The Cincinnati Reds rotation is in shambles, at least from the standpoint of what was expected as the team entered February. Homer Bailey went down with surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow and is out until about June. Monday we learned that Anthony DeSclafani will miss at least the next four weeks before even attempting to throw again. That’s two guys that the team was counting on when they planned things out over the winter.

The Reds organization has an embarrassment of starting pitching prospects. And they need every last one of them if we’ve learned anything in the long history of the Cincinnati organization. With the organization now needing to fill three spots in the rotation to open the year it’s probably a good thing that so many guys are at least close to the Majors.

The options seem to be, at least from the minor league guys, left handers Cody Reed and Amir Garrett, and right handers Robert Stephenson, Sal Romano, Rookie Davis and Luis Castillo. Tim Adleman and Bronson Arroyo also seem to be in the conversation. Dick Williams told reporters on Monday evening that he’s not sure if they will look at free agency as an option to fill a spot.

Who fills out the rotation is a difficult question to answer. If you were to choose who would follow Brandon Finnegan and Scott Feldman based purely on performance in spring training, things would get a tad bit easier. With that said, it still wouldn’t be easy as things sit today. Many of the options have pitched well in a majority or all of their outings so far. We also know that making roster decisions based on spring training performance is generally a bad idea since the sample size is incredibly small and the competition level is all over the place. Toss in the fact that the players past is full of much more information about the players skillset that it’s not funny, and it’s just a bad idea to use spring training performance to hand out roster spots.

Of course, when you are dealing with a bunch of young players, that changes things a little bit. Young players can, and sometimes do, alter their skillsets very quickly. That can be especially true when it comes to pitchers where one small tweak in mechanics, or a grip that gives them a slightly different look on a pitch can turn a career around on a dime. Or maybe a pitcher finds extra velocity now that they are healthy (we’re looking at you Rookie Davis).

Even if the Reds were to look at spring training performance as one of the factors that come into play in handing out the three rotation spots, there’s a big giant standing in the corner that may be even more important: Service Time. Amir Garrett, Sal Romano, Rookie Davis and Luis Castillo have no Major League service time. That’s very important to consider. If those guys spend 10 or more days in the minor leagues in 2017, then come up, the Reds will get an entire extra year of service time out of them. That means that instead of becoming a free agent after the 2023 season instead of the 2022 season. All of that for what amounts to less than two weeks in the minor leagues in April of 2017.

If you’ve read my work for a while, you know that I’m as vocal as I can be about paying minor leaguers significantly more than they are currently paid. I also find it ridiculous that teams can manipulate service time in the way I describe above (for such a short amount of time to get an entire additional year). But for the Cincinnati Reds organization, it just makes too much sense for the future of the baseball team to do everything in their power to put someone else in the rotation instead of any of those four players with no service time under their belt in April. As unfair as that is to the players involved, for the Cincinnati Reds it would be absolutely stupid to lose out on an entire year of a 29-31 years old pitcher in favor of two starts in April of their rookie season.

With the injuries mounting up, the organizations hand may be forced on at least one of those players. They would probably prefer to hand the three spots to Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson and one of Bronson Arroyo or Tim Adleman for the long term ramifications that would come about with going in the other direction. The team will have to hope for good performances from some of those guys over the next three weeks to go that route, though. Amir Garrett and Sal Romano in particular have been dominating for the most part this spring. Rookie Davis has looked quite good as well. If Bronson Arroyo can’t throw 5-6 innings (and he’s stated this spring that he’s not sure if he can), or Tim Adleman and Robert Stephenson struggle in the spring moving forward, the Reds may find themselves in a very tough position. They could grab a waiver wire pitcher at the end of the spring to help make their decision easier, but right now they have to be hoping some of the guys with service time put together a strong couple of weeks to end the spring so they can at least put on the face of decision makers that aren’t trying to manipulate the service clocks of young players like the Cubs did a few years ago when they sent Kris Bryant and his 1.600 OPS to Triple-A to “work on his defense”, only to call him up the exact day that he no longer would be eligible to reach free agency in six years (giving them a seventh).

