Reds willing to look to FA to upgrade rotation
Williams says improving starting pitching will be priority during offseason
MILWAUKEE -- The Reds went into 2018 hoping to turn the corner from rebuilding to being closer to contending without making any offseason upgrades to the starting rotation. Besides counting on returning veterans like Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey, Cincinnati banked on its young pitchers taking big steps forward.
It was a direction that backfired. The Reds' starting rotation has the second-highest ERA in the National League and is third from the bottom in innings pitched, entering Wednesday night. Going into this offseason, president of baseball operations Dick Williams and ownership are prepared to spend for starters.
"I would say we are more outwardly focused this year due to where we sit from a budget standpoint," Williams told MLB.com. "Whether that's free agency or trades has yet to be determined. We will be prepared to pursue both. We do think that will be an area that's important to supplement."
The premier group of free-agent starters are headlined by Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel, and he would be eclipsed by Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, should he opt out of his current contract. It would be tough to imagine Cincinnati enters a bidding war for such pitchers. Other available free agents will also include Clay Buchholz, Giovany Gonzalez, Lance Lynn, Wade Miley and the Reds' own Matt Harvey, who was acquired from the Mets on May 8 and has since regained some of his lost value.
The Reds opted not to trade Harvey after not liking the proposals they heard. He has liked pitching for Cincinnati and it could be a potential fit -- of course, if the price is right.
This doesn't mean the Reds have given up on their young arms. Luis Castillo has a 4.52 ERA in 29 starts but has had some very promising stretches. Others have struggled even more to find consistent success, like Sal Romano and Tyler Mahle. DeSclafani had a great August but has struggled in September. Cody Reed and reliever Michael Lorenzen are getting opportunities to start this month.
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"We do think that some of the guys we control will have to continue to get better," Williams said. "We will find ways to continue to develop them better. We saw progress, but we didn't see enough. We need to do everything we can to get more out of our existing pitchers."
It's unclear what the Reds will do with Bailey, who is 1-14 with a 6.09 ERA in 20 starts and has been idled for the remainder of the season. He has one year and $28 million remaining on his six-year, $105 million contract. That includes the $5 million buyout of his 2020 mutual option.
The Reds could also invest in additional relievers able to work multiple innings. Lorenzen has pitched as much as 4 1/3 innings in relief and Jared Hughes and David Hernandez are reliable to work more than one inning an appearance.
It's become abundantly clear that the expectations for starting pitchers has changed. Gone are the days of 200-inning per season hurlers. There are currently four pitchers in the Majors that have crossed 200 innings and only nine have passed 190 innings.
Reds starters have averaged only 5.1 innings this season but the National League team with the most innings pitched by starters -- the D-backs -- have averaged 5.7 innings in 2018.
"We're frustrated by short starts but the whole industry is facing the problem," Williams said. "Not everybody has starters that are consistently going seven innings. So you're having to fill innings out of the bullpen. Guys that have had experience starting and high pitch counts in the past, they should be able to carry a workload from the bullpen. The goal is to just get quality innings. We are going to have to get creative for how that goes."