Aaron Sanchez
2020 Reds,  by Matt Wilkes

5 non-tendered players who could intrigue the Reds

The deadline for offering contracts to arbitration-eligible players has come and gone, and a whopping 40 were non-tendered on Monday. Two now-former Reds were among the cuts, Jose Peraza and Kevin Gausman. That leaves a plethora of new free agents for the front office to consider. Although none are likely to be game-changing pieces to the puzzle, there are some interesting names who could make positive contributions to the bench or bullpen. Let’s break down some of the intriguing players and assess their potential fit with the Reds.

Blake Treinen

Arguably the biggest name to get non-tendered, Treinen is only a year removed from a dominant 2018 season with the A’s. En route to his first All-Star Game appearance and a sixth-place finish in AL Cy Young voting, the right-hander put up a 0.78 ERA, 1.82 FIP, 2.42 xFIP, and 2.46 SIERA in 2018 behind an elite 31.6% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate. Oh, and he maintained a ground-ball rate over 50%, too. But the wheels fell off in 2019. Treinen’s ERA ballooned to 4.91, while the peripherals (5.14 FIP, 5.01 xFIP, 5.01 SIERA) were even uglier. His strikeout rate fell toward his career norms (22.2%) as his rare slider-cutter combination went from unhittable to pedestrian, the walk rate more than doubled (13.9%), and the ground-ball rate dropped to 42.9%.

There are plenty of signs Treinen can turn it around, however. It’s entirely possible that his rough season was tied to injuries; he missed time with a shoulder strain and dealt with a back injury late in the season. His stuff is still tantalizing, especially for the Reds and their newfound analytical approach. Treinen lost a bit of his fastball velocity last year but still ranked in the 87th percentile. He can certainly work with that, and there’s reason to believe his velocity could spike when he’s fully healthy. The same goes for his fastball and slider spin rates, which were elite in 2018 but fell a bit in 2019. A number of Cincinnati pitchers — including Sonny Gray, Lucas Sims, and Michael Lorenzen — increased spin rates last year with the help of Derek Johnson and high-speed cameras that can help pitchers find ideal grips and arm angles.

With his value down significantly, Treinen could be a potential bargain at the back end of the Reds’ bullpen if Johnson and company can work their magic again.

Kevin Gausman

The Reds just non-tendered Gausman, but they should have interest in bringing him back in a relief role if he doesn’t get a starting opportunity. After struggling as a starter with the Braves, the Reds claimed the right-hander off waivers in early August and placed him in the bullpen, where he thrived.

Despite sporting a so-so 4.03 ERA, his peripherals were outstanding (3.17 FIP, 2.49 xFIP, 2.89 SIERA). His strikeout rate jumped from uninspiring (23.6%) to elite (31.9%), with his fastball-splitter heavy approach playing much better in relief than as a starter. Between August 5 — the day he was claimed by the Reds — and the end of the season, only five pitchers, including Gerrit Cole and Josh Hader, had a better whiff rate than Gausman’s 36.8% (min. 200 pitches thrown). His biggest moment as a Red came when he threw his second career immaculate inning, putting him in rarefied air. Entering his age-29 season, Gausman could very well draw interest as a starter, where he’s had success in the past. But he’d be a valuable reliever and potential swingman for the Reds if he returns.

Aaron Sanchez

Sanchez has never quite lived up to his prospect hype. Although 2016 looked like his breakout season (3.5 fWAR), he’s failed to put up even a one-win season, in large part due to injuries. When he has been healthy enough to pitch, he hasn’t missed many bats (18.7% strikeout rate) and struggled to find the strike zone (10.3% walk rate). Sanchez is still just 27, but other than that, why would the Reds take a flyer on him?

First, he’d be inexpensive — possibly even taking a minor-league deal — after undergoing shoulder surgery in September that’s expected to keep him out until sometime next season. Most importantly, Sanchez does one thing very well: spin the baseball. His curveball spin rate ranked in the 91st percentile in 2019 and put up a solid 36.3% whiff rate. Sanchez started to throw it more last season, but there’s little doubt Derek Johnson would encourage him to throw it more, likely at the expense of his sinker. That tweak, plus some work to improve his fastball command, could make him a sneaky, low-risk pickup for an analytics-forward team like the Reds.

Domingo Santana

Once a promising prospect, Santana has had trouble sticking with one team, bouncing from the Astros to the Brewers to the Mariners over the past five years. Only 27 years old, Santana boasts a career 112 wRC+ and plenty of power. He has 75 home runs and a .194 isolated power across 492 big-league games, though he seemingly has more in the tank with his 6-foot-5 stature. Santana has struggled to hit the ball hard consistently, ranking in just the 49th percentile in average exit velocity last season. Further adding to the intrigue is his willingness to draw a free pass (10.7% career walk rate). But there are two glaring issues with his game: he strikes out a ton (32.0% of his career plate appearances) and is downright awful in the outfield (-11.9 UZR/150). His best fit is likely as a DH in the AL, though his bat would be quite a threat coming off the Reds’ bench.

Yimi Garcia

Garcia is yet another non-tendered reliever with tools that could excite the Reds’ analytics department. You guessed it: he’s also a pitcher with elite spin rates. His fastball ranked in the 98th (!) percentile in 2019, while his curve came was in the 89th. That’ll play. The right-hander also has excellent control (4.7% career walk rate) and significantly increased his strikeout rate from 18.8% in 2018 to 26.7% in 2019. Bonus: Garcia also limited hard contact exceptionally well in 2019, ranking in the 83rd percentile in average exit velocity and the 98th in hard-hit rate. The rub: he gives up a ton of fly balls and is, thus, prone to allowing home runs, giving them up at a rate of 1.8 per nine innings for his career. He also doesn’t get much movement despite his elite spin, suggesting a lack of spin efficiency. Fortunately, that’s one issue the Rapsodo and Edgertronic cameras used by the Reds can potentially improve. MLB de-juicing the baseball — which may have already started happening in the postseason — would also go a long way in helping Garcia, too.

Photo credit: Terry Foote

Matt Wilkes got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Columbus. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.