Cincinnati Reds Rumors

Cincinnati Reds trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Offseason Outlook: Cincinnati Reds

The Reds took a big step backward in their first season under manager Bryan Price, and they now face a number of worrisome contracts and an uncertain future.

Guaranteed Contracts

*The exact details of Iglesias’ seven-year, $27MM contract have not been reported, although it reportedly included a large signing bonus.

Options

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Free Agents

2014 was a disappointing season for the Reds, who followed a 2013 Wild Card appearance with a sub-.500 finish in a year marred by injuries to Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and others. Going forward, they’re in a tough spot, and looking at the list of salaries and arbitration cases above, it’s not hard to see why. The Reds are a veteran team. They’re not old, exactly, but many of their stars are reaching, or have reached, that nexus where the Reds have to pay them what they’re worth, or even more than that.

It may be painful for the Reds to decisively address their payroll issue. They owe Votto, Phillips, Bruce and Bailey a total of about $48MM in 2015. In 2016, that number jumps to about $65MM, an enormous figure for a team that has never had an Opening Day payroll over $115MM.

So what can the Reds do? With the guaranteed salaries they already have in place for next season, and the raises they’ll have to pay key arbitration-eligible players like Aroldis Chapman and Mike Leake, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be serious bidders for top free agents.

They could make a few minor tweaks, hope for healthier and more productive seasons from their core players, and take one more run at contention. Beyond 2015, though, the Reds’ future becomes murkier, since Cueto, Latos, Leake and Alfredo Simon are all eligible for free agency. The Reds have a fairly good crop of starting pitching prospects led by a very strong one in Robert Stephenson, but replacing all their departing talent will be tough. It’s difficult, then, to see them fielding a competitive team in 2016 without getting very creative or lucky.

Another possible route for them this winter, therefore, might be to get a head start on their tricky 2016 season by trading Cueto for youth. Cueto’s $10MM option is a bargain in 2015, and he ought to be able to fetch a terrific return as a much cheaper and lower-risk alternative to Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields. Dealing Cueto for, say, an outfielder and two pitching prospects would allow the Reds to head into 2016 with those prospects supplementing a new-look rotation centered around Stephenson, Bailey, Raisel Iglesias, Tony Cingrani and perhaps one of Latos, Leake and Simon. Judging from the recent returns for pitchers like Jeff Samardzija (who had a year and a half of control before free agency but is a lesser pitcher) and R.A. Dickey (who had a year remaining before free agency and fetched two top prospects), a year of Cueto at a team-friendly salary could return two top-50 prospects or talented young big-leaguers. Another possibility, as ESPN’s Buster Olney suggests (Insider-only), is for the Reds to trade Cueto along with someone like Phillips to give their payroll some breathing room for the next few seasons.

The Reds could consider trades involving other starters as well, and MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently explored those possibilities. Bailey, who finished the year on the disabled list and has five years remaining on his contract, almost surely will not be traded. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal recently cited Latos as the Reds pitcher most likely to be dealt, although that’s probably much less likely now than it was in August, since Latos missed most of September with an elbow injury. His diminished velocity in 2014 will likely also be an obstacle. Trading Simon, who’s coming off a very strong 2014 season, might provide the Reds with good return value, although it would only do so much to save them money. Dealing Leake, who projects to make $9.5MM in 2014 and doesn’t have a worrisome injury history, might make the most sense.

The Reds already began shedding salary for 2015 when they traded Jonathan Broxton to the Brewers in August, but it’s hard to get a read on their level of interest in more radical moves. GM Walt Jocketty (whose contract the Reds recently extended) told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that he still sees his team as a potentially competitive one. “This year is disappointing because of the injuries,” he said. “From the very beginning, we had 11 DL guys and eight were key. … I feel we still have a small window if the guys come back healthy.” While the Reds will keep Jocketty, though, they’re expected to make significant changes to their front office, so it’s hard to say whether Jocketty’s outlook might be swayed by whoever else the Reds end up hiring.

The Reds’ core of position players is mostly set for 2015, if only because most of their starters are either cost effective or difficult to move. The Reds were the worst offensive team in baseball in the second half of the season, hitting a paltry .221/.277/.326 since the All-Star break, with Billy Hamilton, Ryan Ludwick, Bruce, Phillips, Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena all struggling. Hamilton, Bruce and Phillips appear likely to return, however. Hamilton provides most of his value in the field and on the bases, and the Reds probably have little choice but to either stick with Bruce and Phillips or trade them for meager returns.

