As Opening Day moves closer, the 2020 Cincinnati Reds have a big decision to make: Who’ll be their #5 starter?
The Cincinnati Reds, as a team, continued to disappoint last season. The bright spot throughout the season was the consistency and dominance by the best rotation Reds fans have seen in a long time. The major difference was acquiring Sonny Gray and the emergence of Luis Castillo to become one of the best 1-2’s in baseball. Anthony DeSclafani was a consistent middle of the rotation starter and solidified his standing with the Reds. Tanner Roark pitched well enough and was dealt to the Oakland A’s. That opened up the spot that Trevor Bauer would then take over.
Bauer was an exciting addition. While he did underperform, there is confidence throughout the organization that he will get back to his ace levels next season. This leads us into the 2020 season. The first four rotation slots are figured out and without question, Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeScllafani will attempt to not only meet last seasons levels of dominance but improve on it and be one of the best rotations in baseball. It is time to help the Reds front office figure out the 5th starter and round out a position of strength.
2020 Cincinnati Reds: Trades
The best bet for replacing a Tanner Roark or Tyler Mahle is to get into the wonderful world of trades! Trading for starting pitching has been something the Reds have done very well recently. They have made trades for DeSclafani, Gray and Bauer that have worked so far. They could trade for pitchers like Ian Kennedy and Jeff Samardzija but if that is the bar, then you may as well just let Mahle continue log time.
The Cincinnati Reds have some prospects they could move if they’re serious about playoff contention in 2020. The front office has shown it’s willing to part with prospects so don’t be surprised to see it happen again. At the major league level, the Reds have a few pieces they could realistically move. Jesse Winker or Phillip Ervin seem to be the most likely candidates to leave via trade this off-season.
Mike Minor is a 31 year old, left handed, veteran starter for the Texas Rangers. The Reds should acquire a left-handed starter, as well as a pitcher that would bring in a solid veteran presence who has experience as a top of the rotation starter. Minor would be an immediate upgrade. He can pitch like a #3 on most teams but likely fits in as our #4 starter behind Castillo, Gray and Bauer. Minor is coming off of what is easily his best season to date. All told, he finished with a 3.59 ERA, 14 wins, 208.1 innings pitched and 200 strikeouts. The Rangers would likely be looking for a major league level player and two prospects for Minor due to his age and contract expiring after the 2020 season.
Cincinnati Reds would receive: Mike Minor
Robbie Ray is a 28 year old lefty for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Now, Ray May have less experience than Minor but Ray is of course younger and has had the higher peak. Ray posted a 2.89 ERA with 15 wins in 2017 and was rewarded with an All-Star appearance. He also had a 7th place finish in the Cy Young voting that year. Since 2017 he has regressed below that level but has remained around the top of the Diamondbacks rotation. He is also just entering his prime at age 28.
Ray would be the bigger gamble of the two
trade options but also offers the higher ceiling. Minor is the preferred option for lefties, as he would bring consistency and experience, but Ray would be the higher upside. The Arizona front office would likely ask for more than the Rangers would. They asked for quite the haul from the Yankees at the midseason deadline and it was too much for New York to agree to.
Reds receive: Robbie Ray
Free Agent Options
Now that we’ve all had fun in the fantasy land of acquiring yet another above-average pitcher through a trade, let’s get more realistic. The Reds of course aren’t a destination for most free agents. That means whoever the Reds acquire through free agency will be less of a massive upgrade and more of a nice addition in terms of experience, depth and the key part being a lefty. The Reds do not have any lefties so it would help balance the rotation. The two free agents that make sense are a tad underwhelming but solid starters who provide those three attributes above and definitely wouldn’t negatively impact the rotation.
Wade Miley is a 33 year old veteran lefty. Miley has more experience than the previous two starters we’ve talked about, as well as having been on a playoff team the last two seasons. That is valuable to have with a staff as inexperienced in that field as it gets. He produced a great, but injury shortened season in 2018 with the Brewers with a 2.57 ERA in 16 starts and 80 innings pitched. With the Astros in 2019, Miley had his best season since 2015 with a 3.98 ERA, 14 wins, 33 starts and 167.1 innings pitched. Miley would slot in nicely as a veteran bottom of the rotation starter along with DeSclafani. He would likely cost anywhere from $4-6 million on the market this year, a fair and reasonable price that the Reds could easily afford.
Gio González is a 34 year old veteran lefty, like Miley. The days of Gio Gonzalez competing for an All-Star spot are long gone but he is the picture of veteran consistency. Over his career, he has averaged 190 innings pitched in a season over the span of 11 seasons.
Last season was the first time since 2009 that Gonzales started less than 27 games or pitched less than 158 innings. He did have an injury that caused those numbers to reach lower than his past seasons, but he came back after a month and a half out and performed to his same level without any issues. That indicates it’s not a long term or nagging injury. Gonzalez would be the #5 for the Reds and an upgrade over Mahle. He would likely only require a one year, $2 million contract which would be an easy and cheap upgrade for his experience and ability.
In House Options
Following our pattern of getting more and more realistic, let’s talk about the Cincinnati Reds easiest option. That would be making someone within the organization the #5 starter and hoping the pitching depth continues to develop at the minor league levels. The Reds had three pitchers last season who are still likely to be with the team next year that made starts other than the four already decided starters. Those pitchers would be Tyler Mahle, Lucas Sims and Kevin Gausman.
Now Gausman is interesting because he had an awful 2019 before coming to Cincinnati and finding his footing in the bullpen. He was a good and reliable starter from 2014-2018 with most of that time spent with Baltimore. His career averages are 9 wins, 4.30 ERA, 30 games started and 182 innings pitched despite a horrible start to 2019 with 16 games started and a 6.19 ERA in 80 innings pitched. Gausman seems like a solid end or middle of the rotation starter if he can get back to starting games and finding his form again. He is likely to make at least $6 million next season and to risk that much compared to getting a pitcher with more consistency and experience for less would be an odd move.
Lucas Sims is the biggest question mark in this group due to his lack of experience and games started in the big leagues. He is only 25 and has some upside and plenty of years to prove it. He started four games last season for the Reds and they were something of a mixed bag. His first start was impressive with 7.1 innings pitched and only 4 earned runs with 100 pitches. His next start was rough with more earned runs (5) than innings pitched (4.2). Late in the season he had two effective but pitch count limited starts with 4.2 innings pitched and 3 earned runs combined between the starts. If Sims impresses in spring training and shows improvement, he may get the chance.
Lastly, we’ll take a look at the most likely candidate, Tyler Mahle. Mahle is someone that the organization has talked well about for a few years now and seems to be seen as a lock of a starter for the club in the coming years. He’s made 48 starts for the team the last two seasons but hasn’t quite put a full season together. He is a good pitcher who has solid upside and seems more than capable of being an end of the rotation starter in MLB. His 2018 year was definitely better than his 2019 season so we can hope that it’s not a bad sign and there were underlying issues that have since been straightened out. He’s the easiest option, has experience with the team, and decent upside.
The Reds don’t need to add another starter nearly as badly as they need an outfielder, catcher or a middle infielder. If the Reds were to acquire another middle of the rotation starter, they would be firmly in contention for best rotation in baseball. If Bauer gets back to his All-Star level, the rotation becomes that much better. Mahle can fill the role for Cincinnati but making an upgrade at starting pitching and adding depth would be a move to be celebrated. Moving one of the outfielders and prospects would be worth it. It would advance how quickly the team is back in playoff talks. Adding another starter wouldn’t make the Reds a playoff team, but wow would other teams absolutely hate seeing them.
Author Twitter: @ZFluff17
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