Believe it or not, the 2020 MLB trade deadline is a mere twelve days away. The St. Louis Cardinals have completed eleven whole games all season, and are twelve days from having to make some of the biggest roster decisions of the year.
Thus is baseball in this odd 2020 season, and the Cincinnati Reds - while having played a few more games than the Cardinals - are in a similar predicament.
Is 20 games enough of sample to make determinations on players for the rest of the year? Are they even buyers at 9-11? How will the next week of games completely alter their decision process? What areas need work, and what areas should just see some natural regression?
After making a litany of high-dollar additions to the position-player portion of their roster over the winter, it’s pretty evident that there won’t be any major additions to the lineup in the next twelve days. The same can be said for their starting rotation, as it ranks just about at the top of most every major important metric to date.
That said, their bullpen has been the sixth worst in baseball per fWAR so far, a group with the fourth worst ERA and single worst HR/FB% of any unit in the game. So if the Reds are going to make any additions, odds are it’ll come with the advent of a new relief arm or two.
There’s one more pertinent point about this year’s trade deadline before we look at names, however, and that’s the new playoff format. A full 16 teams will ‘make the playoffs’ this year, meaning there are precious few obvious ‘sellers’ as we approach the deadline. Surely, a team or two that still has eyes on the playoffs might still move a big league piece from a position of depth - something we’ll touch on with the Reds as an idea in the coming days - but teams diving into outright rebuilds are a bit more sparse under these parameters.
With that in mind, here are a trio of relief arms that could both be obviously on the trade block and of interest to the Reds for their push for a playoff run in 2020.
Brandon Workman - RHP, Boston Red Sox
Workman owns a fastball that sits just under 93 mph, and mixes it in with a cutter for his velocity pitches, but it’s a curve he leans on 45-50% of the time that’s his most wicked offering. The Red Sox righty took over the closer’s role for Boston last year, notching 16 saves while pitching to a brilliant 1.88 ERA and 2.43 FIP across 71 IP last year, striking out 13.06 per 9 IP in that span.
He’s still at the rear of the Boston bullpen this year, but on a 6-18 Boston club that is down Mookie Betts, David Price, Chris Sale, and Alex Cora from a year ago, he’s certainly a luxury they don’t appear to need so much right now. Factor in that he’s set to be a free agent at year’s end, and he’s precisely the kind of arm you’ll likely see moved.
In a terribly small 5.2 IP sample so far this year, he’s not been as effective as last year, with his K-rate slightly down alongside a slightly elevated BB/9, though he has also yet to surrender a dinger alongside a 2.79 FIP that suggests he’s still plenty effective. That his 87.2 mph average exit velocity is actually down a mile per hour from last year is similarly encouraging.
Matt Barnes - RHP, Boston Red Sox
Barnes makes this list for very similar reasons as Workman, namely that Boston is in a big heap of trouble right now and Barnes, who also closed a handful of games for a better Red Sox club in 2019, is a bit of a luxury item right now.
What’s different from Workman here, though, is that Barnes has team control for the 2021 season, so there’s a bit less urgency (and larger asking price, presumably) on Barnes’ end. And like Workman, Barnes’ early returns in 8 IP this season haven’t lived up to the mostly stellar work he put in over the last trio of seasons.
Barnes is still averaging over 95 mph on a fastball he uses roughly half the time, but that’s down 1.5 mph from his offerings last year. And much like Workman, he’s a guy who leans heavily on his curve to be his out pitch, and so far that pitch has gone from being elite in 2019 to a net-negative per wCB so far this season, something that’s largely behind a full 5 mph spike in his average exit velocity yielded.
Still, this is a guy who is presumably healthy who fired 195.2 IP of 122 ERA+ ball from 2017-2019, and was only slated to make $3.1 million in 2020 before salaries were pro-rated, and that extra year of team control stands out, too.
Jacob Barnes - RHP, Los Angeles Angels
Shifting coasts, we land in Los Angeles, where despite having Mike Trout and getting excellent early returns on the big money signing of Anthony Rendon, the Angels are 8-16 and again adrift of the top of the AL West.
In their bullpen sits a much less known righty than the other two names on this list, one who was claimed by the Kansas City Royals on waivers last August, released outright three months later, and scooped up by the Angels on a minor league deal. Add-in that he’s sporting a 5.23 ERA in 10.1 IP this year, and you’re probably wondering what the hell I’m thinking.
For one, he owns a 2.08 FIP this year (again, terribly small sample), and that goes nicely with his impressive 5.00 K/BB. Factor in that he’s sporting a solid 53.1% groundball rate and a comically low 46.1% strand rate, and there are signs of a promising regression. On top of that, his 95.5 mph average fastball velocity is his best since the 2017 season, one that was the middle season of a three-year run of solid work as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen.
That 2016-2018 Milwaukee Brewers run featured a pitching coach by the name of Derek Johnson, you’ll recall, and Barnes fired 147.1 innings of 121 ERA+ relief work in that span. I’d say that’s some familiarity.
This Barnes comes with team control through 2022, also, so he’s far from a rental arm, but looks the part of one who could be a perfect combo of under the radar, on the trade block, and looking squarely at a chance to return to work under familiar eyes.