As the trade deadline approaches, the Reds are left with a decision to make on the best path forward for the team. There has been a lot of talk, both from fans on social media and from GM Nick Krall himself, that the Reds could be buyers. It’s clear the team’s biggest need is starting pitching, as they lack true reliable options, and those that have pitched well are either currently injured or likely staring down innings limits by the end of the season.
While a lot can still change in the next two weeks leading up to the deadline, the Reds will need to make a decision quickly, and ideally strike before division rival Milwaukee, in order to have the best chance at making the playoffs this season. Still, even if they do decide to buy, the question remains on what type of starting pitching they will look to acquire.
We can group the market into two main categories – rentals and controllable starters. Today, we will take a look at some of the rentals that could be on the market.
Though they’d likely cost less in terms of prospects to acquire, rentals come with the downside of hitting the free agent market at the end of the year, barring an extension. Some may shy away from rentals in the Reds’ position, given that this is just the beginning of their contention window, and they’re likely aiming for sustainable success. Still, that doesn’t mean a rental won’t be the best fit, when factoring in both price and impact on the short term and long term future of the team. Here are a few rentals the Reds could pursue.
Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn (Chicago White Sox)
Perhaps the most discussed rental option for the Reds, Giolito brings a lot of name recognition and past success, having a three year stretch from 2019-2021 in which he finished in the top 11 for Cy Young voting each year. On the surface, he looks to be a similar pitcher this year, posting a very respectable 3.96 ERA. Advanced metrics aren’t quite as optimistic, as his 4.18 xERA, 4.57 FIP, 4.39 xFIP, and 4.13 SIERA paint him more as a “good” pitcher than a “great” one.
As likely one of the most expensive rentals on the market to acquire, it’s worth wondering if Giolito will ultimately be worth the cost. He does bring a bit of postseason experience and a reputation of being incredibly durable, having made 29 or more starts in each of the last four full seasons, excluding the shortened 2020, and making 20 starts so far this year.
The decision on Giolito likely comes down to two factors: do you believe he’s closer to his 2019-2021 numbers or his 2023 advanced metrics going forward, and how much is he going to cost prospect-wise? If those numbers line up, Giolito would certainly be an impactful addition to the pitching staff.
Lynn’s numbers have been ugly, with a 6.06 ERA immediately jumping out as a red flag. Depending on which advanced metric you trust the most, there could be some positive signs. His 3.84 xFIP and 3.81 SIERA are the most optimistic, though it’s probably ill-advised to expect his home run rate to regress as xFIP would imply. The truth is, Lynn probably gives up too many long balls for GABP, though he could potentially make up for it with a high strikeout rate. As a pitcher with a fairly high salary this year, the White Sox may opt to move him for next to nothing outside of salary relief, in which case he could be a worthwhile gamble for the Reds. The Reds would likely balk at giving up anyone of value for Lynn given his warts, however, and that ultimately could be the right decision.
Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, and Seth Lugo (San Diego Padres)
Two key questions come up regarding Snell as a trade candidate fit. First, it’s not certain that the Padres are even open to selling, though they currently sit in fourth place in the NL West. Secondly, Snell hasn’t exactly been durable in his career, having topped 130 innings in a season just once since reaching the Majors.
Still, it’s hard to imagine a rental on the market making more of an impact on the 2023 Reds than Snell. He sits with a 2.71 ERA, and his 3.82 xERA, 3.56 FIP, 3.39 xFIP, and 3.78 SIERA all look nice even if a bit worse than his ERA. Snell is an elite strikeout pitcher, though he does struggle a bit with walks.
Given his durability concerns and a slightly worse track record than Giolito, it’s unclear if he’d cost more or less to acquire, given his success this season. If the Reds do reach out to the Padres to inquire on Snell, they could continue the conversation by discussing fellow rental Michael Wacha, who has very similar numbers this year, though he’s currently on the IL. Pseudo-rental Seth Lugo, who has a player option for next year that could still go either way, could also be a name they discuss with the Padres.
Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty (St. Louis Cardinals)
It would be hard to imagine the Reds going out and making a deal with perhaps their biggest rival in the St. Louis Cardinals. Still, the fit makes sense for both teams, since the prospect cost shouldn’t be exorbitant and both Montgomery and Flaherty would be hitting free agency in the offseason.
Montgomery, who has a 3.14 ERA, 4.04 xERA, 3.49 FIP, 3.82 xFIP, and 4.08 SIERA, would be the real prize from the Cardinals. He brings some postseason experience, is a left hander, and could ultimately slot into the bullpen if the Reds needed him to down the stretch or in the postseason, if all went well with the other pitchers.
Flaherty would be a bit more of a reclamation project, having posted a 4.29 ERA, 4.60 xERA, 4.07 FIP, 4.47 xFIP, and 4.75 ERA, struggling to get strikeouts while also walking too many. Still, he was recently a successful pitcher, and could come extremely cheap, so the Reds could do far worse on the trade market.
