As expected on the heels of public comments from owner Bob Castellini about his desire to enhance the starting rotation, the Reds are showing early interest in the starting pitching market, per both Jon Heyman of Fancred and Jon Morosi of MLB.com (Twitter links). Both reports list top free-agent starter Patrick Corbin as a pitcher of interest, while Morosi specifically lists J.A. Happ and Heyman adds Dallas Keuchel to the pile. While any of that bunch would be a high-profile addition for the Reds, who’ve largely avoided free agency in recent seasons, Heyman notes that Cincinnati “will consider” top-of-the-market names.
Of course, considering a top-of-the-market arm and actually luring one to Cincinnati are two very different things. As three of the top starters on the market, the trio of Corbin, Keuchel and Happ will have no shortage of interest from contending clubs with clearer paths to a postseason berth. Beyond that, Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park is known as one of the game’s most hitter-friendly environments; to call it a tough sell to convince a top-tier starter to sign in a homer-conducive stadium with a team that lost 95 games in 2018 would be somewhat of an understatement.
[Related: MLBTR’s 2018-19 Free Agent Tracker]
It’s not clear how much money the Reds have to spend this offseason, though Castellini has recently promised a record payroll for the franchise. That certainly sounds encouraging for fans, though it should be noted that Cincinnati’s record payroll is $115MM, and they’re already projected by MLBTR’s Jason Martinez to head into 2019 with a near-$110MM payroll. Both Corbin and Keuchel are candidates to secure $20MM+ annual salaries, and Happ’s annual salary on a new contract figures to check in north of $12MM. Free-agent contracts could, of course, be backloaded — as could a potential offseason extension for second baseman Scooter Gennett. Doing so would lower the team’s projected commitments for the 2019 season and ramp up spending into 2020 and beyond, when Homer Bailey’s albatross deal will be off the books.
It remains difficult to envision the Reds winning a bidding war with larger-market clubs coming off winning seasons and playoff berths, but the very fact that they’re exploring this tier of free agency is a departure from recent offseasons and, accordingly, is of some note. Whether Castellini, president of baseball ops Dick Williams, GM Nick Krall and the rest of the organization’s leadership can persuade a top-notch starter to sign for the next several years, it seems likely that the Reds will be adding some external help to the rotation. Matt Harvey was reportedly a favorite of Castellini during his four-month run with the organization, so at the very least, the Reds could make an earnest run at retaining him and adding another established arm to a rotation whose only locks at present seem to be Anthony DeSclafani and Luis Castillo.