31 Responses

  1. cfd3000

    I really don’t like the service time considerations that have come to prominence in the last several years. It is such a distraction from the game on the field. That said, if the CBO is written so that 10 days in AAA now buys a team another year of control, then that’s what everyone has agreed to (though, of course, not the specific minor leaguers themselves). And in that context, why can’t teams just say “We think – stud player – will be a terrific major leaguer and we want to make sure he’s on our team for seven years. It’s worth it to us to skip a couple of early starts now so he can help our club for that much longer.” Enough with pretending there’s anything more going on. Start Reed, Stephenson, Adelman and Arroyo for two weeks. If they’re good, especially the veterans, let them keep their turn. If not, bring up Garrett or Romano or Davis and let them develop in Cincinnati. For a team that has few playoff aspirations in 2017 but visions of greatness in 2020 and beyond it’s just how a staff needs to be managed.

    • Jordan Barhorst

      I agree with your sentiment that the idea of service time, at least in the state it is now, is broken. However, the reason you’re hearing “excuses” for teams not calling up their top prospects right away is because the Players Union would have a field day if teams acknowledged that a player was good enough to be on the roster, but the team doesn’t want to pay them extra money in the form of an extension down the road.

      The outlook of a player’s career is obviously very different depending on if you’re looking at it as a ball club or as a player. A ball club has to view these players as business assets – think a copy machine in your office. You might go out and buy the best copy machine, and you’ll probably have it in your office for a good ten years before you’ll need to start thinking about replacing it. If you could ensure that you can use the copier for eleven years instead of ten, why not?

      The Players Union obviously looks at it in a much more human way. The amount of careers that end to injury, whether because of the initial severity or the prolonged effects, is absurdly high. So, obviously, its all about getting as much money as quickly as possible before a player’s arm falls off. That’s why the service time issue is such a hot topic, and why clubs can’t just outright admit that they’re stretching the rules to their fullest extent.

  2. Keith

    I don’t know that I understand the big concern if these guys start the year in the bigs. It’s 10 days at any point in the season as I understand it, and there is no way they make every start for the entire season. Even if they’re excellent, send them down in June or July for 10 days to get some rest or after they’re having a rough patch, as they inevitably will. The magic the Reds had a few years ago when their starting 5 made essentially every start of the year isn’t likely to be repeated this year no matter who starts the year in the rotation.

    • Jordan Barhorst

      Doug will surely know the answer to this better than I do, but I was under the impression that once the service time clock starts, it doesn’t stop. So if we call Amir up on Opening Day and then wait until July to send him back down for 10 days, he’ll still accrue service time during those 10 days in July.

      Again, I could be wrong on that. Doesn’t help that the service time rules basically require you to be a lawyer in order to fully understand them 🙂

      • Jim Walker

        I believe the service time clock is on hold when a guy on optioned.
        To check, I chose Robert Stephenson as my “canary in the coal mine” since he was up and down several times in 2016. Both Cot’s contracts and Baseball Reference show Stephenson with 36 days of MLB service. The time he was at AAA from late April until he returned to MLB in September did not count as MLB service time.

      • reaganspad

        Wait a minute…..

        what has become of OhioJim?

      • Jim Walker

        “My name has been changed to protect the innocent?” 😉 Not quite.

        The software that runs the RLN site pulls the author’s name for both contributors and commenters from the same location; so, “OhioJim” had to make for my real name.

        It’s still me mangling the keys.

    • BigRedMachine

      I don’t understand all the details of the CBA but if a player is performing well you can’t send them down to the minors for a few days without consequences. So from what you suggest you could send them down if they were having a rough patch, but you can’t “to give them rest”.

      At least that’s the explanation I’ve read here and other places when people when discussing service time considerations. Can someone clarify?

    • BigHurt

      What would happen in a situation where the Reds lost a grievance of this nature?
      What would the consequence be?

      • Eric The Red

        If you’re the Reds, it would be a fine, a lost first round draft choice, and a forced return of Brandon Phillips along with a three year contract extension. If you’re the Cardinals (or Yankees, or Cubs), it would be a sternly worded letter from the league.

