The Reds announced they’ve signed right-hander Luke Weaver to a one-year contract. Infielder Matt Reynolds was designated for assignment in a corresponding 40-man roster move. The Boras Corporation client will receive a $2MM base salary, tweets Mark Sheldon of MLB.com.
Weaver joins the fifth organization of his professional career. A first-round selection of the Cardinals in 2014, he broke into the majors with St. Louis two years later. After struggling through nine outings as a rookie, the former top prospect put up a 3.88 ERA through 60 1/3 innings in 2017. Weaver looked as if he might carve out a long-term rotation role for the Redbirds, but he stumbled to a 4.95 ERA across a career-high 136 1/3 frames the next season.
The following offseason, St. Louis packaged Weaver alongside Carson Kelly and Andrew Young to the Diamondbacks for Paul Goldschmidt. The move and subsequent five-year extension turned out brilliantly for St. Louis but didn’t pay off for the Snakes. That’s in large part because Weaver never cemented himself in the Arizona rotation.
Things started off encouragingly enough, as Weaver pitched to a 2.94 ERA in 12 starts in 2019. He posted strong peripherals but missed an extended chunk of time with forearm tightness. Arm injuries would unfortunately become a recurring theme for the Florida State product, who has lost notable portions of three of the last four seasons. The only recent fully healthy campaign came in 2020 with the shortened schedule. He took a full slate of 12 turns through the rotation that year but was bombed for a 6.58 ERA through 52 innings. He was limited to 13 starts in 2021 by a strained shoulder and lost a couple months early last season with inflammation in his throwing elbow.
Over three-plus seasons in the desert, Weaver pitched to a 4.72 ERA in just fewer than 200 innings. At last summer’s trade deadline, the Snakes flipped him to the Royals for infielder Emmanuel Rivera. Kansas City’s buy-low attempt didn’t go as hoped. Working exclusively in relief, Weaver allowed 15 runs in 19 2/3 innings. The Royals took him off the roster after the season. He briefly landed with the Mariners via waivers but Seattle non-tendered him within a couple weeks. That sent him to free agency for the first time, where he’ll try to right the ship in Cincinnati.
Over parts of seven MLB seasons, Weaver owns a 4.79 ERA in 450 2/3 innings. He’s struck out a solid 23.5% of opposing hitters against a manageable 7.5% walk percentage. That strikeout/walk profile has led to more favorable views from ERA estimators like FIP (3.96) and SIERA (4.08) than his bottom line ERA might suggest. An elevated .328 batting average on balls in play has plagued Weaver, though it’d be overly simplistic to attribute that entirely to poor luck. The 6’2″ hurler has given up plenty of hard contact throughout his career. Opponents have hit more than 40% of their batted balls hard (with an exit velocity of 95 MPH or greater) in each of the last four seasons.
Primarily a fastball-changeup pitcher, Weaver has unsuccessfully tinkered with various breaking pitches over the years. He’s mixed in each of a slider, cutter and curveball throughout his MLB tenure but never seemed entirely comfortable with any of those offerings. Working almost exclusively out of the bullpen last season, he turned to his fastball or changeup roughly 90% of the time while occasionally deploying a slider as a third pitch against right-handed batters.
Weaver started just one of his 26 outings last season. He’d started 80 of 89 big league appearances before last year, though, and it seems the Reds will give him another shot at a rotation role. Cincinnati has Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft — each of whom showed upside to varying degrees as rookies last season — penciled into three rotation spots. The final two are firmly up for grabs, with players like Luis Cessa, Justin Dunn and Connor Overton battling for rotation jobs as well. Weaver figures to have the inside track at one of the available spots, with Cessa having primarily been a reliever throughout his career and Dunn and Overton still having minor league options remaining.
The 29-year-old Weaver has over five years of major league service time. He can’t be optioned without his consent, so he’s a virtual lock to open the season on the MLB roster in some capacity. He’ll return to the free agent market again at year’s end, and the one-year term makes him an obvious midseason trade candidate if things click early in his Cincinnati tenure. The Reds are unlikely to hang around the playoff picture in 2023, making it likely they’d field offers on short-term veterans like Weaver and fellow free agent signee Wil Myers if those players perform well enough to draw interest from contenders.
Tacking on Weaver’s modest salary brings Cincinnati’s projected payroll up around $81MM, as calculated by Roster Resource. That’s well below last year’s $114MM approximate Opening Day figure. General manager Nick Krall has spoken on multiple occasions about the payroll constraints facing the front office. It’s possible Cincinnati rolls the dice on another low-cost upside play or two with Spring Training a month away, but they’re unlikely to make any particularly noteworthy free agent additions. The bullpen and center field stand out as areas where Cincinnati could continue searching for smaller upgrades.
Reynolds, displaced by Weaver’s addition, landed in Cincinnati last April off waivers from the Mets. The out-of-options infielder held his roster spot all season, appearing in 92 games with Cincinnati. He tallied a new career high with 272 plate appearances, hitting .246/.320/.332 with a trio of home runs. Reynolds walked in nearly 10% of his plate appearances but went down on strikes roughly 29% of the time. While he made a fair amount of hard contact, a lofty 50.9% grounder rate muted his overall power impact.
The Reds will now have a week to trade the 32-year-old infielder or place him on waivers. Reynolds has cleared outright waivers twice previously in his career. That’d give him the right to refuse an outright assignment and test minor league free agency if he goes unclaimed again.
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