With the Winter Meetings underway, everyone is hoping that the Cincinnati Reds will fulfill their promise to “get the pitching”. Rumors started circulating Tuesday about the Reds contacting the Cleveland Indians in search of a starting pitcher.
Headlined by annual Cy Young finalist Corey Kluber, the Cleveland Indians have had one of the best rotations in baseball for the past several seasons. In 2018, Indians starter Trevor Bauer had a breakout season. The 27-year-old had his first All-Star selection, finished 6th in the Cy Young voting, and even managed to get a couple of MVP votes. Could the Cincinnati Reds land one of the Tribe’s top pitchers?
With the Indians window of opportunity seemingly closing, they are open to offers for their top two pitchers. The Reds, on the hunt for pitching, managed to jump right on that. There are two great available pitchers, but which one is a good fit for the Reds?
Kluber has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last several seasons. His 3.09 career ERA is good enough for 4th among active pitchers. In the past 5 seasons alone, he’s put up 33.5 WAR, more than anyone on the Reds has in that time. During that same time span, he has pitched 200 innings every season, showing that he has longevity. He has won two Cy Young awards and finished third twice and ninth once in the other 3 years.
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Kluber also has something important in a pitcher: consistency. He has been consistently good for his entire career. If your team has Corey Kluber, you know you are going to get a Cy Young caliber season out of him. Kluber could add some consistency as well as veteran help to the Cincinnati Reds’ young rotation.
It’s no wonder why the Reds are interested in him. It’s also no wonder why just about every team out there is interested in him right now. Do the Reds have what it takes to stack up against the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and other big markets that want him?
Probably not. A two time Cy Young Award winner is worth, well, a lot. Getting him will likely cost at least one of Nick Senzel, Hunter Greene, or Taylor Trammell. That itself is a huge cost, especially since the Reds would most likely just flip him to a desperate contender at the deadline.
Kluber is signed through 2019 with $18-million team options in ‘20 and ‘21. This would put him at about the same estimated cost per year as Dallas Keuchel, plus several top prospects to even acquire him in the first place.
Honestly? As much as I would love to see Kluber in a Reds uniform, I don’t think he’s worth it. The Reds shouldn’t empty the farm for one to three years of just one pitcher. They do have another option, however.
Trevor Bauer’s first six seasons sound exactly like something you might expect from a Reds pitcher: 4.36 ERA, 1.331 WHIP, and no 200 inning seasons. In 2018, he seemed like a completely new pitcher. He put up a 2.21 ERA as well, second in the league to Cy Young winner Blake Snell. His AL leading .46 HR/9 was almost an entire home run lower than the Reds’ 1.42 (worst in the National League).
Unlike Kluber, Bauer isn’t under contract and is arbitration eligible in 2019 and 2020. Like Kluber, he will probably cost a lot to acquire. Also unlike Kluber, he doesn’t have an entire career backing him up as an elite pitcher. One good season does not mean he’ll be good the next two years. Giving up one or several top prospects for a risky pitcher would be a huge gamble for the Reds.
Another knock on Bauer is how he has never had a 200 inning season. The 200 inning threshold is the typical benchmark of a “full season” for a pitcher and Bauer has never reached more than 190 (2015). While he would have been first in innings pitcher on the 2018 Cincinnati Reds team, that doesn’t mean he is the best fit. Good compared to the 2018 Reds says very little about anything, especially a pitcher.
The Reds struggled with pitchers going the distance last year. Luis Castillo was the only pitcher on the Reds that qualified for the ERA title. Castillo was also the only pitcher that was in the rotation from Opening Day to the final game. Having some sort of consistency in the rotation should be attractive to the Reds, and Bauer can’t guarantee that.
Trevor Bauer will most likely be a free agent by the time the Cincinnati Reds are serious contenders. A contract extension is possible, but wouldn’t make much sense. The 2020 free agent class includes Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, and plenty more extremely good pitchers. The Reds are much more likely to try to lock up one of these pitchers long term than Bauer.
The Reds should look elsewhere
Unless they think they have a good chance of winning a World Series in 2019, Kluber and Bauer aren’t good fits. Either one of them would require trading a hefty load of prospects for just a few years.
The Reds most likely won’t contend in 2019 or 2020. In 2021, Bauer will be a free agent and Kluber MIGHT have one more year left on his contract. Senzel, Trammell, and Greene are far more likely to make a huge impact at the beginning of the next decade and be the face of the next winning Reds team.
Additionally, one pitcher will not make a team into a contender. If the Reds trade all of their prospects for an ace, there is nothing left to help with the rest of the rotation. Kluber or Bauer could pitch 30 no hitters in a season, but if the rest of the rotation isn’t successful the other four days, it won’t mean anything.
Sonny Gray and other mid-level starters will come at a much lower price and could still help flesh out the rotation and put something viable on the mound everyday. The Cincinnati Reds don’t need an ace to contend, they just need a couple decent starters.