The Cincinnati Reds rotation, as it stands right now, isn’t complete for the 2021 season. Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Wade Miley will all be returning. Tyler Mahle, Tejay Antone, and Michael Lorenzen could also be options to fill out the final two spots in the rotation for the Reds if they can’t find what they feel would be an upgrade.
With that said, replacing what Trevor Bauer brought to the rotation in 2020 is going to likely be impossible. Expecting anyone to replicate his performance over a full season is just unrealistic. But, looking to bring in a pitcher who could help fill the role of stopper (along with the guys they already have that could certainly help fill that role), isn’t. Unless, of course, we start thinking about the price to do such a thing.
When it comes to the free agent starting pitching market, Trevor Bauer is at the top of the list. The pitcher we all hope is about to become the first Cy Young Award winner in Reds history is hitting the market at a bad time for himself when it comes to money, probably, but he’s still going to get paid in a big way compared to the rest of the pitchers out there.
Depending on where you look, you’re going to see different contract expectations for Bauer. Craig Edwards of Fangraphs is predicting a 4-year and $90,000,000 deal. Jim Bowden of The Athletic has Bauer going with 1-year and $32,500,000 or 5-years and $135M. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel has Bauer signing a 1-year deal for $31,000,000. The MLB Trade Rumors crew is predicting a 4-year and $128,000,000 deal.
While the Reds would clearly love to get Trevor Bauer to return to Cincinnati, it’s tough to see the team spending that kind of money to make it happen. It’s just not something that they’ve ever really done in the past, and given what happened in 2020 and how teams are reacting to the financial changes that came because of it, it’s an even tougher sell.
The next starter on the list could be Marcus Stroman. Could being a key word there as he was offered a qualifying offer by the New York Mets after sitting out the 2020 season. In 2019 he posted a 3.22 ERA in 184.1 innings, splitting his season between Toronto (2.96 ERA) and New York (3.77 ERA). He’s not exactly the type of pitcher that is all the new rage these days – he’s a huge ground ball pitcher, with a 57% ground ball rate for his career. But there’s more than one way to get the job done, and by-and-large, Stroman has gotten the job done throughout his career. At 29-years-old, he’ll be a lot more affordable according to the predictions, with the range falling between 2-years and $26,000,000 and 3-years and $51,000,000.
Along the same contract lines as with Stroman, you get into Kevin Gausman and Masahiro Tanaka. Gausman, the former Red, was given a qualifying offer. That may mean he could not even reach free agency if he chooses to accept the offer. If he does get into the market, he’s being predicted to get somewhere between 2-years and $28,000,000 and 3-years and $48,000,000.
For Gausman, he’s coming off of a good 2020 season where he made 10 starts and two relief appearances, throwing 59.2 innings with a 3.62 ERA and 1.10 WHIP to go along with 79 strikeouts and 16 walks. The Reds are familiar with him, and he’s familiar with the Reds after making 15 appearances for them in 2019. What he showed with Cincinnati as a reliever seemed to carry over into a starters role in 2020 as he established himself – granted in a smaller than normal sample size – as one of the better starters in the league.
Masahiro Tanaka is being predicted to get anywhere from 2-years and $30,000,000 to 3-years and $45,000,000. The recently turned 32-year-old walked next to no one, with a career walk rate of just 1.8 walks per 9-innings pitched over his big league career. In 2020 he posted a 3.56 ERA with the Yankees in his 10 starts that spanned 48.0 innings. He’s had a bit of a back-and-forth stretch over the last four seasons, with his ERA’s being 4.73, 3.75, 4.45, and then 3.56 after a strong start to his Yankees career.
Tanaka may be the last of the group of starting pitchers that is looking at a multi-year deal from teams. Charlie Morton could probably land one if he were looking for one, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Of course, there’s a chance that he may just retire – though the Rays, who decline his $15,000,000 option following the season, are hoping to re-sign him at a lesser price. He made just nine starts in 2020 and threw 38.0 innings with a 4.74 ERA while allowing just four homers, walking 10 batters, and picking up 42 strikeouts. He pitched in the playoffs for Tampa Bay, throwing 20.0 more innings with five walks and 23 strikeouts to go with a 2.70 ERA over that stretch.
The 2020 season wasn’t what Jake Odorizzi was hoping for as he pitched just 13.2 innings while battling a chest injury and a blister as he came off of an All-Star season in 2019 with the Twins where he posted a 3.51 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 159.0 innings. There’s some upside to a deal here as he may be looking to rebuild some value after a forgettable 2020 season.
The “others” in the market that could be interesting pick ups could include Taijuan Walker, who has always had the stuff but hasn’t quite put it all together in his career, Garrett Richards who could compete for a spot in the rotation or work in a bullpen role similar to what we saw from Tejay Antone or Michael Lorenzen at times during 2020, or a guy like Corey Kluber who may have to take a lower guaranteed deal with plenty of incentives given that he’s barely pitched over the last two seasons due to injury.
Cincinnati may very well decide that they can stick with things internally and find five guys to start the year with and have a little bit of depth with whoever loses out on that final spot between Mahle, Lorenzen, and Antone, and then have some depth in the minors with guys like Nick Lodolo, Tony Santillan, Vladimir Gutierrez, and maybe in the second half, Hunter Greene if things go right.
They could also decide that with what they did in 2020 that it could make a lot more sense to add another quality starter to the fold and push someone else to the bullpen and just strengthen the pitching all around to provide both depth in the rotation and bullpen. The prices could be right for that kind of maneuver this offseason more so than in the past.