in theory, pay the bulk of his 2020 salary to help get Boston under their 2020 luxury tax line, and if I was pulling the strings on Cincinnati’s end, I’d be asking for nearly $20 million per year for each of 2021 and 2022 in return. Something in the range of $40-45 million total, at least, would need to be eaten by Boston to mitigate the risk, done so in whichever creative accounting method helps Boston shed their luxury tax penalties in the most efficient fashion for them.
This is the modern world of baseball, I should mention again. That’s precisely the kind of tax math that was largely behind the framework of last winter’s massive deal between the Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers, since ‘how much money was paid out’ was significantly less important than ‘who paid what in which year.’
Considering the Reds have been linked to no fewer than two veteran starting pitchers already this winter who have signed multi-year contracts (Zack Wheeler and Tanner Roark), the concept that the Reds would be interested in a pitcher with the resume of Price is not terribly hard to fathom if the price slips more into their range. He’d slide into the middle of the rotation for this season, and still be around for 2021 and 2022, and given that both Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani are set to reach free agency at the end of the 2020 season, that would provide some quality depth. Add-in that Price pitched under Johnson and did so well enough to become the #1 overall selection in the 2007 MLB Draft, and it’s easy to see why there may be a good bit of mutual interest in this deal in particular.