While it’s admittedly been a rough six years of watching Cincinnati Reds baseball, if you’ve slogged through the games during that time, you’ve certainly watched them tussle with the Chicago Cubs repeatedly. And if you’ve watched those Cubs/Reds tilts in that time, you’ve most certainly seen reliever Pedro Strop on the bump, as he’s faced off against the Reds in a Cubs uniform countless times.
In fact, in a career split between Chicago, Baltimore, and Texas, he’s faced 184 Reds batters - the second most of any opponent in his career - and pitched to a tidy 2.64 ERA against them in 44.1 total IP. So, the familiarity was certainly there, which makes him coming to a 1-year agreement to join the Cincinnati bullpen for 2020 a pretty welcome arrangement. Dominican sports reporter Hector Gomez was first on the news, while The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal later confirmed the agreement.
ATENCIÓN: El relevista dominicano Pedro Strop ha llegado a un acuerdo con los Rojos de Cincinnati por un año y US$1,825,000, más bonos por desempeños ascendentes a US$1.5 millones.@z101digital @ZDeportes pic.twitter.com/V0ws9b4kg9— Héctor Gómez (@hgomez27) January 30, 2020
$1.825 million will be Strop’s base salary, while the performance bonuses (and innings thresholds) could raise it to roughly $3.5 million, making this signing roughly a replacement for the deals doled out to Jared Hughes and David Hernandez in recent years. And in adding Strop, 34, the Reds now have a veteran reliever to replace that since-departed duo.
The question, though, will be which Strop the Reds actually get.
After a brilliant five-year run in which he pitched to a stellar 2.61 ERA and 3.10 FIP across 296.1 IP, Strop faltered in 2019. His ERA spiked to 4.97, his FIP jumped to an ugly 4.53, and the 6 dingers he surrendered was the single most he’d ever given up in a season - and he did so despite firing just 41.2 IP, the least he’d tossed since 2011. His K/9 rose after a two year dip, which is good, but so, too, did his BB/9.
Of course, injuries just might have played a big part in that, and for the Reds, that might actually be a good thing. I say ‘good’ here only because the injuries that twice sent Strop to the IL in 2019 weren’t anything serious or structural - first, it was a hamstring issue that plagued him in May, and he later hit the IL in late July with a strained neck. If those were the true reasons why his average fastball velocity dropped 1.5 mph (to 93.6 mph) which, in turn, led to his .276 BABIP - his highest mark since the 2012 season with Baltimore - then there’s a very real chance he can be back to his usual, dominant self again in 2020. Considering his slider was once again an elite pitch in 2019 even with the diminished velocity, getting his fastball velocity back would, in theory, once again give him two statistically dominant offerings.
Where exactly he’ll fit into the 2020 bullpen will remain to be seen, but it’s worth noting he did save 23 games over the last two seasons with Chicago. There has long been talk about using Raisel Iglesias in roles different to just the 9th inning, though that talk has largely dried up this winter (perhaps due to the barrage of big-money, big-news signings taking precedence). So, the two could be interchangeable, or Strop could simply slot into a 7th/8th inning setup role along with the likes of Michael Lorenzen and Amir Garrett.
Regardless, this appears on-paper to be a damn fine signing, one that both fills a need and doesn’t break the bank, all while once again poaching a player who’d previously been a big part of a division rival.