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Cincinnati Reds still interested in Zack Wheeler

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Wheelin’ and dealin’, y’all

Cincinnati Reds v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

If you thought the Reds would (reportedly) sign Mike Moustakas and then sit around playing Battleship all winter, you’d be an idiot. The word is that the Reds are all up ons the Zack Wheeler negotiations and that they might even resolve here before the end of the week. The Phillies could be frontrunners at the moment, but the Reds are not afraid to spend some of their hot wet wad of cash right now.

As you might remember, the Reds rotation is already stacked. With Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray fronting the group as co-aces and Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, and Tyler Mahle filling out the rhythm section, they can really crank up the jams. It might seem a bit strange to see the Reds so actively pursuing a starting pitcher like Wheeler, but if there is one lesson we all should have learned by now it is that you can never have too many pitchers. Especially good ones.

And Zack Wheeler sure does look like a good one. He is only 29 but it sure seems like he has seen enough weirdness to fill two or three full careers already. He was the sixth overall pick of the Giants all the way back in 2009 and was traded to the Mets in exchange for Carlos Beltran in 2011. He made his MLB debut in 2013 and pitched his first full season the next year, putting a very promising 3.54 ERA in 185 frames. He then missed all of 2015 and 2016 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and a few bumps on his road back to recovery. He put in about a half-season’s worth of work in 2017 while dealing with a number of other arm injuries, but he finally was able to put in a full healthy season in 2018. He followed it up last year with his best work yet, putting himself in a prime position to make some real bank this winter a free agent.

Across 2018 and ’19 he made 60 starts with a sterling 3.37 FIP, all but ensuring himself a nine-figure payday. He sensibly declined the Mets’ qualifying offer a few weeks back and the word is that he already has at least one $100 million-offer on the table.

But is this a smart thing for the Reds to be doing?

Wheeler is great, no doubt about it. His 3.37 FIP over the last two seasons is seventh among starters who have thrown in at least 60 games. He compares comfortably to the likes of Charlie Morton, Zack Greinke, Trevor Bauer, Aaron Nola, Jack Flaherty, and Sonny Gray. If the Reds were to deploy a starting rotation with Castillo, Gray, Bauer, and Wheeler, they would quite confidently boast one of the very best rotations in all of baseball. It goes without saying that Wheeler would make the Reds better, which is kind of the point.

The only thing giving me the bejeebers about all this is how strangely similar Wheeler is right now to where Homer Bailey was before the Reds signed him for $100+ million. Homer was fresh off two seasons in which he established himself as a real-ass bona-fide shit-kicking stegosaurus of a starting pitcher, just like Wheeler. Both were among the most promising pitching prospects of their day. And just like the story of Homer before he signed that contract, the story on Wheeler right now is that a lot of folks think his best days are actually ahead of him.

What I’m saying is regardless of who the individual is, investing $100+ million in a pitcher is a particularly risky proposition. Pitching is a rough and ruthless enterprise and the difference between the Homer Baileys and Felix Hernandezes of the world and the Max Scherzers and Zack Greinkes is more often a cruel twist of fate than anything else.

The Reds’ big ol’ wet wad will be spent this winter, most assuredly. With Mike Moustakas already in the fold, they have a much-needed boost to the lineup. Adding Wheeler would make the team much, much better heading into the 2020 season, no doubt about it, but I’m generally of a mind that premium dollars like this are better spent on position players than pitchers. As good as Wheeler is, I’m wary of five guaranteed years (and it seems like it might take six). I’d prefer to add a lesser free agent pitcher on a shorter deal or trade for somebody like Corey Kluber, Robbie Ray, Chris Archer, Dylan Bundy, or Matt Boyd.