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Will Reds pivot after Wheeler signs elsewhere?

@m_sheldon
December 9, 2019

CINCINNATI -- The Reds were not able to make another big move, yet, after starting pitcher Zack Wheeler officially signed a five-year contract with the Phillies on Monday. But the bigger takeaway, perhaps, is that Cincinnati was involved in the high-stakes bidding for Wheeler. The Reds already have a very

CINCINNATI -- The Reds were not able to make another big move, yet, after starting pitcher Zack Wheeler officially signed a five-year contract with the Phillies on Monday.

But the bigger takeaway, perhaps, is that Cincinnati was involved in the high-stakes bidding for Wheeler. The Reds already have a very credible rotation projected for 2020, and their top priority this offseason was to upgrade the offense.

As recently as Tuesday night, a source told MLB.com that the Reds were among the clubs in close pursuit of Wheeler. The 29-year-old former Met set a career high with 195 1/3 innings last season while going 11-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 31 starts. Over his last two seasons, the right-hander is 23-15 with a 3.65 ERA, 3.37 FIP and 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

What remains to be seen, for now, is whether president of baseball operations Dick Williams and general manager Nick Krall will pivot and pursue another high-end free-agent starter.

While the top-tier arms like Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg seem unlikely because of their extremely high market, the next group consists of three left-handers in Madison Bumgarner, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel.

The Reds already have a very strong front four in their rotation with All-Stars Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, former All-Star Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani -- all of whom made at least 30 starts last season. Tyler Mahle is currently viewed as the leading fifth-starter candidate.

That group -- along with Tanner Roark before he was traded on July 31 -- spent much of the 2019 season owning one of the best ERAs in the Major Leagues. It finished the year fifth in the National League with a 4.12 ERA, third in strikeouts and third in opponents’ batting average.

Bauer and DeSclafani are in their final offseason of arbitration eligibility and can become free agents after the 2020 season. That, and the team’s wish to contend after six consecutive losing seasons, could be reasons why the Reds were seeking additional help with a multiyear offer from outside the club.

So far this offseason, the Reds have not been linked to talks with Bumgarner, Ryu or Keuchel. The club showed interest in Keuchel last winter, but the former Astro went unsigned until well into the regular season, when he finally reached a one-year deal with the Braves on June 7.

Williams and Krall pursued catcher Yasmani Grandal before he signed a four-year, $73 million contact with the White Sox. Upgrading the offense at a different spot was accomplished with the addition of free-agent infielder Mike Moustakas to a four-year, $64 million contract to play second base.

While the Reds were unsuccessful in acquiring Wheeler, their efforts underscored that the club will be a team to watch closely during the Hot Stove season.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.