Tuesday, March 5, 2024
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Cincinnati Reds: Finding Value in Free Agent Starting Pitching

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While the Cincinnati Reds had one of the best starting rotations in the league in 2020, there is less certainty around the 2021 staff. Anthony DeSclafani has already left for the Giants in free agency, and it’s likely Trevor Bauer will end up elsewhere. Co-Aces Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray have both been rumored to be on the trade market, though it’s far from a certainty that either is moved.

Other incumbents include Tyler Mahle and Wade Miley, though Miley is coming off a poor 2020 season and may be better suited for the bullpen. Tejay Antone made nine relief appearances and four starts in 2020, posting a 2.80 ERA, 3.64 FIP, and 3.69 SIERA and will likely compete for a rotation spot. The same goes for Michael Lorenzen, who impressed in a pair of starts as well.

The true wild card in the rotation battle is José De León. A former top prospect, De León struggled mightily out of the bullpen in 2020, but has dominated in the Puerto Rican Winter League. Reds Director of Pitching Kyle Boddy recently predicted that De León will break out in 2020, a prediction he also correctly made for Antone last offseason.

Still, even with Gray, Castillo, Mahle, Miley, Antone, Lorenzen, and De León all potentially in the fold, the Reds would be wise to add some depth and certainty in the form of a proven MLB starter. The Reds have cut salary this offseason and have made clear their intention to acquire a shortstop, so it seems unlikely they’d spend big on a starting pitcher.

The Reds had been rumored to be interested in Corey Kluber, having attended his showcase last week. Kluber has since signed with the Yankees for one year and $11 million. There are still a few options on the free agent market that make plenty of sense as relatively cheap options that could provide massive value. 

Julio Teherán

Teherán is a puzzling pitcher to peg, as he always seems to perform better than his advanced metrics indicate, which can be seen by his career 3.81 ERA and 4.33 FIP. Since his first full season in 2013, his ERA has only been lower than his FIP once, which was in his 31.1 inning sample in 2020.

The 2020 season was rough for Teherán, posting a 10.05 ERA and 8.62 FIP. Still, he doesn’t turn 30 until later this month, and could make for an interesting reclamation project on a cheap deal. He also has a high-spin curveball, something the Reds have targeted recently. For a pitcher unlikely to command a large guarantee, and one that may even have to settle for a MiLB deal, he’s worth a shot as at least an innings-eating, back-end starter.

Tyler Chatwood

Upside? Check. Elite spin rates? Check, check. Likely to come on a cheap deal or a MiLB deal? Check, check, check. Chatwood fills all the boxes to make him the perfect target for the Reds.

An incredibly frustrating pitcher to watch at times, he has all the upside in the world but often struggles to put it together. His walk rate in recent years has often been his Achilles heel, but he actually took a small step forward in in 2020 while increasing his strikeout rate (10.5% walk rate and 29.1% strikeout rate, respectively).

He has thrice posted a sub-4.00 ERA, including twice in the extremely hitter-friendly Coors Field. It would be interesting to see what DJ and Boddy would be able to tweak with Chatwood to optimize his performance in 2021.

Adam Wainwright

It remains to be seen if Wainwright would sign with a team other than the Cardinals, but if he is open to the possibility, he makes plenty of sense for the Reds. The Reds have a ton of familiarity with Wainwright, and Wainwright is familiar with the division as well, having pitched in St. Louis his entire career.

Though just a sample of 65.2 innings, 2020 was his best season since 2014, posting a 3.15 ERA and 4.10 FIP. Wainwright also brings his signature high-spin curveball, making him the exact type of pitcher the Reds covet. He also brings an extremely low walk rate, giving him a relatively high floor.

At this point in his career, he no longer has the ace upside, but could provide plenty of value in the back half of a rotation. Wainwright took a $5 million guarantee last year and could land a similar guarantee this offseason, a number well within reason for the Reds.

Kyle Berger

Reds contributor for Max’s Sporting Studio. Follow on Twitter @KB_48