The Reds are also set at catcher (with Devin Mesoraco posting a breakout season, and Pena signed through 2015), first base (where Votto’s contract will likely be impossible to move) and third base (where Todd Frazier quietly had a terrific year). That leaves shortstop and left field. Shortstop Zack Cozart is an awful hitter, but he provides plenty of value in the field, and he ended up with 1.4 fWAR in 2014 despite a .223/.269/.302 line. It might be possible for the Reds to upgrade at the position, perhaps with someone like Jed Lowrie. But given Cozart’s .256 BABIP this season, it would also be defensible if they hoped for a modest offensive rebound and kept him at shortstop in 2015, particularly given that the free agent market doesn’t have much to offer and Cozart should be fairly cheap in his first season of arbitration eligibility.

In left field, Ryan Ludwick has struggled through his two-year contract, and the Reds probably ought to pass on their end of his $9MM mutual option, even given the steep $4.5MM buyout cost. Chris Heisey can be an effective bench piece, but he probably shouldn’t be considered a starter. The Reds could also move Frazier to left field and pursue a free agent third baseman like Aramis Ramirez, although such a strategy seems like a waste of Frazier’s good glove. The Reds will probably be fairly limited in their ability to sign a left fielder as a free agent, and top outfield prospects Jesse Winker and Phil Ervin are each at least a year away, so the Reds’ best path might be to acquire an outfielder if they trade one of their starting pitchers. A deal with a team like the Red Sox, who have plenty of outfielders and are in need of good starting pitching, might make sense, and someone like Daniel Nava might be a good target as part of a larger deal.

With Heisey, Pena and Kristopher Negron, the Reds have the beginnings of a reasonable bench. They’ll likely decline their option on Jack Hannahan, who didn’t play much in 2014 and didn’t hit at all when he did. But upgrading the bench likely won’t be a big priority for the Reds, particularly given that they already have the light-hitting Schumaker to fill one of the remaining spots.

Other than the extraordinary Chapman, the 2014 bullpen was not a strength, and it became weaker when the Reds shipped Broxton to Milwaukee. The Broxton trade suggests, however, that the Reds understand that when there’s a budget crunch, highly paid relievers ought to be the first luxury item to go. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if they didn’t spend much on bullpen help this offseason, instead sifting through arms they already control, like Manny Parra, J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Curtis Partch, Jumbo Diaz, Pedro Villareal, Carlos Contreras, and Sean Marshall (who will be returning from a shoulder injury). Iglesias might be another possibility. Logan Ondrusek, who had a poor season in 2014, is a non-tender candidate.

One outside-the-box idea might be for the Reds to trade Chapman. He’s so good that it would be difficult to get fair value for him, but it’s worth considering, since he’s only under team control through 2016, and he won’t be cheap by then. The Reds might be able to get a couple potential regulars in return for Chapman, which would dramatically improve them as they build for 2016 and beyond. There haven’t been many rumors yet about a potential Chapman trade, and perhaps there won’t be. But if the Reds make any surprising moves, that’s the kind they’ll likely make, with the big names on the way out of town rather than on the way in.


NL Central Links: Cubs, Marshall, Cueto, Lara

The Cubs announced their finalized coaching staff for the 2015 season today, which included a pair of new additions: hitting coach John Mallee and first base/outfield coach Doug Dascenzo. Mallee spent the 2010-11 seasons as the Marlins’ hitting coach and the 2013-14 seasons as the hitting coach for the Astros. He also spent eight seasons with the Marlins as a minor league hitting instructor and brings to the table 19 overall years of pro baseball experience. Dascenzo spent the 2014 season as Atlanta’s third base coach and has previously spent 13 seasons in the Padres’ minor league system as a manager or coach. The rest of the coaching staff will return, though first base coach Eric Hinske will shift from first base coach to assistant hitting coach.

