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The Cincinnati Reds might have to unearth starting pitchers once again

It’s going to get pricey out there, folks!

St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Aaron Doster/Getty Images

Erik Kratz with 5 for 26 with nary a homer socked during the 2015 Major League Baseball season, doing so in efforts split between the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals. That was only a blip on the long transaction ledger he’d already been riding, as between December of 2013 and November of 2015 he went from the Phillies to the Toronto Blue Jays via trade, was traded from the Jays to the Royals, claimed by the Boston Red Sox from Kanssa City, granted free agency, signed by Seattle, released by Seattle, signed again by the Phillies, released by the Phillies, and signed by the San Diego Padres.

Such is the life of a backup catcher - always needed, yet never wanted. Due to whatever happenstance, Kratz ended up getting shipped from San Diego to the Houston Astros the week before the start of the 2016 MLB season after signing with the Padres earlier that fall, only for the pitcher San Diego acquired in that deal to immediately get placed on waivers.

That guy, you may recall, was Dan Straily, who was claimed by the Cincinnati Reds. He went on to fire 191.1 IP of 3.76 ERA ball, notching 4.1 bWAR into his belt before being flipped to the Miami Marlins for one Luis Castillo. And so continued the pattern of the Cincinnati Reds digging up, rinsing off, and polishing rock solid starting pitchers without having to spend a fortune to pluck them out of the free agency frenzee.

Straily, valued straight-up for Kratz by a pair of organizations, turned out to be a gem for the Reds, and he begat Castillo, who turned into a bona fide star. Castillo pitched for much of his Reds career as co-ace with Sonny Gray, who the New York Yankees couldn’t wait to get rid of after his debacle in pinstripes. They were often backed by Tyler Mahle, a former 7th round pick who signed for just $250K out of high school, and former 6th round pick Anthony DeSclafani, who a) also signed for just $250K out of Florida and b) was acquired for the rotting husk that was Mat Latos.

Add-in Wade Miley, whose 2-year, $15 million contract in free agency was the ‘big’ spend of the bunch, and the Reds managed to cobble together a complete and competent starting rotation on the cheap, doing so neither through draft nor big check. And given the rumors we keep hearing around the roaring Hot Stove, that might be how they have to operate again this winter.

Baltimore is seeking ‘top-half of the rotation’ help.

St. Louis has gone on record as being after three starting pitchers this winter.

The Phillies want Sonny Gray if they don’t get Aaron Nola to stick around, or maybe both.

The New York Mets and their billions of dollars want ‘multiple’ starting pitchers this winter.

The Nationals? They want pitching.

The Red Sox? They want pitching.

Proven starting pitching is the toughest thing to find out there, and it’s exactly what all the top clubs are pursuing this winter. When that’s the case, and when big-buck clubs like the Mets, Phillies, Red Sox, and Cardinals are involved, simply throwing money at the situation isn’t going to be how the Reds solve anything.

Nick Krall has earned a lot of credit for his acquisitions during the Reds rebuild, as well he probably should. The deals that sent away Castillo and Mahle have paid off in spades already, while Chase Petty - the pitcher acquired for Gray - sure looks promising as he advances through the middle-minors. The thing is, that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen when you deal away pitchers of that caliber, since they’re incredibly rare and incredibly valuable. When they announce the results of the American League Cy Young Award voting next week, we’re probably going to hear that three former Cincinnati Reds finished within the top seven or eight vote getters as we already know two finished within the top three. When you move on from such sought-after players, well, you damn well better have something to show for it.

The hard part of his job starts now. Now, he’s got to get the hardest thing to find, and he’s got to do it at a time when all clubs out there are seeking it, too. We didn’t see that happen at the trade deadline in 2023 despite the Reds being nine games over .500 and in first place at the time, with the rhetoric being it was going to cost to much to get it. Well, it’s going to cost that much to get it now, and this summer, too. That means the Reds either aren’t going to get it, or they’re going to have to uncover it from under the noses of the rest of baseball once again, either through shrewd trades, savvy bounce-back deals, or from within the ranks of their farm system from arms who, right now, aren’t dotting the Top 10s of prospect lists around the industry.

Maybe they’ll pull it off. Maybe they already have, should Connor Phillips and Lyon Richardson hit the ground running healthy and pitch like aces alongside first rounders like Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo. Maybe they’ll get James Paxton on a Miley-esque deal and the lanky lefty, now a second year removed from Tommy John surgery, rediscovers the form from his Seattle glory days. But for every dollar they offer to Gray or Nola this winter, someone else will offer two, and trading Noelvi Marte for the next Luis Castillo gets us right back to where we started in the first place.

It’s unearthing season for the Reds, and I hope they’ve got their shovels ready.