Max Scherzer and Carlos Carrasco (New York Mets)
Scherzer is an interesting, though unlikely target for the Reds. Though he’s not posting the elite numbers he’s been known for in recent years, he’s still no slouch with a 3.99 ERA, 3.51 xERA, 4.43 xFIP, 4.12 FIP, and 3.80 SIERA. There are a multitude of factors making a deal unlikely, including his no trade clause, $43.3 million player option for next season, remaining salary this season, and the fact that the Mets might simply refuse to sell even if it’s in their best interest due to their all-in attitude last offseason. It would take a lot of creativity on both sides to make a deal work, and it’s unclear whether the finances and/or prospect cost would ultimately make sense, but imagining Scherzer in a Reds uniform down the stretch is certainly an interesting prospect.
Carrasco, on the other hand, would likely come dirt cheap, but once again falls into the reclamation project category. Simply put, advanced metrics and ERA alike have Carrasco as a bad pitcher this year, but he’s not that far removed from success, so it’s fair to wonder if a change of scenery could be all that he needs.
Zack Greinke (Kansas City Royals)
Greinke, much like Carrasco and Flaherty, would be a bit of a reclamation project as well, having posted his worst numbers of his career this season. That could be due to age, as he’s certainly approaching the end of his career, but perhaps the Reds believe he has a bit left in the tank.
At the very least, having Zack Greinke and Joey Votto on the same team together is incredibly fun to think about, as they have two of the most unique personalities in the game and seemingly have a lot of respect for each other. Again, likely coming cheap, Greinke could be worth the gamble if you think he has anything left, though you’d also have to convince Greinke to want to come to Cincinnati, as he has a no-trade clause.
Michael Lorenzen (Detroit Tigers)
The Reds could opt to bring a familiar face in Lorenzen back into the fold. Seemingly the easiest fit to imagine with this team, Lorenzen has been fairly successful as a starter this season for the Tigers. He has posted a 3.75 ERA, 4.21 xERA, 4.13 FIP, 4.27 xFIP, and 4.50 ERA this year, en route to representing the team at the All Star Game.
The biggest concern with Lorenzen is workload. He’s not far removed from being a full-time reliever, and hasn’t thrown over 110 innings since 2015. He sits at 96 innings this year between the Majors and one rehab start, so it’s worth wondering if he will have enough in the tank to make starts into September or October if needed. At his age, teams are unlikely to limit his workload, though the bigger concern is whether he can continue to be successful as he gets into the later stages of the season.
If you’re merely looking for someone to bridge the gap until Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo return, and are open to moving Lorenzen to the bullpen later in the year, he may just be the perfect fit. Acquiring Lorenzen and another starting pitcher, whether it’s a rental or someone with extended control, could make sense as a whole, though Lorenzen on his own might not be enough to tip the scales for the team.
Sonny Gray (Minnesota Twins) and Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels)
Among the less likely options are two pitchers that fans would be over the moon to acquire. Former Red Sonny Gray would make a great addition to the current team, and would be reunited with some former teammates. The Twins currently sit in first place, so they’d likely need to slip pretty far in the next couple weeks to consider selling, but if they do, the Reds should be one of the first teams to reach out regarding Gray.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Reds were able to extend Gray if brought back, as he seemed to enjoy his time in Cincinnati and has personal ties to the city. However, Nick Krall and company may also be fundamentally against trading away prospects for Gray just over a year after trading Gray away for prospects himself. A good front office wouldn’t let past mistakes get in the way of future decisions, so the hope is that it would not be a factor. While last year’s trade might look acceptable in the long run if Chase Petty turns into something, it’s clear that the current Reds team would be better with Gray, and they should certainly consider an acquisition if he’s made available.
Ohtani would be the ultimate coup for Reds fans, though it’s almost certain to be more than the Reds want to give up. If you could somehow convince Ohtani to stay long term, any prospect in the organization that hasn’t already made their MLB debut should be on the table, and even a few MLB players likely wouldn’t be untouchable. But it’s incredibly unlikely that the Angels would give an extension negotiation window to the hypothetical acquiring team, meaning you’d be taking a massive gamble and could be left with Ohtani walking at the end of the year.
The Reds will likely stay away from mortgaging the future to acquire Ohtani, though there’s zero doubt that he would be the most impactful addition the team could make this summer.
While there could potentially be a few other rentals on the market, any others are either much less likely to be available, or unlikely to provide enough of an impact to the current Reds team to move the needle. The question still remains on whether the Reds should deal from a great farm system to try to contend this season, and that could change based on the results over the coming weeks. In the end, it will almost certainly be cost-dependent. Any of the above names make plenty of sense for this team at the right price, though the true question is whether the actual price will be in a range the Reds are comfortable paying.
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