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • Reds lefty Sean Marshall tells MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that he’s progressing well in his rehab from June shoulder surgery. While he still has some range of motion work to do, Marshall says that he feels like he “has a whole new shoulder” and is aiming a return in Spring Training of next year. The 32-year-old has been limited to just 31 appearances over the past two seasons and is entering the final season of a three-year, $16.5MM contract.
  • In a second piece, Sheldon also spoke with Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto, who has a $10MM club option this offseason that the team is a lock to exercise. Cueto said that despite the small nature of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, he enjoys pitching there and wants to remain with the Reds. As manager Bryan Price noted to Sheldon, however, it’s unlikely that the team can afford to retain Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon, all of whom are free agents following the 2015 season. As Sheldon points out, Cueto is by far the most attractive trade chip of the bunch, and the Reds may not be able to afford his price tag if they look to go the extension route. They could, of course, also take another shot at contending next season and either trade Cueto in July if they fall out of the race or make a qualifying offer at season’s end if they do contend.
  • Top international prospect Gilbert Lara, signed by the Brewers for a $3.2MM bonus this summer, has selected Len Strelitz and Nick Chanock of the Wasserman Media Group as his agents, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter).

NL Central Links: Mueller, Frazier, Mesoraco, Bucs, Cards

Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller has resigned after one year on the job, ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers reported yesterday (via Twitter). Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com tweets that the Cubs have confirmed Mueller’s decision and added that he resigned after learning that assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley was reassigned by the team. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford speculates (Twitter link) that the Red Sox might have interest in adding Mueller to their coaching staff. For those who would have some fun and speculate, Rogers also tweets that Manny Ramirez is not a candidate to become the club’s new hitting coach, as he’s yet to even officially retire as a player.

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that too much focus is being placed on what the Reds should do with their quartet of starters that are free agents following the 2015 season, and not enough is being placed on the fact that the team should try to extend breakout stars Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco. While the future of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon is indeed a big part of the Reds’ offseason, Fay notes that the team can position itself for sustained success by controlling the salaries of Frazier and Mesoraco and keeping them in place beyond their arbitration seasons.
  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington tells Karen Price of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he expects his entire coaching staff back in 2015, unless one of them unexpectedly departs. Price notes how much the offense improved under first-year hitting coach Jeff Branson and first-year assistant hitting coach Jeff Livesey. She also points out that pitching coach Ray Searage and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas also played a key role, helping to facilitate the turnarounds of Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley.
  • The Cardinals view the draft as “a mechanism to save money,” scouting director Dan Kantrovitz tells David Laurila of Fangraphs in a fascinating interview. Whether it’s landing a solid starter or a future bench piece, the draft can open flexibility down the line, says Kantrovitz, who explains that savings from drafted players represents “money that our GM can allocate to another area, or a more abundant, cheaper position.” Kantrovitz says that the team is focused on adapting and finding value, rather than “stick[ing] to a rigid strategy that is not data-driven.” Ultimately, the team takes all the information it can acquire, then attempts to combine them and apply discount rates to reach a present value for the amateurs under consideration. There’s plenty more to glean from this interview, and you’ll want to give it a full read.


Quick Hits: Reds, Martinez, Street, Blue Jays

The Tigers and Athletics made noise at the trade deadline when they acquired David Price and Jon Lester, respectively, but now they have little to show for it, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale writes. Instead, some of the most effective moves have been the quieter ones, like the Orioles acquiring dominant lefty reliever Andrew Miller or the Giants dealing for Jake Peavy. Nightengale also notes that the Dodgers made the best move of the trading season by not dealing Matt Kemp, who hit like crazy down the stretch and so far in the postseason. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon can all become free agents after the 2015 season, putting the Reds in a tough spot, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. “As much as I think we’d like to be able to keep every single guy and pay them what they deserve, it’s impossible to do it here,” says manager Bryan Price. Rosecrans quotes Cueto, Latos and Leake all saying they would be happy staying in Cincinnati, but the Reds will have a tight budget, with plenty of money already committed to Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey.
  • Victor Martinez doesn’t have a monetary goal in mind when it comes to the contract he’ll sign as a free agent this offseason, but he does know how many years he’d like to receive, writes Anthony Castrovince of Sports On Earth. Martinez won’t say how many years that is, but he does say he doesn’t want to still be playing at 40. He’ll open next season at 36, which might indicate he’s looking for a four-year deal. Martinez is poised to cash in after an outstanding .335/.409/.565 season in Detroit, although Castrovince notes that Martinez’s market will be constrained somewhat because he’s a DH and because the Tigers will almost certainly extend him a qualifying offer.
  • Now with the Angels (who were just eliminated from the postseason by the Royals), Huston Street fondly remembers his time as the Padres‘ closer, writes Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune.  “When you leave someplace, you want to miss it as much as I miss San Diego, says Street. “Just because that means the time you spent there was meaningful. It was a time in my career that really set me on a very successful path.
  • Not retaining Casey Janssen will probably be the correct decision for the Blue Jays, Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star writes. Teams frequently change closers, as a look at playoff teams’ rosters indicates — the only playoff closer who has been in that position with his team for three years is Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers. Instead of worrying about a closer, Griffin argues, the Jays should address second base and the outfield.

