The Reds have been busy on the waiver wire, but quiet elsewhere. Beyond picking which young players upon which to make dice rolls, GM Dick Williams has largely held his hand thus far. That’s not terribly surprising, for a variety of reasons.
The club’s most obvious potential trade chips come with no-trade protection (Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips) or play positions that aren’t in huge demand (Phillips, Zack Cozart). There was never a strong prerogative to deal from among the Reds’ other controllable assets, such as righty Anthony DeSclafani and center fielder Billy Hamilton. At the same time, after spending about two years compiling prospects, the organization has plenty of young players who are ready to compete for major league opportunities in 2017, so there aren’t a lot of needs.
Still, it would be surprising if the team makes it through the winter without striking at least one major-league contract. Cincinnati nearly did so a winter ago, giving MLB deals only to Blake Wood and (in mid-March) Alfredo Simon. While the Yankees actually did manage to avoid handing out a 40-man spot to a free agent in 2015-16, it’s a rarity.
And it isn’t as if the Reds are fully loaded for 2017, particularly if they hope to have an outside chance at turning into a contender. In particular, the bullpen appears ripe for an addition. That’s especially true of the open closer role; while Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, or even Tony Cingrani would represent internal options, giving any of those youngsters the opportunity would also mean boosting their expected arbitration earnings. Cincinnati might as well make the investment to add another arm, while utilizing them in set-up roles. Alternatively, or additionally, the Reds could look to add some veteran arms — either swingman types or pure relievers — to provide depth.
So, what are the options should Cincinnati decide to open up one of its prized 40-man roster spots? Let’s run down a few of the remaining bullpen arms that could make sense…
- Joe Blanton: After a pair of resurgent seasons split between the Royals, Pirates and Dodgers, it’s very possible that Blanton will be too expensive for Cincinnati’s tastes. He’s posted a 2.65 ERA across his past 165 MLB innings with good control and better than a strikeout per inning. He could find a high-leverage spot on a contending club, though Cincinnati could entice him by offering a ninth-inning role.
- Santiago Casilla: If Casilla wants to continue closing, his age and his September meltdown in 2016 might limit his opportunities. However, Cincinnati could offer him that type of opportunity with an eye toward flipping him in July if he performs well. His poor finish aside, Casilla has a 2.42 ERA in 394 2/3 regular-season innings dating back to 2010 and has whiffed better than a batter per inning in each of the past two seasons.
- Neftali Feliz: The former AL Rookie of the Year had a resurgent season in the Pirates’ bullpen this past season and could command a high-leverage role with Cincinnati (or another club) if his medicals check out. Feliz ended the season on the shelf but there’s been no word of any arm issues lingering into the offseason. He posted a 3.52 ERA with 61 strikeouts against 20 unintentional walks in 53 2/3 innings this past season.
- David Hernandez: Hernandez crashed and burned when given a short leash as Philadelphia’s closer early last season, but he rebounded to pitch quite well over the remainder of the season. The 31-year-old posted a 3.53 ERA and punched out 69 hitters against 28 walks in his final 66 1/3 innings of the 2016 campaign. As a presumably low-cost veteran arm with closing experience, he’d be a nice add to a Cincinnati bullpen that could develop into a trade chip down the line with a good full season.
- Greg Holland: Perhaps the highest-upside arm left on the market, Holland could potentially be lured to the Reds with a guarantee of pitching in the ninth inning from day one. Contending clubs may be wary to make such a commitment, but a rebuilding team like the Reds has little to lose. And while Holland may prefer to sign with a contender, he could also sign in Cincinnati with the guarantee of save opportunities and with the understanding that he’d be likely to be flipped to a contender come July if he rediscovered the form he showed from 2011-15 prior to Tommy John surgery (2.15 ERA, 12.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 in 301 innings).
- Yusmeiro Petit: The Reds don’t have anyone locked into a multi-inning role, but Petit could be had on an affordable one-year deal and fill that role while also serving as a safety net for an inexperienced rotation. The Nationals didn’t use him much down the stretch in 2016, and he struggled when he did take the hill, but he’s worked to a very solid 3.83 ERA with 8.5 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9 between the rotation and bullpen across the past five seasons (307 2/3 innings).
- Sergio Romo: The former Giants closer lost his ninth-inning role to the aforementioned Casilla late in his San Francisco tenure, but he’s been rock solid in terms of bottom-line results virtually every year in the Majors since debuting in 2008. The 33-year-old has only posted an ERA north of 3.00 in two MLB seasons and has a lifetime 2.58 ERA with 10.2 K/9 against 1.8 BB/9 in the Majors. He doesn’t throw hard, but Romo would bring loads of late-inning experience to a Reds team that is lacking in that area.
- Joe Smith: Like so many others on this list, Smith comes with some closing experience but has also worked in a setup capacity for a number of years. Set to turn 33 in March, Smith is a ground-ball specialist with a history of limiting the long ball — a trait that’d be appealing to the Reds, who play in a homer-happy home park. A 2.64 ERA over his past 389 MLB innings only adds to the appeal.
- Drew Storen: It’s been a stark downward spiral for Storen since the Nationals acquired Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. Storen was demoted to a setup role, performed poorly, and found himself flipped to the Blue Jays, where his results weren’t any better. A midseason trade to the Mariners in 2016 didn’t improve his results, either. Rough stretch aside, the former No. 10 overall pick has a career 3.31 ERA and posted a 2.91 ERA with solid control and nearly a strikeout per inning from 2011-15. On a short-term deal, the upside for the Reds would be tantalizing.
- Shawn Tolleson: In 2015, Tolleson emerged as a surprise closer for the Rangers, saving 35 games and logging a 2.99 ERA in 72 1/3 innings — his second straight year with 70-plus innings and a sub-3.00 ERA. Tolleson imploded in 2016 and saw his strikeout rate plummet while his home-run rate skyrocketed. There are a number of reasons for interested suitors to have skepticism, but the Reds could offer a low-base one-year deal with the promise of a high-leverage role. If Tolleson returns to form, he’d be a summer trade chip at the very least. However, he’s also controllable through 2018, so the Reds could simply enjoy his services for a full year and reassess next winter if he rebounds in 2017.