  3. JO (@ghettotrout1)

    MLB needs to just have a salary cap. If they did that they could afford to give all the minor leaguers a raise to keep them from working multiple jobs. It would help alleviate the same 6 or so teams being competitive almost every year (NYY, LAD, DET, BOS, TEX, SF, WSH, CHI cubs) and grant it not all of those teams are competitive every year but its a lot easier to fill out a roster when you have tons of money to blow, also if you look at sample size I would say these same teams make the playoffs much more than small market teams. And the league can say the WS champion over the years proves that there is parody in the league but we all know that the playoffs are more of a crap shoot in baseball than any other sport, so go with playoff appearances not WS titles and you have a much more realistic picture of competitiveness in the league. You wouldn’t have nearly as much tanking in the league and overall the players who don’t get giant contracts would most likely end up seeing a higher pay per year. And to bring this back to the service time thing…. if you didn’t have a player who through arbitration can make a few million a year to making over ten million a year teams wouldn’t hold players down in the minors so aggressively.

    • VaRedsFan

      What a great idea…I’ll let you run down to the player’s union and break the news to them. Then we’ll have a record set for number of days of a baseball strike.

  4. wizeman

    Hasn’t Stephenson pitched well since his first outing?
    Finnegan, Feldman, Reed, Stephenson… a mix of Arroyo and Adelman….
    Agree with Mr. Gray

    • reaganspad

      Yes he has.

      And based on his 2016, Adelman should be give a chance in April to break as a starter with this team.

      His numbers were better than Reed or Stephenson last year.

      In Mid May, he has 4-5 starts, you make a decision at that time

      He has been doing fine this spring until that 4th inning yesterday. He is Mike Leake; when he is on he is very serviceable. When he gets hit, well go get a hot dog cause the bullpen will get a call

      But for 6 weeks, he is a no doubter in my mind at this time.

      In Mid May, after there will be some guys in AAA who will have a say in this starters spot. That makes the guys in AAA earn it, more than just a good spring.

      Go Dominate at AAA for 5 starts and make the big club have to promote you.

      that is as it should be. We have rushed every starter I can remember due to need at the ML level.

      this is a new regime, right?

  5. baseballontap

    I’d love to see Garrett head north when the team breaks camp. He is 24, soon to be 25, let the kid grow on a team with low stress at the Major League level. Great article.

  6. ScottyA

    I agree, save the service time on all of them. 3 spots taken by reed, Stephenson & adleman. If Garrett stays on the same trajectory after the 14 day’s bring him up to replace adleman.

    It is an embarrassment of pitching talent, not to mention Jackson Stephens, Keury Mella and Tyler Mahle. Let’s hope some develop into top 100 by the time the pitching logjam occurs and we can make some really nice pickups by trade.

  7. big5ed

    Eh, I’m not too big on service-time manipulation. For one, it would and should tee off Amir Garrett immensely. Every dollar the Reds save is a dollar that Garrett doesn’t make, and he will certainly learn the cold, hard facts of life–don’t trust the Reds’ management–from this lesson. If he keeps throwing the way he has, the Reds ought to lose a grievance if they hold him back, because service time manipulation would be 100% of the reason the Reds would do it.

    And what exactly does the manipulation achieve? It gives the Reds “control” of Garrett’s age 31 season, or 2023, meaning that he would not go free-agent after 2022, but would be subject to arbitration for 2023. If Garrett is very good or better, the Reds will in any event have the opportunity long before 2022 to extend him. If he is pretty good, then he will go to arbitration and get market value, so the only thing the Reds achieve is paying market value for a pitcher in 2023. If he gets hurt or doesn’t pan out, 2023 doesn’t matter.

    Risking alienation of your best prospect for a potential few bucks in 2023 seems counter-productive to me. As for Kris Bryant and Mike Trout (the Angels did the same with him), well, they are getting big, big, big money anyway, so the manipulation did no real good for the Cubs or Angels. In fact, it may well have cost the Angels a chance to compete that year.

    Don’t overthink the situation. If Garrett’s ready, pitch him.

    They could justify on baseball grounds giving Romano a couple of starts in AAA before bringing him up. Romano is a year younger, and has never thrown in AAA, plus the Reds could plausibly believe that it is hard to evaluate young pitchers in the desert air.

    • big5ed

      Bryant filed a grievance, and as of November, the last I could find, it was still pending. But unless he falls over dead, Bryant is going to get an enormous deal with the Cubs long before his free agent year. Who knows where the grievance stands; one plausible guess is that the Cubs and Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, have agreed to table the issue while they talk contract extension.

