Strop ready for 'special' run in Reds' bullpen

February 6th, 2020

CINCINNATI -- For reliever and the Reds, familiarity didn’t breed contempt. The former Cubs pitcher passed his physical and formally signed a one-year contract worth $1.825 million on Wednesday after an agreement was reached last week.

Strop, 34, had pitched for the National League Central-rival Cubs since 2013. The 11-year veteran, who also pitched for the Rangers and Orioles since his big league debut in 2009, has a 3.21 ERA over 555 career games.

“Me being part of this after so many years of pitching against this team, it could be special. I’m really happy to be here,” Strop said.

Although one of the more consistent veteran relievers in recent years, Strop will be working to bounce back from the worst season of his career. In 2019, he was 2-5 with a 4.97 ERA over 50 appearances (41 2/3 innings) with the Cubs.

Strop’s strikeout rate remained at a healthy 27.5 percent, but his walk rate spiked to 11.2 percent -- his highest mark since ’12. He also spent time on the injured list with hamstring and neck ailments.

“It’s not a secret I wasn’t healthy. I was trying to pitch through something,” Strop said. “This year, I feel completely healed. I know what I’m capable of doing when I’m healthy. I want to prove that whatever happened last year, happened last year. It’s a new chapter. I’m going to prove that I’m good to go.”

While Strop’s 2019 season was not his best, his primary pitch was still largely effective. Opponents hit .123 with one home run across 65 at-bats against Strop’s slider, per Statcast, and opponents swung and missed on nearly 45 percent of their swings against that offering. Strop induced ground balls 53.8 percent of the time.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Cincinnati, pitcher was designated for assignment. Romano debuted in 2017 as a well-regarded rotation prospect and posted a 4.45 ERA over 16 starts. But he couldn’t establish himself in the big leagues and posted a 5.56 ERA in 51 games (25 starts) with time also spent at Triple-A.

When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster. Within seven days of the transaction, the player can either be traded or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.

“We walked through and asked, ‘How does everybody make the roster?’ Sal was out of options,” Reds general manager Nick Krall said. “We like Sal. He’s a quality kid, a quality player that came up through our system. At the end of the day, we felt it was the right time to take Sal off.”

If Romano clears waivers, Krall said he would be invited to Spring Training as a non-roster player.

Strop is the fifth free agent the Reds have signed to a big league contract this offseason, totaling nearly $166 million. He joined former Cubs teammate and outfielder Nick Castellanos (four years, $64 million), second baseman (four years, $64 million), outfielder Shogo Akiyama (three years, $21 million) and left-handed starter (two years, $15 million).

“[Strop] was a guy that was available at the end there of the offseason. He was a guy we liked but we just had other things to do first,” Krall said. “He’s a guy that can pitch in the middle innings, he can pitch the back of the bullpen. He’s very flexible. He gets ground balls and misses bats. He’s a solid guy to add to our ‘pen.”

Besides a familiarity with Castellanos, Strop also knows Reds manager David Bell -- a former Cubs third-base coach -- and pitching coach Derek Johnson, who was in the Cubs’ organization as a Minor League coordinator.

“I talked to David and I talked to Johnson,” Strop said. “We had a really good relationship before I came here. They told me how important it was for me to come over here, too. I think we’re on the same page. That helps a lot, too.”

Strop -- perhaps familiar to Reds fans after a bench-clearing incident at Great American Ball Park with former Reds right fielder Yasiel Puig last season -- was known in Chicago for his veteran leadership and affable personality.

“I like to have fun,” Strop said. “I’m always smiling. I’m a friendly guy. I like to talk. I especially like to compete.”

Strop bolsters a Reds bullpen that has locked down five of its eight spots. He joins , , and . Also competing for spots will be non-roster invites Tyler Thornburg, Jesse Biddle and Nate Jones, and holdovers such as Lucas Sims and Cody Reed.

“We really like the competition and what we can do in Spring Training,” Krall said. “It’s going to be good to see these guys battle it out.”