Per FanGraphs measurements, Reds starters have provided negative value to the team in 2018. If that shocks you, then A) you’re living a more well-balanced life than myself and B) unfortunately that bummer of a stat is indicative of a multi-year trend. Since the start of the 2016 season (and through Monday’s games), Reds starters have accumulated 4.8 Wins Above Replacement. The 29th-place team on that list is the Padres (14.7 WAR), so over a nearly 400-game sample size, Reds starters haven’t achieved half the value of the second-worst collection of starters in baseball. Face, meet palm.
Since the Reds are on track for a franchise-worst 106 losses, logic dictates that they have no choice but to ride out the struggles of their still-promising young starters, particularly Luis Castillo (age 25) and Tyler Mahle (23). But it’s safe to assume that the decision-makers at 100 Joe Nuxhall Way would, ya know, like to win more than they lose in a single season in the near future—perhaps as soon as 2019. If this club is intent on chasing respectability (forget the playoffs for now), then the much-maligned front office must look outside for starting pitching assistance. The most prudent course of action would be a trade, whether that be leading up to the July 31 trade deadline or in the offseason.
I can’t fathom a scenario in which the Reds part with infielder Nick Senzel or pitcher Hunter Greene, the No. 2 overall picks in the 2016 and 2017 drafts. In MLB.com’s ranking of baseball’s top 100 prospects, Senzel is No. 5 and Greene is No. 19. I have to think that High-A outfielder Taylor Trammell (No. 36 in MLB.com’s rankings), High-A starter Tony Santillan, and Double-A second baseman Shed Long—who rank third, fourth and fifth behind Senzel and Greene on MLB.com’s ranking of the Reds’ top 30 prospects—are available for the right price.
The same could be said for a pair of former top-100 prospects: Mahle and 24-year-old outfielder Jesse Winker, an on-base machine with defensive concerns. Also likely available: Dilson Herrera, the 24-year-old Triple-A infielder who’s finally healthy nearly two years after he was the main piece in the Jay Bruce trade. Herrera, who made it to the big leagues with the Mets when he was 21, is slashing .306/.370/.463. His balky throwing shoulder appears healthy, too; the second baseman has added third base to his fielding repertoire in 2018.
Without further ado, let’s construct some fake trades…
The “Rebuild Is Over!” Options: Mets RHPs Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, Rays LHP Blake Snell
When the Red Sox obtained Chris Sale from the White Sox in December 2016, Sale was (and still is) one of the game’s premier pitchers _and he had three years of affordable team control remaining. So, in terms of prospect currency, the Red Sox paid a steep price: Yoan Moncada (baseball’s top prospect), Michael Kopech (a top-100 prospect), and two more prospects, one of whom was regarded as top-10 in Boston’s organization.
Syndergaard (under team control through 2021) and deGrom (team control through 2020) would require similar hauls to appease the Mets, whose playoff chances are slipping away in 2018 but possess the financial clout to reload for 2019. The floundering Rays have no real reason to ship out Snell, a 25-year-old lefty (2.30 ERA, 89 strikeouts in 82.1 innings pitched) who isn’t a free agent until after the 2022 season.
Again, there is no indication that Syndergaard, deGrom or Snell are available. But let’s not confuse “not for sale” with “we’re not even listening.” If Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams calls with a Godfather Offer, the Mets and Rays would have to listen. Acquiring Syndergaard, deGrom, or Snell would tilt the axis of the Rebuild to Respectability.
The Package: Mahle, Trammell, Herrera, Low-A outfielder Stuart Fairchild (Reds No. 10 prospect).
The “Realistic, But Still Expensive” Options: Blue Jays RHP Marcus Stroman, Rays RHP Chris Archer
Stroman had a 7.71 ERA on the year before hitting the disabled list with a right shoulder fatigue. The right-hander is nearing a return to action, and his stock may never be lower given his solid career ERA (3.87) pitching in the AL East. He’s under team control via arbitration through 2020, though Toronto could move him now and look to reset its roster with the Red Sox and Yankees re-establishing themselves as the dominant forces in the AL East.
Like Stroman, Archer pitches in the AL East and is working his way back from an injury, an unfamiliar scene for the 29-year-old; he’s cracked 200 innings in each of the past three years and threw 194.2 innings in 2014. Unlike Stroman, Archer is a strikeout machine (nearly 10 per nine innings for his career). Archer’s ERA has crept over four the last two seasons, though his peripheral numbers suggest he hasn’t regressed much, if at all. Archer is owed just under $17 million from 2019-20, with a team option for $11 million in 2021, so he’s extremely affordable.
A framework for this trade could resemble the Cubs’ acquisition last season of Jose Quintana, an above-average innings-eater on a great contract. In exchange for 3.5 years of Quintana, the Cubs surrendered a top-10 MLB prospect, a top-100 prospect, and two throw-ins. Stroman and Archer aren’t aces, but their impact could mirror that of Mat Latos, who was excellent (3.32 ERA, 7.9 WAR) for the 2012-13 Reds before he was starting independent league brawls.
The Package: Trammell, Santillan, Low-A SS/2B Jeter Downs (Reds No. 6 prospect), Triple-A reliever Tanner Rainey (Reds No. 26 prospect).
The “Would Help, But Meh” Option: Tigers RHP Michael Fulmer
Michael Fulmer has the pedigree, debuting at age 23 and an All-Star appearance under his belt. He’s under team control through 2022, and his career ERA is 3.62. What’s not to like? Since 2016, Fulmer’s strikeout rate ranks 72nd out of 96 qualified starters, and he’s yet to crack 164 innings as a professional.
The Package: Trammell, Reds starter Sal Romano, Downs.
Whether it’s at the All-Star break or in the offseason, the time is nigh for the Reds acquire an impact starter. The next step out of the rebuild has little solid footing without the Reds bolstering their rotation.