Changes Coming To Reds’ Front Office

The Reds are prepared to “undergo an overhaul” to their front office, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reports (Twitter link).  Several changes are coming to the organization, the first of which is vice president and assistant GM Bob Miller leaving the team.

Miller’s departure seems to be an amicable one, as FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweets that Miller is leaving to start his own business.  Miller, who has been working in baseball for over 30 years, originally joined the Reds in 2006 as the director of baseball administration and was promoted to VP and assistant GM later in the year.

Whatever changes are coming to Cincinnati’s front office, they won’t involve the man in charge, Walt Jocketty.  The general manager just signed a two-year extension to continue running the club through the 2016 season.


Reds Extend GM Walt Jocketty

SATURDAY: The deal is now official, Sheldon tweets. It’s a two-year extension through 2016.

FRIDAY: The Reds have agreed to a contract extension with GM Walt Jocketty for multiple years, Jocketty tells reporters including MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon (Twitter link). As John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported yesterday, both Jocketty and manager Bryan Price were expected to be retained, though the front office man was working on an expiring contract.

Despite a rough 2014 season, the Reds have generally flourished since Jocketty took the reins early in the 2008 season. Under his watch, Cincinnati has compiled three 90-win campaigns and two division titles. The club has, however, yet to win a playoff series in that stretch.

More importantly, several of the long-term commitments made under Jocketty are beginning to look questionable. The remaining portion of the contracts of first baseman Joey Votto (nine years, $213MM), second baseman Brandon Phillips (three years, $39MM), and starter Homer Bailey (five years, $96MM) all seem problematic looking forward, for various reasons (including injury and performance issues).

Jocketty does have plenty of pieces to work with in re-establishing an upward trajectory, but also faces plenty of challenges. Cincinnati entered last year with a team-record $114MM payroll, and already has $71MM committed to just ten players in 2015 — before accounting for Johnny Cueto‘s $10MM option, obligations to Raisel Iglesias, and some pretty significant arbitration raises. As MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently explained, given the possibility of increasing payroll constraints, Jocketty may need to deal from the team’s set of solid rotation pieces who have only one more year of control.


NL Central Notes: Tomas, Martin, Jackson, Reds

The Pirates had scouts in attendance at Yasmany Tomas‘ weekend showcase, writes MLB.com’s Tom Singer, but GM Neal Huntington didn’t sound overly optimistic about the team’s chances. “We like the player,” Huntington told Singer. “We will participate in the process. As it has with most Cuban players, the market may take it above a place where we feel comfortable.”

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes that while Pirates owner Bob Nutting is the one who ultimately determines payroll, Huntington is the one who distributes the funds. And while Huntington doesn’t like the idea of allocating more than 18 percent of a team’s payroll to one player, Sawchik opines that Russell Martin is the rare case in which an exemption should be made. He notes that it’s unlikely for teams to go beyond four years for Martin, and they’re also unlikely to go as high as Brian McCann‘s $17MM average annual value. The Pirates can get by offering Martin something close to $60MM over four years, Sawchik writes, and given the lack of alternative options, he feels they’d be wise to do so.
  • It’s best for both the Cubs and Edwin Jackson if Chicago can orchestrate a change of scenery for the beleaguered right-hander next season, writes Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. Jackson, owed $22MM from 2015-16, has been a good citizen through his significant struggles in Chicago and remains positive, but both sides need to move on from a bad situation, Rogers continues. The Cubs’s best chance at moving Jackson is likely to swap him for another bad contract or to pay a large portion of his remaining salary, though as Rogers notes, it may be best to move on “no matter how they get rid of him.”
  • While many Reds fans are convinced that the team needs to add a power bat to play left field, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that the team should instead prioritize on-base percentage in a left field upgrade. Cincinnati’s team OBP dropped from .327 in 2013 to .298 in 2014. Shin-Soo Choo, who reached base 300 times last year, was replaced by Billy Hamilton, who is on pace to reach 184 times. Joey Votto, who reached 316 times in 2013, spent most of this season on the DL, and the team’s No. 3 hitters have combined to reach just 206 times as a result. Pointing to the team’s struggles in one-run games (22-38), Fay notes how important a healthy Votto and an OBP-focused left fielder could be to the team.

