The Cincinnati Reds have done this to themselves.
You’ll recall that they spent the bulk of the 2022 regular season floundering, leaking water from the self-imposed rebuild that began the prior year, losing games hand over fist as the active roster they’d put together for a 2020 run was torn to pieces. They were held afloat by a pitching staff that was already devoid of Sonny Gray, a star pitcher who’d been dealt before the season in a deal that, in hindsight, now seems a little light on return.
A pitcher with a great track record controlled cheaply for more than just a rental season? Chase Petty is a very nice piece, after all, but the Reds held their cards close on both Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle despite similar circumstances and, as we now know, completely reformed their entire active roster in the deals that moved them elsewhere just months after Gray.
Spencer Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, and Noelvi Marte have already made their marks on the Reds at the big league level. Steve Hajjar unlocked the deal with Cleveland that landed Will Benson, while Edwin Arroyo sits atop the Reds top prospect lists alongside Marte (until his service time removes him from qualifying as a prospect anymore).
The Cincinnati Reds set the market for what controllable, All Star caliber pitching should command on the trade market, and every other team out there watched it happen. Of course, as is so often the case when a team a) dumps gargantuan amounts of pitching talent and b) tries to contend again in a couple of seasons, the Reds are now in search of gargantuan amounts of pitching talent, and they’re doing so on a tight budget because that’s just what the Cincinnati Reds do.
They’ve found themselves on the flipside of the market they so recently set, and predictably the asking prices for the precious few arms that fit the bill now look ghastly on the inverse. Marquee Sports Network’s Bruce Levin relayed the current asking price for Chicago White Sox righty Dylan Cease earlier on Wednesday, for reference:
The asking price for Sox pitcher Dylan Cease is very high ,and should be for two yrs control and $8 mil-contract.The Reds were asked for 4 top prospects including RHP Rhett Lowder and RHP Chase Petty. #9 and #11 position prospects as well.Sox will get more as market shakes out.— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) December 6, 2023
I’d like to think that Petty’s prospect status has elevated since his acquisition for Sonny Gray, yet he stands as just a complementary piece in what Chicago is asking for Cease. Carlos Jorge and Sammy Stafura are currently ranked 9th and 11th on the MLB Pipeline top prospect lists for the Reds, for reference, while Doug Gray has Sal Stewart and Leo Balcazar in those spots, respectively.
That’s where this market has evolved for a pitcher who tossed 177.0 IP of just 97 ERA+ ball last year, one whose marks and metrics all regressed across the board from an admittedly stupendous 2021 season in which he finished 2nd in the AL Cy Young Award voting. This is the market for a team that is selling low on a guy with a pair of years of team control remaining.
This is a point at which the Reds, I’m sure, will balk, as will most other teams with serious intentions. The free agent pitching market has yet to unfreeze as everyone waits for Shohei Ohtani to pick his next club, at which point the next-tier of arms will begin to sign. As that market warms, the suitors with cash might simply opt to pursue their pitching upgrades through that route, with the Reds at a fork in the road in that regard. Would simply spending money on, say, Marcus Stroman at a rate higher than what Cease will command as an arb-eligible guy be enough comparable production to warrant the extra spend if it means Petty, Rhett Lowder, et al are still parts of the farm?
It’s a development we’ll surely get to watch play out in the coming weeks, as it seems quite clear the Reds are, in fact, actively searching for a pitching upgrade of some quality.