The last we saw of Luis Cessa was rather impressive, really. In the penultimate game of the 2022 Cincinnati Reds season, he fired 5.0 IP of effective ball against the Chicago Cubs, allowing just a lone run on a lone hit - a solo homer - wrapping his season on a 61 pitch effort.
He was doing it as a starter, too, a job that he’d been forced to abandon after frustrating forays with the New York Yankees during the 2018 season. For a time, it seemed as if that was the perfect tonic for his big league career, as he settled into a right nice relief role immediately thereafter, excelling with a 3.39 ERA and 131 ERA+ in 112 games between 2019 and 2021, time split between the Yankees and Reds.
Thanks to the floundering pitching staff of the Reds in 2022, however, Cessa once again found himself being tasked with starting games again, with his peers in both the rotation and the bullpen falling by the wayside on a near daily basis. Someone had to eat some innings to get the club through season’s end, and despite the fact that he’d struggled himself with effectiveness - he sported a 5.50 ERA and 4.97 FIP in 37 games prior to moving to the rotation - he took the mound on August 22nd as the starter against the Philadelphia Phillies.
His final 9 appearances of the season were all starts, and as he gradually settled into the role again, he proved to be reasonably effective. At least, the surface stats dictate as much, as he owned a 3.77 ERA in 43.0 IP over that span - and had he not stumbled to the tune of 8 ER allowed in 11.2 IP against the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates in a pair of starts, that would’ve looked even shinier. It’s the peripheral stats that got concerning, however, as he struck out just 31 in those 43.0 IP, was helped by a light .231 BABIP against him, and owned a rather unsightly 5.07 FIP, too.
Despite his admirable willingness to help out the club by eating innings last year, I think it’s a pretty sensible statement to suggest that Cessa, 31 in April, is best used as a reliever. The thing is, the Reds are set to welcome back a wealth of reinforcements to their bullpen for the 2023 season, with each of Tejay Antone, Lucas Sims, and Tony Santillan slated to take on more serious roles there again, leaving one to wonder just where Cessa might fit in with the Reds.
It’s at this juncture that we must once again point out that we’re not talking about functional, aspirational Major League Baseball Club ‘X’ right now. Functional, aspirational Major League Baseball Club ‘X’ would say ‘hey, we’ve got a reliever who has pitched to a serviceable 3.82 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in over 260 big league innings in that role, and he’s under contract for about ~$2.5 million - that’s awesome!’ The Cincinnati Reds, however, punted on 2022, hung 2021 out to dry, and seem to have zero inclination to make 2023 any sort of ‘thing,’ and that’s the kind of player who is not just a luxury in that environment, he’s downright expensive relative to a $720,000 league-minimum salary!
Cessa, it’s worth pointing out, is in his final year of team control in 2023, and will reach free agency at season’s end. For a Reds club that a) doesn’t spend, b) isn’t trying to win, and c) can expect to welcome back other potentially more fierce relievers, Cessa appears to be something of an unneeded piece on this rebuilding roster. Why have your backup car be a ‘09 Subaru Outback when your main car is a ‘08 Subaru Outback and you aren’t driving anywhere, anyway? Why not get something for him - even if it’s cold, hard cash - while you can?
Is there a particular market for Cessa right now? I’d imagine so, even if it isn’t super strong. His is the kind that gradually develops over the course of the winter as teams across the league figure out just how healthy/not-healthy their relievers truly are, and at his low-ish base salary that could be more marketable in February or March as spring looms. Keep in mind here that marketable for the Reds also doesn’t mean ‘can land a prospect for him,’ either - it means that they could save ~$1.75 million by dealing Cessa for literally anything and handing over that middle relief role to a guy making the league minimum, a transaction that would leave team ownership proverbially hooting and proverbially hollering.
If this reads to you like Stephen Katz chucking every last bit of unnecessary weight over the edge of a cliff, well, it should. It’s what they’re doing, and that’s why the thought even crossed my mind. This is the story the Cincinnati Reds have given us to read over the years, and we might as well plot its course.