CINCINNATI -- The Reds have not given up on the hunt for a third new starting pitcher, despite the Hot Stove market for rotation arms getting very cold of late. There have been few deals made around the Majors since the holidays.
The good news is that many of the free agents who would likely fit remain unsigned, like top lefty Dallas Keuchel along with Wade Miley, Derek Holland, Clay Buchholz and Giovany Gonzalez. A few more starters still appear to be available via trades, like Corey Kluber, Marcus Stroman and Sonny Gray.
What kind of profile are the Reds seeking from another starting pitcher after already acquiring Tanner Roark and Alex Wood?
"It makes sense to suppress contact as much as possible," Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson said. "If you can find guys that have high whiff [rates] on one or two pitches, it makes a lot of sense. I think extreme ground-ball [pitchers] make a lot of sense and extreme popup makes a lot of sense too in our park. That's a tall order. If you can find pitchers with one of those or two of those, I think it would fit."
According to FanGraphs, only five pitchers in 2018 had 100-plus innings, at least a 20 percent strikeout rate and at least a 50 percent ground-ball rate. One of those pitchers was the Yankees' Gray (21.1 percent strikeouts, 50 percent grounders), who pitched for Johnson at Vanderbilt. Wood was very close, with a 21.2 percent strikeout rate and 48.9 percent ground-ball rate.
Let's take a closer look at some of the available starters.
Why it might happen: With Keuchel as the best pitcher still available in free agency, the Reds could decide they need to do whatever it takes to get a legitimate ace to keep pace in an increasingly daunting National League Central. According to Statcast™, Keuchel fits the profile Cincinnati needs. The lefty had the highest ground-ball rate of all qualified starting pitchers last season, at 53.7 percent. His 58 percent ground-ball rate over the past three seasons is fourth among qualified starters over that span.
Why it might not: Keuchel is 31 years old and has dealt with various injuries and some inconsistency since his Cy Young Award-winning 2015 season. He is reportedly seeking a five-year contract, which could have Cincinnati looking elsewhere considering his recent track record.
Why it might happen: Miley pitched for Johnson during his one season in Milwaukee and thrived. Miley's club was 12-4 when he pitched, and he had a 1.23 ERA in four postseason starts. He could continue to have success at Great American Ball Park. Among the 169 pitchers who generated at least 250 batted balls last season, Miley ranked third in getting weak contact at 68.8 percent.
Why it might not: For a 32-year-old pitcher trying to continue to build his value after one solid season and three poor ones before that, working home games at GABP might not set Miley up for success.
Why it might happen: A native of Newark, Ohio, Holland expressed interest in the Reds on MLB Network Radio recently. The interest is mutual, as the club has spoken to his representatives. A lefty, Holland induced grounders 39.8 percent of the time last season, according to FanGraphs, and has a 23.3 percent strikeout rate. His whiff rate was in the upper third of ranked pitchers at 58.1 percent.
Why it might not: Holland, 32, bounced back for the Giants last season with a 3.57 ERA in 36 games (30 starts) but had an 18-26 record and 5.50 ERA in the three previous seasons with the Rangers and White Sox. He does not have ace credentials that would provide instant legitimacy to a starting five that was near the bottom of MLB last season.
Why it might happen: When healthy, the right-hander has the makings of a top-of-the-rotation ace. Last season, he had a 2.01 ERA in 16 starts for Arizona. He often induces weak contact, which Statcast™ showed was 64 percent of the time in '18. The Reds could take a lower-cost risk on him because he's had a spotty past few years.
Why it might not: Besides Buchholz's age (34), his history of injuries could be a turnoff. His 2018 season ended in mid-September because of a flexor strain in his right forearm, the same spot where he had surgery to repair a tear that cost him almost all of 2017. That's a red flag that would make any club cautious.
Why it might happen: The Yankees have not been secretive about their desire to deal Gray after two seasons of struggles. Besides his style being a fit for GABP, the 29-year-old pitched for Johnson at Vanderbilt and could rebuild his resume away from New York.
Why it might not: The Reds might not want to meet the Yankees' trade demands for a player who can be a free agent after the 2019 season. Over the past three seasons with Oakland and New York, Gray has a 4.59 ERA. That might not be enough of a difference maker for a rotation that still has some in-house talent to work with.
"I think you have to find whatever is out there, No. 1, and then No. 2 -- make it fit financially," Johnson said. "I know they're working hard. They stay in contact with me and I do with them as well. They're at it every day. I feel comfortable with where we're trying to go."