Trade Candidate(s): The Reds’ Starting Pitchers

The Reds’ hopes of challenging in the NL Central were dimmed by several major injuries this year, and this visit from the injury bug was particularly damaging to a team who already faced some big decisions in the offseason.  With just over $71MM committed to 10 players on the 2015 payroll, the mid-market Reds may be forced to save some money by moving a starting pitcher.  Though Cincinnati’s durable and deep rotation has been a big part of the club’s success in recent years, pitching seems like a natural area for payroll reduction simply due to the fact that three starters will enter their third year of arbitration eligibility.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Baltimore OriolesTwo pitchers who won’t be dealt are Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani.  The Reds have already committed to Bailey in the form of a six-year, $105MM extension, and wouldn’t have been likely to move him even if Bailey hadn’t recently undergone forearm surgery.  Cingrani has also had injury problems, spending most of 2014 on the DL with shoulder problems.  Had Cingrani been able to build off of his impressive 2013 rookie season, the Reds would’ve felt at least a bit better about trading one of their more established starters (Bronson Arroyo wasn’t re-signed last winter in part because the Reds were comfortable with Cingrani).

It’s possible Cincinnati could trade multiple starters, though I’d suspect that the team wouldn’t want to lose too much pitching depth until they know Bailey and Cingrani are fully healthy.  The Reds would probably rather not have David Holmberg or Dylan Axelrod as full-time rotation members next year, top prospect Robert Stephenson still needs some seasoning (a 4.74 ERA in 136 2/3 IP at Double-A in 2014) and the newly-signed Raisel Iglesias could still wind up in the bullpen.

The Reds’ other four pitchers are all controlled only through 2015, so the team likely wouldn’t score a truly huge return in a trade but all carry value even as one-year pitchers.  The candidates…

Johnny Cueto: The Reds have a $10MM option on Cueto for 2015 that is sure to be exercised given how well Cueto has pitched.  After an injury-shorted 2013, Cueto bounced back in a major way by posting a 2.15 ERA, 8.9 K/9 and 3.73 K/BB rate over a league-leading 222 innings.

Cueto’s next contract will be in the nine-figure range, and it’s unclear if the Reds would be willing ink another major extension given how much money has been tied up in recent deals with Bailey, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips.  Cueto would net the biggest return in a trade, though moving their ace would seem to hint that the Reds are punting on 2015, which I doubt they’re prepared to do.  On the other hand, the Reds could trade Cueto for Major League parts (such what the Rays and Red Sox received for David Price, John Lackey and Jon Lester before last July’s trade deadline) and use a Cueto deal to reload rather than rebuild.

Keeping Cueto would give the Reds stability at the top of their rotation, and they could still explore dealing Cueto at next year’s trade deadline if they fall out of the race.  If they’re contending and wanted to keep Cueto, Cincinnati could then get a compensatory draft pick via the qualifying offer if he leaves in free agency after the 2015 season.

In a recent Insider-only piece, ESPN’s Buster Olney recently explored Cueto’s trade market and raised the possibility that the Reds could clear some payroll space by attaching Phillips, for example, to Cueto in a trade package.  With several notable starters available as free agents this winter, Olney believes some teams might prefer trading for a year of Cueto rather than making an expensive multiyear commitment for an ace on the open market.  Also, a contending team that potentially loses their ace in free agency (such as if Max Scherzer leaves the Tigers or James Shields leaves the Royals) could look to Cueto as a short-term replacement to keep their rotation strong for another run in 2015.

Mat Latos: Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently cited Latos as perhaps the likeliest of the Reds’ starters to be dealt, as both Latos and Cueto can make a case for commanding an extension larger than Bailey’s deal.  While Cueto is two years older than Latos, presumably the Reds would be more inclined to extend their homegrown product than they would Latos, who missed part of 2014 with an elbow injury.  Latos has a 3.25 ERA in 102 1/3 IP this year, though ERA indicators show that he hasn’t pitched quite that well (3.64 FIP, 4.00 xFIP, 4.08 SIERA) and both his ground ball and strikeout rates dropped significantly below his career averages.  The right-hander’s average fastball velocity also dropped to 90.7 mph, down from 92.5 mph in 2013.