      Boras certainly thought there was more than a “zero chance” to win the grievance, given that it is completely, entirely obvious what was going on. The very topic of this discussion is how the Reds can lie/spin/BS to give themselves some plausible deniability. Now, if Garrett has a couple of mediocre outings between now and then, they would be justified in not breaking camp with him. But my premise was that he kept pitching very well.

      OK, “manipulation” gives the Reds “30 extra starts” in 2023. It doesn’t give them 30 extra cheap starts; the Reds will have to pay him for it, at a market or near-market rate set by arbitration or by agreement in the face of arbitration. To me, that is pretty much a bottle of bourbon in futuro, not some cleverness to be gloating and scheming about. You are right that Garrett’s age will cause him to want to hit free agency sooner rather than later, but that is another reason while he will resent the Reds if they pull this stunt when–IF– he clearly deserves to make the team.

      I think it is bad business to chisel your employees. It will bite you in the long run.

      • Chuck Schick

        In a normal business, chiseling your employees is really stupid. However, Amir Garrett plays for the Reds for 6 years or he doesn’t play. He can’t go play for the baseball team across the street. The Reds could bend over backwards to make his experience as wonderful as possible and there is still a 90%+
        chance that he would leave for the highest bidder.

        Great players begin their careers dramatically underpaid and usually end their careers dramatically overpaid.

  8. Steve

    No brainer. Keep those guys in Louisville for the 10-14 days. That would only be missing a start or two for pitchers. For Winker, the Reds want to see Duvall and Schebler play full time to see what they can do, so playing full time in Louisville to start the season is logical.

  9. Grover

    If a pitcher is ready to pitch in the majors I think you have to pitch him. Health is such a crap shoot that if they are healthy and ready you have to make those innings count because every pitch could be their last.

  10. Steve

    As it stands today, I’d go with Finnegan, Feldman, Reed, Stephenson and Adleman. Astin, Wood, Luetge, Cingrani, Storen, Iglesias and Lorenzen in the bullpen. Disco on 60 day DL and Ogando DFAd. One spot goes to Luetge, one goes to Iribarren. Garrett, Davis and Romano all make a couple of starts in Louisville ready to join the Reds in 10-14 days. Bonilla and Stephens complete Louisville starting staff at the beginning of the season. Ideally, Garrett goes up, Adleman to the bullpen and Astin down to Louisville or Adleman down to Louisville if Astin pitching well. Romano and Davis ready to replace anyone struggling if they are pitching well in Louisville. Bench of Barnhart, Turner, Walker, Alcantara and Iribarren to start the season. The reason is to not expose any players to waivers at the beginning of the season. Turner looks to be a keeper and Mes can PH and DH in interleague games when not catching. Renda and Kivlehan more deserving of a bench spot than Walker and Alcantara at this point, but might lose them if they’re placed on waivers. Please no Jennings, Raburn or Arroyo. Use that money instead to aggressively pursue Luis Robert.

  11. Andy

    How about this for a new CBO that makes more sense? MLB teams now get 7 years of control, with arbitration starting in year 5. In return, it become MUCH easier to qualify for a year of service time or early arbitration. Let’s say, you earn a year of service time by appearing on 25man roster for ~20 games. For early arbitration, I’d say 60 starts or 80 total on-field appearances for position players, or 10 starts/40 appearances for pitchers; the catch is you could earn the early arbitration by hitting the benchmark in any of the first 3 seasons. I’m trying to make sure that players that earn a starting or regular rotation time spot get the early arb.

    • Chuck Schick

      The current CBA is actually pretty reasonable and benefits both sides. Teams spend tens of millions each year to develop players. Most players never produce anything at the MLB level so teams need to be able to recoup their investment by maintaining control of a player’s services for a given number of years.

      Arbitration incentivizes teams to pay more now to save later. When a player reaches UFA, the system is set up so a very limited number of quality players are on the market at a given time….this scarcity enables salaries to explode. Teams are able to recoup their investment in players during the first 6 years and players are able to be in full control afterwards. Both sides benefit.

    • Andy

      I was actually thinking it would be the owners more likely to balk. Right now, they get 6.9 years, assuming they sit a player the first 10 days. They also have incentive to sit young star level players even longer, to avoid the “super 2” extra year of arbitration. I want to call that “0.9” year what it really is, another full year of team control, and remove unfortunate financial incentives that keep high performers in minors for first few weeks of the year. In return, I’m trying to make “super 2” status much easier to qualify for, essentially anyone who becomes a starter or heavy rotation player in those first 3 minimum salary years. That 4th year of arb can lead to very high salaries, i’m thinking owners would balk that it sends too many extra dollars in players direction.

