If the Reds are going to trade for hitting this offseason, they’ll likely give up a starting pitcher. Johnny Cueto is their most valuable negotiating asset, if that’s the case. How much value do the rest of the Reds starters have right now in the trade market?
Here’s a review of each one (alpha order). The tables show their pitching performance for the past three seasons. Numbers for WAR (wins above replacement) are based on the average of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference calculations.
Homer Bailey (28) is coming off Sept. 5 surgery to repair a tear in his flexor massÃ‚Â on his throwing arm.Ã‚Â The recovery period for that injury is well known and the Reds medical staff estimates Bailey should be ready to throw in December and begin pitching right around the start of spring training. Two other Reds pitchers, Jonathan Broxton (more serious) and Mat Latos (less serious) have had this injury recently. Bailey may miss a start or two in April. The uncertainty regarding Bailey’s health makes it difficult to trade him. He has five years and $96 million left on a contract extension he signed last offseason. His earliest free agent season would be 2020.
Tony Cingrani (25) spent most of the 2014 season on the disabled list with a shoulder impingement. This followed his impressive 2013 rookie season that saw him fill in ably for Johnny Cueto who was on the disabled list three times. The Reds have five more years of team control over Cingrani. A bullpen role for him in 2015 is likely while he works on developing a second and third pitch. Cingrani was a successful closer his senior year at Rice University. His shoulder injury eliminates any significant trade value until he proves he is healthy.
After making thirty or more starts the previous four seasons, Mat Latos appeared in only 16 games for Bryan Price in 2014. Latos, who will turn 27 in December, suffered through a difficult twelve months. He had arthroscopic surgery last October to remove bone chips in his right elbow. The surgery corrected a soreness he felt the final week of the 2013 regular season that caused Dusty Baker to hold Latos out of the postseason play-in game in Pittsburgh. The tall right-hander had fully recovered from the surgery heading into 2014, but on his first official day in Goodyear, Latos slipped while throwing a baseball and tore the meniscus in his left knee. He underwent successful surgery to repair the cartilage, but missed spring training. Then, after making his first minor league rehab start, he felt a pain in his right forearm. Fortunately, the MRI showed his Tommy John ligament to be healthy. He was diagnosed with a mild flexor mass strain. Rest was prescribed, landing Latos on the 60-day DL.
Mat Latos pitched first on June 14 and took the ball on regular turn after that until he was scratched for his September 12 start. The Reds held him out because of a bone bruise in the elbow of his throwing arm. Mark Sheldon reported on September 21 that the Reds decided to end Latos’ injury-shortened season. He was unable to toss pain-free.
As Mike Maffie pointed out, the starts that Latos was able to make in 2014 raised concerns for the Reds. His shiny 3.25 ERA masked a set of less-glowing underlying numbers that was reflected in his SIERA. Latos’ strikeout rate fell sharply, as did his swinging-strike rate and fastball velocity. He also induced a lower percentage of ground balls. Perhaps those were symptoms of Latos coping with a body that wasn’t healthy yet and he’ll be ready to go this spring, back at the level of previous years.
But those lingering issues do fundamentally change his trade value this offseason.
In the past, Mat Latos would have been discussed in the same sentence as Johnny Cueto in terms of the Reds offseason plans. Now, he’s fallen behind. Latos may have even slipped below Mike Leake as reflected in projected arbitration compensation. The two pitchers will be the same age on Opening Day and are entering their third year of arbitration.Ã‚Â Latos made $7.25 million in 2013 and Leake nearly $6 million. Matt Schwartz at MLB Trade Rumors projects Latos will earn $8.4 million this year, while Leake will take home $9.5 million.
Prior to last season, it was widely assumed the Reds and Latos would negotiate this offseason for his contract extension or that he might be traded. Rumors circulated at the trade deadline that Latos’ name was being floated by the Reds. However, both sides may be reluctant to talk long-term right now. And if the Reds did tryÃ‚Â to trade Latos this winter, they’d be selling low, until he gets a chance to prove he’s healthy.
That makes Latos a logical candidate for a mid-season trade, with an outside chance of an early spring training deal, assuming all goes well with his health.
Mike Leake enjoyed his best seasonÃ‚Â as a starting pitcher in 2014 (Mike Maffie). His strikeout rate jumped and his walk-rate remained low. Leake has put a dent in his above-average home run rate by reducing the number of fly balls he surrenders. Leake’s fastball velocity continues to creep higher. His fielding-independent stats (FIP, xFIP and SIERA) have steadily improved. Leake’s health has remained great for five years and he’s averaged 191 innings pitched over the past three seasons.
Out of the four starters who can become free agents in 2016, Mike Leake is the youngish, affordable, healthy one. He’s become the FQMG (fewest question marks guy). Because of that, the Reds may rightly target Leake for an offseason extension.
Leake made $5.93 million last year and MLBTR projects he’s earned a raise to $9.4 million. The Reds might sign him for something like $60 million/5 years, or $52 million/4 years. It’s possible his AAV could be lower, around $11 million, with a pre-2015 discount. If the Reds can’t afford to sign both Latos and Cueto long-term and they want to lock up three of the current five starters, it stands to reason that Mike Leake will get a serious offer.
Leake would be attractive to a number of teams as a solid, one-year rental. He’d slot in as a #3 in many rotations. But, Leake is another Reds pitcher whose odds of being traded have been affected by the health questions of Homer Bailey, Mat Latos and Tony Cingrani. Unless the Reds are confident that Bailey and Latos will return to the mound on schedule, or close to it, can they afford to trade Mike Leake?
Alfredo Simon’s performance was one of the few bright spots for the Cincinnati Reds in 2014. The 33-year-old pitcher, who had been a reliever the previous two years, was pressed into the starter role by the cumulative losses of Bronson Arroyo, Latos and Cingrani. Simon was durable and capable for most of the season. He made the National League All-Star team as Johnny Cueto’s replacement. Simon seemed to hit a wall — understandably — from mid-July to mid-August. But he rebounded for five quality starts out of his last seven games.
Simon earned just $1.5 million in 2014 and projected to make $5.1 in 2015, as he enters his third year of arbitration. He remained healthy throughout 2014. It’s possible the jump in innings pitched from 87 to more than double that at 196, will catch up to him in 2015.
Simon will turn 34 in May. His fundamentals – low strikeout and swinging strike rate – indicate he’s more likely to be a 4.00 ERA-plus pitcher instead of 3.50. But many teams will go into to the 2015 season with worse plans for a #5 starter. Simon could also return to the bullpen where he would offer flexibility as two- or three- inning reliever.
The civil lawsuit filed against Simon in April, 2014, is a wild card concerning his trade value. The Reds have never commented on the suit.
The lawsuit aside, Simon’s attractiveness as a trade target is limited by his age, the surge in innings, and the weak fundamentals. On the other hand, Simon is a relatively inexpensive option and jumps in innings pitched haven’t proven as detrimental to veteran pitchers. Trading Simon may not be the Reds first inclination, given the recent track record and value. But if Mat Latos can’t be traded for health reasons and the Reds are committed to extending Mike Leake, that leaves Alfredo Simon as a possible negotiating chip.