If you felt like Amir Garrett was snubbed from this year’s All Star festivities, you certainly had ample reason to think so. Through July 2nd, he was the owner of a sparkling 1.70 ERA in 42 appearances, with an impressive 54 Ks through his 37.0 IP. Opponents had hit just .191 with a .597 OPS against him, and he had continued his evolution from hoops to former starter to dominant lefty force in the Cincinnati Reds bullpen.
Once again, Derek Johnson looked like a complete pitch-witch, one who was hopefully turning Garrett into Cincinnati’s next great bullpen star.
Last night, of course, Garrett was tagged with another huge homer, this time by lefty-swinging Kyle Seager, an 8th inning blast that turned the tides and gave the Seattle Mariners the win. It continued what has been a brutal second half for Garrett, as he’s now the owner of a 5.63 ERA in 21 appearances since then, with a rough looking 20/13 K/BB in 16.0 IP. He’s let opponents post an .853 OPS against him and allowed 4 dingers in that time, too.
The thing is, this isn’t even really about Amir Garrett. He’s shown enough flashes of talent to where his spot with the Reds going into 2020 is still a pretty damn rock solid one, especially when you look at his entire body of work this season. What this is about, rather, is how he’s been the lone lefty relief option to really even make it to this juncture of the season, and where the Reds turn for more lefty relief help beyond 2019 is a question that the front office will have to work hard to answer in the coming months.
Even with Garrett’s brilliant first half, consider this: when it comes to team stats for lefty relievers against opponents’ lefty hitters, the Reds .330 wOBA surrendered ranks as the 5th worst in all MLB.
Wandy Peralta, for instance, allowed both inherited runners to score in his appearance last night before then allowing a baserunner of his own and a subsequent 2-run homer. That came with the San Francisco Giants, however, since they were willing to take a flier on a waiver claim when the Reds had effectively moved on from him.
Zach Duke. Just treat that name like a sentence in this context.
John Lamb is long gone. Brandon Finnegan is perhaps the single biggest enigma the franchise has seen on the pitching side of things in forever, and just barely made it back to AA in 2019 following a full outright and mysterious rehab/reconstruction in Arizona for much of the year. Even Cody Reed - who appeared to be a legitimate relief option for the Reds this year - now has his status in question, as a knee injury and later setback ruined his 2019 campaign, and he now enters the 2019-2020 winter out of options.
That, folks, is the entirety of the lefty options the Reds have on the 40-man roster at the moment.
A quick glance down at MLB Pipeline’s list of top Reds prospects doesn’t exactly reveal an obvious candidate to help the club in lefty relief in 2020, either. Most recent 1st round pick Nick Lodolo obviously has a hugely bright future, but the odds of him moving quickly enough next year to reach the big leagues are near nil, especially given the Reds track record of moving their top prospects up at a glacial pace. Former 9th round pick Packy Naughton had a fine 2019, pitching to a 3.32 ERA across 157 IP, but he only has half a season of AA under his belt and doesn’t exactly have the top-end stuff that screams bullpen hammer. That leaves just Jacob Heatherly, who just wrapped a season in A-ball, as the lone other lefty on the list.
Aside from them, only Reiver Sanmartin - the lefty who came to the Reds from the New York Yankees as part of the Sonny Gray trade - is the only real prospect of note who could profile as an emergent lefty, but even then he’s been used exclusively as a starter and began last season with A+ Daytona. That’s hardly someone to bank on.
What muddies the waters on this tremendously is a projected lefty relief class in free agency that’s rather dang underwhelming. There’s the potential of Aroldis Chapman at the top - ha - but that would both require him opting out of the final 2 years of his current deal and for the Reds to throw more gobs of money his way than anyone else. That ain’t happening. Behind him, Will Smith is the second best available option, the the 30 year old All Star with a 141 ERA+ this season is likely going to command the kind of big money, multi-year deal signed previously by the likes of, I dunno, Jake McGee.
Sean Doolittle is the next best potentially available lefty, but the 33 year old to be has a $6.5 million club option with the Washington Nationals that has a decent chance of being picked up.
After that? Yikes.
Tony Watson could be on the market, though at 35 with a $2.5 million player option, there’s a good chance he’ll pick that up after a so-so 2019 season. The same can be said for Jake Diekman, also 33-to-be, who has a mutual option while having a rather lackluster 2019.
Then, there’s the likes of Tony Cingrani, whose shoulder and lack of secondary stuff Reds fans are well aware of. The same can similarly be said about Aaron Loup, though the San Diego lefty’s elbow has major red flags (and the Padres have an option on him, too). Brian Duensing hasn’t pitched in the bigs all year and will be 37, and Tony Sipp - who’ll be 36 - is almost exactly in the mold of where Duke was a year ago.
Perhaps there will be an instance where a fringe starter will be willing to transition to a relief role. Drew Pomeranz, Derek Holland, and Cincinnati’s own Alex Wood all will also be free agents, as will Wade Miley - who Derek Johnson has worked with extensively before. All, at times, have looked like the kind of dominant lefty starters that should demand starter-like free agent contracts, but after last winter’s odd as hell free agent market, perhaps there’s a chance one of them falls into the Reds’ lap.
If not, it’s going to simply take either a) some brilliant trade finagling or b) some serious improvement from within to find a second lefty for the 2020 Reds bullpen, and that’s assuming that the best version of Garrett emerges once again to be the lock-down lefty. Otherwise, the Reds are going to need to get very creative in their ability to attack powerful right-handed pitching, something that’s going to be an evolving story league-wide anyway given the addition of the ‘all relievers must face 3 batters at minimum’ rule we’ll see implemented next year.