Earlier this afternoon, the Reds claimed Kevin Gausman from the Braves. He struggled a lot in his first full season in Atlanta, tuning in a 6.19 ERA in 16 starts. He dealt with plantar fasciitis a bit, but that ain’t no excuse. He was bad. The Reds will assume liability for the rest of the money owed him this season, which is about $3 million. He is arbitration-eligible for the last time this coming winter, though he may end up not being tendered a contract.
It is an interesting move for the Reds, to be sure. It looks like they hope that pitching coach Derek Johnson can work with him and get him straightened out. But to be fair, he hasn’t been nearly as bad as his ERA suggests. He has suffered an unlucky .345 BABIP, even while he is striking out better than three batters for every walk. His FIP is a much more palatable 4.20, which isn’t too far off the 4.17 mark posted by Sonny Gray in his final season before the Reds scooped him up.
It looks like a pretty straight-forward buy-low move for a team that is currently struggling to get quality innings from an overworked bullpen. And all it cost them is money. But far more interesting is how this move fits in with all of the other moves the Reds have made over the last year or so.
It looks like the Reds are zigging while much of the rest of MLB is zagging.
Let’s look back at the major moves the Reds have made over the last several months. They have added the likes of Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, Yasiel Puig, Trevor Bauer, and now Gausman. And what do all of those players have in common? Their contract situations. At the time the Reds acquired each of these players, they were approaching the end of their team control. Gray, Roark, Wood, and Puig were had in the winter with just one year of control. Bauer and Gausman have the rest of this season and the next. Because of the way the arbitration process works, players make more and more money as they get closer and closer to free agency.
So the Reds have spent a lot of money. Like, a lot lot. Here’s a breakdown:
Add it all up and the Reds have spent about $50 million this season on immediate improvements. And they are on the hook for $30-40 million for next season.
The trend in MLB is towards valuing prospects and team-friendly contract extensions for young players. The traditional big spenders with whom the Reds have dealt, the Dodgers, Yankees, and Nationals, have all cited a desire to keep team payroll under the luxury tax threshold. And so one of the downstream effects of this is that established veterans, like the fellas above, who have shown good-not-great track records and are approaching free agency, are not as valuable as they used to be. The Reds have been able to exploit that and add bona-fide major-league talent to their organization. And what has it cost them? Money. That’s about it. Aside from sending Taylor Trammell to the Padres in the Bauer deal, the Reds have kept all of their MLB top-100 prospects in these transactions. All it has really cost is money.
Money is the new market inefficiency in baseball and the Reds are on the vanguard in exploiting it. How many of you saw that coming?