  12. kmartin

    Check out

    Price says he is considering (but not for the long run) Reed and Stephenson in the bullpen! So we could have Lorenzen, Reed, and Stephenson in the bullpen to start the season? I don’t see how that can be optimal in any way, short or long term. I don’t think I could handle seeing Reed pitch the sixth with the Reds down five after a bad outing by Scott Feldman.

    • kmartin

      The Cincinnati Reds Bullpen Selection Algorithm:

      Step 1: Identify the pitcher not currently in the bullpen with the best arm.

      Step 2: Send that pitcher to the bullpen.

      Step 3: If there are any bullpen vacancies left go to Step 1, else stop.

    • David

      I wish at last that the Front Office and the Field Manager would act as a cohesive whole. This has been going on since Dusty Baker was manager and Walt Jocketty was General Manager. This disagreement about player development is just stupid.

  13. SC Reds Fan


    Enjoy your writing but I wanted to make a point about Tony Clark, head of the MLBPA. You referred to him as a 1B running the MLBPA and intimated that he was not as smart as the lawyers who previously ran the MLBPA. Tony Clark was actually an Honors Graduate of San Diego State and is probably one of the smartest people to have ever played baseball. He is also very introspective, not confrontational, and thoughtful/measured in his responses to various issues that arise. So, yes, while possibly most 1B would not be qualified to run the MLBPA, I think you just made a blanket statement here without looking at the individual involved and judging him on his own merits.

    There are some players that are very smart outside of the game and Clark is certainly included on this list, along with others such as Curtis Granderson, Quinton McCracken, Scott Rolen, and Joey Votto.

    I do believe that eventually a salary cap (and floor) will be enacted/approved and a 43-45% floor should get the job done. Another thing, I think we may have reached the zenith on the escalation of Sports TV deals. Many networks are losing money and ESPN is especially losing a great deal of money and subscribers. Their parent Disney is going to cut quite of a bit of on-air “talent” over the next several months.

    I can foresee a reduction, maybe small at first, in TV deals moving forward and that eventually will cause salaries to level out at a lower Average Annual Salary compared to where the levels are now. After all, it’s just like the DOW-it can’t keep going up forever without a correction in prices/salaries.

    I know that both sides are smart enough to see what is happening in all of media (not just sports media) and I for one am thankful that an intelligent, thoughtful, and non-confrontational person such as Tony Clark is leading the way at MLBPA.

    I only wish that Rob Manfred had the same qualities. He may be highly intelligent but he also seems to have become more confrontational and dictatorial over the past year or so. He is becoming another Adam Silver and Roger Goodell and that is not a good thing.

    We need reasoned people looking to create common ground, not just in sports, but in all of society.

    One last thing-I am not related to Tony Clark and do not know/have never met him. I just have always liked him and appreciate his public persona and attitude about things. I can’t say the same thing about Rob Manfred. In fact, the only Commissioner I am a fan of at present is the NHL’s Gary Bettman.

    • SC Reds Fan

      Thanks for the reply. In actuality, that would make it 9 to 1 in favor of the players over the past 10 negotiations. The players needed to give a little and I think maybe Clark and his Executive Board may have realized this. The writing is on the wall for lower TV deals in the near future. Plus, I think it’s a good thing lawyers aren’t in charge, although he has 2 on his Executive Board. Lawyers tend to run things off a cliff eventually-just look at Congress (80% lawyers).

      I think a common-sense and non-confrontational approach is needed now more than ever and I believe Clark is the right man at the right time. And I haven’t heard anything about him being unpopular with his constituents or being in any danger of being voted out of his job.

      I am actually more concerned about Manfred and his confrontational attitude as seen most recently in his demanding manner regarding the rule charges he wants to install, most of which are clownish in nature and an affront to the tradition of the game.

      Great site, Doug, and love your minor league coverage. I actually read that first over anything related to the major league team.

      • SC Reds Fan

        Thanks, Doug. One other quick question-the AA stadium in Pensacola looks like quite a place. Just wondering if you’ve been there and what your opinion of it is?