The Reds already tested the market for Latos at the trade deadline, so I tend to agree with Rosenthal that if a Cincy starter is moved, it’ll probably be Latos.  His declined numbers could be explained by his elbow issues, and if fully healthy, Latos could be a standout front-of-the-rotation starter for several teams.  He earned $7.25MM in 2014 in the last year of a two-year extension, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration for a third and final time this winter.

Mike Leake: Another pitcher with a third arb year remaining, Leake will get a raise from his $5.925MM salary in 2014.  The right-hander has been a reliable rotation piece over his five Major League seasons, not missing many bats (career 6.1 K/9) but inducing a lot of grounders (49.8% ground ball rate) and eating a lot of innings, averaging 191 IP over the last three years.

Leake comes with the fewest question marks of any Cincinnati starter, lacking the injury histories of Cueto and Latos but also never pitching nearly as well as those two have at their peaks.  While Leake’s ceiling in the bigs may never surpass the “solid” level (he has an even 100 ERA+ over his career), this also means that the Reds could extend him at a much lower price than Cueto or Latos.  A Leake extension could look something like the five-year, $65MM deal the White Sox gave John Danks a few years ago, as Leake and Danks are decent comparables in terms of age and career numbers to that point in their careers, plus both had one arb year left before free agency.

The Reds put Leake and Latos on revocable waivers in August, possibly in a move to gauge trade interest for the upcoming offseason.  I’d guess there’s a better chance Leake stays in Cincinnati than goes, though the Reds will certainly get interest in the durable 26-year-old.

Alfredo Simon: The big surprise of the group, the 33-year-old Simon moved from the bullpen to the rotation as an injury fill-in and wound up making his first All-Star team.  Though his performance has very much come back to earth in the second half, Simon still has a 3.48 ERA through 178 1/3 innings on the season despite a middling 5.9 K/9.

Simon is arb-eligible for the third time this winter and he’ll earn a healthy raise over his $1.5MM salary, though the raise will hardly break the bank.  Simon’s age and career track record give him a very modest amount of trade value, so it’s likely he stays with the Reds and competes for the fifth starter’s job (or returns to the pen) if and when a rotation spot opens up via trade.

With this variety of available starters and a wide variance in asking prices for each of the four pitchers, many teams could fit as potential trade partners for the Reds under the “you can never have too much pitching” argument.  If the Reds look to deal a starter and fill an everyday lineup hole at the same time, they’ll likely target a left fielder or a shortstop as upgrades on Ryan Ludwick and Zack Cozart, respectively.  Ludwick has a $9MM mutual option for 2015 but after two negative fWAR seasons, the Reds might instead buy him out (for a deferred $4.5MM) and look for other options.

Using these needs to speculate about trade partners, the Cubs, Diamondbacks and possibly the Indians stand out as teams with a shortstop surplus.  The Red Sox have a glut of outfielders and are known to be looking for starting pitching.  The Dodgers could finally solve their long-standing logjam in the outfield and, if it meant getting back Cueto or Latos, would be willing to eat a lot of salary on one of their high-priced outfield bats.

As Ken Rosenthal noted (video link), the Reds could employ some gamesmanship with their starters and perhaps leverage them against each other in figuring out which (if any) pitchers they want to sign over the long term.  Between these negotiations and waiting for the free agent pitching market to play out, Cincinnati might wait until January or even February to move a starter.  At this point, the only thing that seems certain about the Reds’ 2015 rotation is that at least one of Cueto, Latos, Leake or Simon won’t be on the roster come Opening Day.

Photo courtesy of Joy R. Absalon/USA Today Sports Images


Quick Hits: Reaction Time, Schafer, Morse, Iglesias

Several MLB clubs have dabbled with neurological training in a bid to improve their hitters’ pitch recognition, as Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal writes. The Red Sox, Cubs, and Rays have already initiated programs, but more could be on the way. As Boston GM Ben Cherington explains, the purpose of taking this approach is to help young batters develop a stronger mental connection between seeing a pitch and deciding whether or not to swing. Quick reactions — physical and mental — are all the more important given rising fastball velocities around the league. One mark of that: at least 52 minor league hurlers have been clocked at or above 100 mph this year, according to the count of Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper.

