The Reds are among the more active teams in the pitching market thus far, swimming in some of the same waters as the Cubs. Unlike their division rivals, however, the Reds don’t appear to be ramping up for a shot at the division title. To be fair, the Cubs haven’t actually done anything to ramp either. It looks like Cincy is trying to catch lightning in a bottle with a bunch of short-term deals that allow them to amass prospects at the deadline and have little downside otherwise.
We’ve heard multiple reports about the Reds being engaged in trade talks for Cleveland’s Shane Beiber and Tampa’s Tyler Glasnow, both of whom will be free agents after next season. It feels more like kicking the tires to find out which one they can get for less, as the endgame would be receiving back more value for themselves in an eventual trade.
More telling are the recent deals they’ve done for righty reliever Emilio Pagán and righty swingman Nick Martinez (Nick, Nick Martinez), both of whom received a two-year guarantee with an opt-out after the first year. Pagán’s deal is for $16 million split evenly over two years with performance incentives that can push the total higher. That annual salary was more than twice as much as any other Red currently under contract — Hunter Greene, $3M — until Martinez signed.
This was a bit of a coup for the Reds, in large part because Pagán figured to have a pretty robust market coming off a strong season in which a change to his cutter made a big difference. Though his strikeout rate was at a career-low 23.8%, he improved his splits against left-handed hitters and saw a massive decrease in home runs allowed. That’s what the Reds are betting on here, as a return to his average of 1.74 HR/9 over his first six seasons would be disastrous in that ballpark.
Martinez leap-frogged his new teammate with a two-year, $26 million guarantee that signals a return to the rotation on a full-time basis after working as a swingman throughout his MLB career. Primarily a starter over parts of five seasons with the Rangers, Martinez still made 20 relief appearances during that time. Following a three-year stint in Japan, he signed with the Padres and worked mainly out of the bullpen for two seasons.
His results have been better as a reliever, but the Reds probably didn’t make him their highest-paid player to leave him in that role. Like Pagán, Martinez saw a drop in his homers allowed last season due in large part to an improvement in his splits. This came from a stronger performance against right-handed batters, who he held to a .272 wOBA after being over .340 for his career.
Martinez wasn’t someone the Cubs were after, but Pagán seemed like the type of guy they might have liked for the bullpen. Not only had he juiced that cutter up to nearly 88 mph, but his four-seam was at a career-high 95.8 mph. Velo isn’t everything, of course, but it’s something the Cubs need to have more of across the staff. They’ve reportedly been in on Bieber and Glasnow as well, with the latter pursuit spurring quite a bit of work here at CI.
I didn’t expect the Reds to be much of a competitor this winter, and certainly not during the season, but it’s looking like that could be the case. Not so much as a legit contender for the division or anything, more like a pesky thorn in the Cubs’ side until the trade deadline whisks away any solid players who aren’t on rookie deals. At the end of the day, those are the teams Craig Counsell and his crew will need to be better against.
Your turn, Jed.