'A pretty easy decision': Reds bolster rotation, sign Montas to one-year deal

January 2nd, 2024

CINCINNATI -- In pursuing free-agent starting pitcher , the Reds were well aware that the right-hander has dealt with shoulder issues over the past couple of seasons. While there was some risk, they felt there could also be a big reward.

A one-year, $16 million contract between Montas and Cincinnati became official on Tuesday after he passed his physical. A deal was agreed upon Saturday.

"I know he has an injury history, but we were going to bring him in for a physical anyway," Reds president of baseball operations Nick Krall said. "So we brought him in, did the physical and felt good about where he has been. He's been a very good Major League pitcher in the past and he has a ton of upside to get back to where he was. If he's that guy again, he's a toward-the-top-of-the-rotation type guy."

Montas, who turns 31 in March, will make $14 million in 2024 with a $20 million mutual option for '25 that has a $2 million buyout. In February '23 while with the Yankees, he had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder. He made just one appearance for the Yankees in '23, in New York's 161st game of the season, throwing 1 1/3 innings in relief.

Therefore, the $16 million question: How does Montas' shoulder feel?

"My shoulder is great," Montas said. "That’s one of the things I’m the most excited about: To be able to be out there and compete with a healthy arm. The offseason program is going really, really good. I’m better than how I’ve felt in a long time. Throwing sides and everything. I’m pumped for this season."

Montas’ last full season was in 2021 for the A's, when he was 13-9 with a 3.37 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 207 strikeouts in 32 starts and 187 innings. That earned him a sixth-place finish in American League Cy Young Award voting.

Oakland traded Montas to the Yankees during the 2022 season but he struggled before going on the injured list with shoulder inflammation.

During this offseason, Montas felt he was far ahead of schedule with his throwing program. He's been throwing 15-20 pitches in his sessions and been excited by his progress.

“This has been better than a normal offseason," he said. "Usually, I don’t start throwing sides until [the] middle of January. I want to show up to Spring Training and be ready to throw two or three innings and not try to go to a long buildup. I’m trying to go out there ready to go pitch."

Montas, represented by agent Scott Boras, said there had been talks with "a couple" of other clubs, including the Yankees. He did some due diligence by talking to some Reds players.

"I talked to Matt McLain," Montas said. "I talked to Sam Moll. I played with him with the A’s. I talked a little bit to Emilio Pagán. He just got signed. He came to the fan fest. He had nothing but great things to say about the fans. It was a pretty easy decision to come here."

The Reds have spent over $100 million on free agents this offseason, including Pagán and Buck Farmer for the bullpen, Nick Martinez for the rotation and infielder Jeimer Candelario for the lineup.

Other clubs, including the National League Central rival Cubs, have yet to spend any money on free agents. That did not go unnoticed by Montas.

“Honestly, when you see a team like that going out there and getting players and spending money, there’s only one thing that comes into your head: They want to win," Montas said. "Why would I not be part of that? Hey, they’re going out there and getting players, spending money. That’s exciting. That means they really want it.”

Montas and Martinez are joining a rotation that was young last season, a group that included Hunter Greene, Graham Ashcraft, Andrew Abbott, Nick Lodolo and Brandon Williamson. None of the returning starters have made 30 starts in a season nor have more than two seasons of big league service.

Obviously, there isn't room for everybody in the 2024 rotation.

"I think we're going to let a lot of this play out into the season where guys are coming into Spring Training. There's going to be some jobs to win and we'll have to figure out where everyone fits as we walk through spring," Krall said. “We’re not going to have a nine-man rotation, so there’s going to be guys that are gonna be in Triple-A. There’s going to be guys that are going to go to the bullpen. We’re going to look at this. And there are going to be some competitions."