Here are a few notes of interest from around the league:

  • Twins center fielder Jordan Schafer has had an up and down time since becoming a professional, as Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes. Most recently, he was claimed by Minnesota over the summer after he failed to live up to a solid 2013 campaign with the Braves. The speedy 28-year-old has put up excellent numbers in his new home: a .298/.365/.386 slash with 15 stolen bases over 131 plate appearances. He will be eligible for arbitration for the second time after the year.
  • As the Giants welcome back Michael Morse from injury, other developments could limit his playing time over the last few weeks of the regular season and the playoffs to come, as Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com reports. With Brandon Belt returning to the fold and Gregor Blanco having performed well in Morse’s stead, a regular spot may no longer be available. Though Morse rebounded from a mid-year swoon with a strong August, his defensive shortcomings have become more of an issue, according to Baggarly. Morse remains a difficult player to peg as a pending free agent: the 32-year-old has a productive .280/.338/.477 line with 16 home runs over 480 plate appearances, but defensive metrics paint a rough image of his contribution in the field.
  • The Reds are still contemplating whether Cuban free agent signee Raisel Iglesias will take the mound competitively over the winter in Puerto Rico, reports MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon. Iglesias, a 24-year-old righty, has been working on strength and conditioning since inking a seven-year, $27MM deal with Cincinnati, and only just began long-tossing. He is under reserve with the Santurce Cangrejeros, and would throw for that club if he does play winter ball.

NL Central Links: Cueto, Arrieta, Zarraga, Brewers

In Thursday’s edition of his Insider-only blog, ESPN’s Buster Olney opines that the Reds should give serious thought to trading ace Johnny Cueto this offseason. Cueto has a no-brainer $10MM club option for 2015, making him a highly affordable and elite talent — an appealing alternative to clubs in win-now mode that don’t want to commit long-term dollars to Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields. The Reds will see Cueto, Mat Latos and Mike Leake hit free agency following the 2015 season, with Aroldis Chapman set to do the same the following year. Those losses, coupled with the rising salary of Joey Votto, give the Reds incentive to create some flexibility and add prospect depth. Olney wonders if the Reds could look to pair Cueto with Brandon Phillips in an effort to free themselves of the $36MM remaining on the second baseman’s deal. Of course, even if a team were to take on Phillips, they’d still likely need to surrender notable prospect value.

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan looks at Jake Arrieta‘s breakout season through a historical lens, noting that he has the sixth-largest season-to-season K-BB% improvement since 1920 (min. 75 IP each season) and the single largest FIP- improvement in that same span. Sullivan looks at how much more effectively Arrieta has repeated his mechanics with the Cubs, and he also points to the fact that Arrieta has doubled the usage of his hard slider/cutter while moving to the third-base side of the rubber. Both David Ross and Ryan Zimmerman noted that Arrieta, who now busts right-handed hitters inside at a much greater rate, often appears to be “throwing behind you” before his ball breaks over the plate. Whether or not Arrieta is a legitimate ace, the trade that sent him and Pedro Strop to Chicago in exchange for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger looks like quite the feather in the cap of GM Jed Hoyer and president Theo Epstein.
  • The Brewers announced that they have agreed to a new minor league contract with catcher Shawn Zarraga and invited him to 2015 Spring Training. Zarraga, 25, was Milwaukee’s 44th-round pick out of high school in 2007 and enjoyed a strong season at Double-A this year before struggling in his first crack at Triple-A. The Aruban backstop hit .330/.440/.419 in 267 plate appearances with Double-A but just .213/.304/.255 in 57 PA at the top minor league level.
  • In more Brewers news, GM Doug Melvin isn’t happy about the split between his organization and the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Nashville. Melvin told reporters, including MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy, that he asked the Sounds to let them know if they were considering re-affiliation three weeks ago. The Brewers heard nothing and then saw the Sounds sign a new player development contract with the A’s, which Melvin feels cost the Brewers a chance to pursue an affiliation with what they considered to be an attractive fallback option. The Sounds, McCalvy writes, weren’t pleased with the losing product the Brewers had put on the field in the two seasons prior to 2014.