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Reds bet big on pitcher Frankie Montas, agree to $16 million deal for just one year

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New York Yankees v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Calendar year 2023 featured Frankie Montas having shoulder surgery in February, recording a grand total of four outs at the Major League level, and signing a 1-year, $16 million contract with the Cincinnati Reds. That latter news dropped on Saturday afternoon, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman initially relayed it:

MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand later confirmed the deal, noting that Montas will earn $16 million for his lone year on the deal.

It’s a huge gamble for the Reds, though clearly they had been turned off by the absurd asking price for pitchers on the trade market during their offseason search for an improved rotation. Montas only backed up his 1.1 IP at the big league level with 3.0 IP at the AAA level, and only returned to action during the final week of the baseball season, and while the sample was comically small, his 95.4 average fastball velocity was down from the 96.2 mph he averaged in 2022 (and down from the 98.2 mph he averaged mostly as a reliever during his 2017 season with Oakland).

While the shoulder issue is clearly what catches the eye immediately, it’s worth emphasizing just how solid Montas was prior to the injury/surgery last winter. Across the 2021-2022 seasons he was valued at 6.0 fWAR across 331.1 IP split between Oakland and the New York Yankees, his 3.55 FIP and 1.21 WHIP perfectly cromulent numbers for a mid-rotation starter most anywhere. He’s a pitcher who relies heavily on his splitter, something that helped him to an above-average 44.1% groundball rate during his two most recent healthy seasons.

If he’s at all the pitcher he was during the 2021-2022 seasons, the financial gamble is one that should be completely reasonable. The issue, of course, is the opportunity cost of signing him for a Cincinnati club that usually doesn’t have a robust pile of cash to toss around. If allocating this much cash to Montas serves as their ‘big’ acquisition of the offseason - and it would certainly appear that is the case - than it comes in lieu of chasing someone more proven, healthier, and more in-line with the longer term roster the front office has been dedicated to building.

Regardless of cost, opportunity cost, and risk, the Reds have aggressively added another potentially electric arm to their pitching mix for the 2024 season in Montas, even if there remain myriad questions surrounding how they’ll line-up their rotation come April.