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Finding a trade match for a new Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher

The market? Well, it’s a bit tricky.

Colorado Rockies v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jeff Dean/Getty Images

Good baseball teams go get better big league players at the July trade deadline. Bad baseball teams fold up shop, ship out what good big leaguers they have at the July trade deadline, and acquire what they can to make a run of things next time.

That’s the general rule of Major League Baseball, a sport that gives teams four months to figure out whether they’re in it to win it, or not, and two months to either excel with - or regret forever - the moves they do or don’t make while they can.

(There are precious few examples that go against this golden rule, though it’s worth pointing them out here so you think I’ve got a smidgen of credibility left. Back in 2004, the Boston Red Sox were 10 games over the .500 mark on deadline day when they shipped out perennial star Nomar Garciaparra in a game-altering trade, and the players they acquired (and, mostly, had left) went on to win the World Series. Last year, the first place Milwaukee Brewers dealt perennial All Star closer Josh Hader to the San Diego Padres at the deadline, and they promptly melted into a pile of goo and missed the playoffs altogether.)

Pending free agents and players who’ve made it abundantly clear they aren’t interested in signing with their teams long-term are just about the long exception you ever see, and both Hader and Nomar fall into that boat. Even with those exceptions, however, it’s just incredibly rare that you see clubs that feel like they’re still in the thick of it cash-in and sell off, and that’s a point that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to breaking down the 2023 trade deadline landscape.

The Cincinnati Reds - the first place Cincinnati Reds - are a pretty fun primer in their own right for how the trade deadline market has evolved. In an era of scorched-earth tanking, there are increasingly more and more teams who do all of their heavy trading before seasons even begin, making it harder than ever to even pluck poignant players from their last-placeness as the summer rolls around. The Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s, for instance, find themselves in this silo, and short of convincing 39 year old Zack Greinke and his 4.81 ERA (4.61 FIP) to waive his full no-trade clause to be an innings eater and start the podcast with Joey Votto we’ve all been waiting for, there’s not much of potential impact left with those clubs.

I mention Greinke because, from a Reds perspective, it’s starting pitching that they’re after in the worst of ways. They’re the owners of the 3rd worst ERA and 3rd worst FIP by starters this year, and that’s on the backs of several key starters who aren’t currently even available to improve upon those numbers. Nick Lodolo’s on the 60-day IL, Hunter Greene’s on the 15-day IL with an injury that already once cost him a start, and while Graham Ashcraft is set to emerge from his IL stint, well, saying he was ‘bad’ for the last month and a half before being sidelined would be the boldest of compliments. They can’t call up any more rookies, really, because they’re already leaning on rookies Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson, leaving journeyman Ben Lively as perhaps the most ‘sure thing’ currently in-house.

It’s the rest of the non-tanking baseball landscape that’s causing issues in finding starting pitching help, however.

A quick glance towards the bottom of the standings shows a) the teams that are in last place, or close to it, of course, but also b) a bunch of teams that really don’t think they’re supposed to be there right now. Boston has a winning record, for christ’s sake, and is buried 12 deep in the AL East in last whilst 3 games over .500. The San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners have made all-in moves that suggest they’ll give this season as much time as possible to turn around, yet both are under .500 and in 4th place, respectively, in their divisions.

The St. Louis Cardinals are in last place! The St. Louis Cardinals are in last place! Have I mentioned that the St. Louis Cardinals are in last place? They certainly didn’t plan to be there and - and here’s where things get even more complicated for the Reds - they’re in the National League Central right with them. Why is the NL Central a complicating factor for the Reds, you ask? Well, it’s complicating because some of the best potential starting pitchers who could be moved reside smack dab within this division, and it’s hard to see any of the Reds direct division rivals trade them the thing they need most to win the actual division.

Corbin Burnes and a healthy Brandon Woodruff? Milwaukee wants to ride them to the division title and the playoffs, not dole them out to Cincinnati. The same can be said for Marcus Stroman and the Chicago Cubs, since those two clubs still sit right over the Reds shoulder for the Central’s golden ticket to the playoffs. I’ll add here that outside of the Royals, the American League’s Central division is every bit the godawful crapshoot of it’s Senior Circuit counterpart, and that makes even poaching, say, Lucas Giolito or Lance Lynn from the stumbling Chicago White Sox a trickier thing to navigate. Yes, the Sox have been abysmal so far, but the division’s leader is under .500 and they’re still only 5.5 games back of them.

The expanded playoffs won’t do the Reds any favors, either. That just means more teams actively thinking they’ve got a shot at the postseason, and those kinds of teams rarely throw up white flags and deal. In other words, the Reds don’t just find themselves in a very tricky market for adding starting pitchers, they find themselves in a market where nearly every other team in the game looks at itself as a buyer, too. In a world of all buyers and the lone non-divisional sellers having precious little to offer, all that does is drive prices for what’s out there sky-high.

All of this is being written in June, of course. There’s a month of baseball left to play before this will really take off in any form, and by then four or seven more teams could have fallen completely off the pace. Hell, the Reds could have by then, what with their starting pitching duct-taped together and the Braves, Orioles, Padres, Brewers, Brewers, Brewers, and Dodgers on the docket before the actual deadline. That’s frankly about the only scenario that makes finding the easy answer here easier, and you know we’re not rooting for that at all.

I don’t know if Nick Krall has a message limit on his data plan the next month, but we’re about to find out.