The 2019 Kansas City Royals are a shell of the team that made back to back World Series appearances earlier this decade. Salvador Perez is on the shelf with injuries, the likes of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have long since moved on to greener-dollar pastures, and the back of their once-touted bullpen has set up shop elsewhere. At 7-12, they sit last in the AL Central, with only two teams in all of baseball the owners of more losses than them on this, April 19th.
That’s a story that most any Cincinnati Reds fan can read and process quite well. The Reds, similarly, have been entrenched in a massive roster overhaul, rebooting and rebuilding in hopes that sometime before my kids go to college and move out they might, might put a winner back on the field.
I don’t have any kids yet, for the record.
The moves made by the Reds this last winter were the first of real promise in some time, too, as they struck deals to bring in veteran starters Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark while also swinging a blockbuster with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That blockbuster brought the vibrant Yasiel Puig to help boost fan optimism and to honk colossal dingers, Alex Wood to bring more legitimacy to the stumbling rotation, Matt Kemp for something I’ve not yet been able to define, and Kyle Farmer for versatility and depth. It was in large part a product of financial symptoms, too, as the Dodgers were looking to creatively move money off their books in a way that would help them slip under the mysterious luxury tax line, and the Reds - flush with ‘cap space,’ if you will - were happy to accommodate such a move, as it helped their climb out of the cellar, in theory.
The cost: prospects Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray and one Homer Bailey, who was promptly cut.
In trimming the last season of Bailey’s monstrous contract from their books, the Reds not only moved on from that particular financial commitment, they moved on from a bygone era, too. Yes, Joey Votto is still around, as the future Hall of Famer always should be, but the Bailey had represented the only other connection to the Reds squads that showed such success and promise earlier in the decade. Injury, surgery, injury, surgery, surgery, and massive disappointment later, Bailey wrapped his career in Cincinnati not with the fanfare that came with the pair of no-hitters he threw early in his career, but rather with a ghastly 6.25 ERA in 46 starts over his final four seasons - all of which resulted in the Reds finishing dead last in the NL Central - capped off by 2018’s 1-14 record.
In other words, the idea that anyone anywhere would even take Bailey last year was one that was hard as hell to wrap your head around, but the idea that the Reds might actually be able to get some tangible value by dealing the washed-up 32 year old was borderline comical. Add-in the dreams that Wood could be the first decent lefty in the Reds rotation in decades and that Puig could flirt with 40 dingers with GABP as his home park, and it all just seemed way too good to be true on paper.
Scoot back over to those Royals for a second. They, in their innocuous rebuild, picked up Bailey for league-minimum after the Dodgers set him loose, and have rolled him out in their starting rotation since the start of the season. And fresh off of last night’s 1 ER performance in 6 dominant innings in Yankee Stadium, of all places, Kansas City might well look the best of the trio of teams that had anything to do with any of these players over the winter.
That was Homer’s 4th start of the season, in which time he’s logged 23 IP. He’s fanned 27 against just 7 walks in that time - to date a career-best 3.86 K/BB mark in the early going - and his 3.36 FIP suggests his 4.30 ERA has even been a bit unlucky. For his efforts, Bailey has been valued at 0.4 bWAR and 0.5 fWAR in the early going, too, which surely brings a smile to the front office of the Royals, who are paying him a grand total of some $580,000 for his efforts this season.
The Cincinnati Reds starting rotation has been largely fine without Homer - Gray, Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, and Roark have helped anchor what has been a strength of the team so far - but the offense has so far sputtered terribly, with the team’s defense almost as bad. And in even more disappointing fashion, it’s been the pieces the Reds brought back in the Bailey deal that have been behind much of the anguish there.
A quick trip over to FanGraphs shows that by fWAR, there have been no two less valuable players on the Reds this year than Puig (-0.4) and Kemp (-0.5). Baseball Reference is a bit more varied in their views of those two - they’ve valued Puig at -0.1 bWAR and Kemp at a brutal -0.7 bWAR already - but the gist is that those two have combined to produce some pretty, pretty awful baseball on both ends this year. Pair that with the neutral value provided in incredibly limited action by Farmer and the fact that Wood has yet to even see the field yet, and the deal that seemed like one the Reds would agree to 100 times out of 100 chances has so far backfired in most every way.
There are a few tidbits that, of course, need mentioning. First and foremost, we’re talking about a grand total of 11% of one season worth of data, which is hardly enough to truly form any opinion. In fact, we’ve seen better from Bailey in this small of a sample before, and you might be shocked to learn that happened as recently as last season - he owned a 3.42 ERA in 23.2 IP after 4 starts in 2018. There’s a very real chance Matt Kemp is truly declining at age 34, but even a ‘decline’ from him shouldn’t include the full cliff his stats have fallen over to start, and Puig will absolutely catch fire at some juncture soon. The caveats here, though, are that each is in their final season under contract with free agency looming, and if the Reds are still mired in dead-last come the July trade season, Cincinnati might not hold on to the two sluggers for the July/August/September months that could be when they finally get things going.
Also, it’s worth checking in on Downs and Josiah Gray, the former high-draftees of the Reds that were shipped out to LA in this deal, too. Downs, despite his monster night last evening, has stubbed his way to a slow .192/.218/.269 start for A+ Rancho Cucamonga - in the hitter-friendly California League, no less. Gray, though, has at least been the one player in this massive deal who has looked promising in 2019, as he’s allowed just 2 ER in 3 starts across 14.2 IP for the Great Lakes Loons of the Class A Midwest League.
On paper, this deal looked like it would come with fireworks, some that might even get fired over the Ohio River after Cincinnati Reds blowout victories in 2019. So far, that hasn’t yet happened, though, and despite the big names and big dollars the Reds and Dodgers so deftly maneuvered this winter, for now it’s the Kansas City Royals who appear thankful the whole mess took place.
Funny game, this baseball.