Earlier this week, Homer Bailey fired 7 innings of scoreless, 2 hit baseball for the Oakland Athletics, a club that’s 17 games over .500 and firmly in the mix for a playoff run in the American League. That same Oakland club just signed Matt Harvey, too, as - spoiler alert - finding decent starting pitching across the baseball landscape is still an incredibly hard thing to do.
In Augusts of yore, quenching that pitching thirst wasn’t so much of a problem. The post-trade-deadline month still featured trades, albeit ones between clubs after players had been placed on waivers, a process that far from prevented player movement. This year, however, there are no more waiver trades, meaning clubs who thought they might still have a chance at a playoff run two-three weeks ago and have subsequently fallen off can’t conduct a fire sale in the same manner they used to.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t movement still, though. The Cincinnati Reds have been right in the thick of all of this so far, as they’ve used August to claim both Kevin Gausman and Freddy Galvis outright from the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays, respectively, while just yesterday lost reliever Jared Hughes to a waiver claim by the Philadelphia Phillies. And with the Reds season continuing to drift sideways, you have to wonder if Hughes will be the final Red out the door.
The claims of Gausman and Galvis were certainly made in part due to their abilities to impact what looked like a slight, slight chance that 2019 could end up special, but their real value lies in their team control for the 2020 season. Meanwhile, with the departure of Hughes, the Reds have jettisoned nearly the entire fleet of ‘rental’ players they started the season with, with the likes of Matt Kemp, Scooter Gennett, Tanner Roark, Yasiel Puig, David Hernandez, and Hughes all now gone. That leaves only a pair of players on the current roster who are set to reach free agency after this season: Jose Iglesias, and Alex Wood.
Iglesias, of course, has dazzled with his glovework at SS, something that has been brilliant to watch but simply doesn’t move the needle league-wide so much anymore. There’s a reason he was brought in late as a minor-league signing this past winter, after all. In Wood, though, the Reds have a guy who they hoped at one point could emerge as one of the leaders of their starting rotation, a 28 year old lefty who had pitched to an admirable 3.29 ERA and 122 ERA+ prior to his trade to the Reds from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Unfortunately, Wood’s season hasn’t gone at all to plan. Back issues cost him the entire first half, and while he’s made a trio of starts for the Reds since finally coming back, he hasn’t yet looked as brilliant as he did before. And at $9.65 million for his season’s worth of work, he’s still got several million buckaroos left on his contract, though not necessarily enough to make every contending team in baseball shy away at this juncture.
So, the question becomes one we discussed on last night’s episode of the Red Reporter Podcast - will the Reds let him go on a waiver claim, if claimed?
At this juncture, it seems highly unlikely that either a) Wood would decline the $18-19 million qualifying offer the Reds could conceivably issue to him after the 2019 season, meaning the Reds could choose to roll the dice on keeping him around in that route. Still, that’s a rather large commitment to a player that hasn’t been able to stay healthy this season, and with the presence and financial commitment already in place of potential starters like Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, and Tyler Mahle, Wood hardly seems like a priority at that cost. Not to mention that if the Reds keep him and he declines that QO, the odds of him getting the amount of guaranteed money in free agency that would net the Reds a prime draft pick seem slim, especially after watching the depressed free agent landscape of Dallas Keuchel, among others, just last year.
So, the question really is this - if the Reds aren’t going to keep Wood beyond 2019 and are out of the playoff chase this year, why not save $2-3 million bucks by letting Wood leave, especially if that’s money that can go into the 2020 club?
Mahle will be back off the 10-day IL soon. Lucas Sims has shown enough to likely warrant another chance to start. And really, it shouldn’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things since the Reds are (/checks notes) still well below .500 this season.
I understand the team’s commitment to picking up every last possible win this year for morale, for ticket purchases, for posterity. I get the hype surrounding the ‘record payroll’ and changing the culture, too. The thing is, though, with the rest of the rotation options as they are, letting Wood go wouldn’t truly be a big enough move to redefine that redefinition, and in saving that kind of cash it could well help a 2020 club that is really, truly the one that looks the part of bucking this losing trend.
In other words, if Wood gets claimed in the next two weeks, the Cincinnati Reds should absolutely let him go, and it’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario where no team out there would view the gamble on him as an absolute must.
Sorry, Kyle Farmer.