The Royals have indicated they are willing to add a starting pitcher if the price is right, but are more likely to swing a trade than be players in the free agent market. That could bring them into conversations with the Cincinnati Reds, who have a solid rotation of starting pitchers. The Reds have already allowed Wade Miley, a 2.9 fWAR pitcher in 2021, go to the Cubs on waivers without any compensation at all, simply because of his salary. General Manager Nick Krall told reporters that the goal for the team was to “align our payroll to our resources and continue focusing on scouting and developing young talent from within our system.”
I asked Wick Terrell, site manager at Red Reporter about what Cincinnati could be willing to do this off-season:
In lieu of listing a decent chunk of the Reds roster, I’ll shorten it to this: anyone due to make any amount of money during the 2022 season, more or less....
Joey Votto has a no-trade clause, so he’s probably set (unless the other moves anger him to the point he waives it), while each of Eugenio Suarez, Shogo Akiyama, and Mike Moustakas have enough dead money on their deals to make moving them hard to envision without eating piles of money.
That leaves the starting rotation as the likely place the Reds look to shed more payroll, though admittedly they’ve got a trio of arms there with two-years of team control each who are well, well worth what they’re due.
With Miley already gone, the Reds have three more pitchers that could generate trade interest - Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Tyler Mahle. Gray is the oldest and most established, and is on a more expensive long-term deal that will pay him $10,866,667 in 2022 with some incentives, and a $12 million club option for 2023. Mahle is the youngest, but has had the least success so far. Castillo is the best combination of youth and success and it will likely take a good haul to pry him from the Reds.
Reds pitchers from 2019-2021
Castillo is projected to make $7.6 million in 2022 through arbitration, while Mahle is projected to make $5.6 million. Both players would be under club control in 2023 as well before being eligible for free agency in 2024.
The Reds should get a lot of calls for the trio of pitchers, but what are they looking to get back? Again, here’s Terrell:
If you roll things back to last winter - when the Reds also were desperate to shed salary at all costs - the answer might well be ‘literally anything.’ They dumped Archie Bradley at the non-tender deadline and traded Raisel Iglesias at the drop of a hat for a song, meaning their last four deals have netted them absolutely nothing of note.
That said, each of Castillo, Mahle, and Gray carry a lot more value than the recent dumpees, and I’ve listed them in the order of said value, I believe. The Reds do have a pretty envious core of MLB-ready and/or rookie class of players headlined by pitchers Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, catcher Tyler Stephenson, shortstop Jose Barrero, and newly tabbed NL Rookie of the Year 2B Jonathan India, and they’d probably be aiming for a return that jibes with that timeline. I’m sure they wouldn’t turn down a far-off cache of prospects, but any deal of Castillo or Gray, in particular, would almost certainly be targeting players who could chip in immediately, with outfield being by far the weakest part of the way their roster is currently built.
So here’s my proposed trade:
Proposed trade: Kyle Isbel, Vinnie Pasquantino, and Emilio Marquez for Sonny Gray
Why the Royals do it: The Royals could shoot for the moon and try to get Castillo, but it would probably take something like the package they used to get James Shields, something they likely aren’t willing to do until they are closer to contention. Gray has been a very solid pitcher, putting up 4.1 fWAR in 191 1⁄3 innings and 37 starts since the beginning of the 2020 season. He could give the Royals a front-of-the-rotation pitcher to give them innings and help protect arms. Isbel is a solid on-base hitter, but it is not clear he has a spot in Kansas City with the team re-signing Michael A. Taylor and committing to Hunter Dozier, particularly if they re-sign Andrew Benintendi. The Royals could add a solid starting pitcher without having to give up their top tier core of prospects. Pasquantino is likely behind Nick Pratto on the depth list at first base, and could become expendable.
Why the Reds do it: They save over $10 million in payroll this year, and Isbel gives them another option in centerfield with TJ Friedl, Nick Senzel, and Shogo Akiyama. Heasley and Pasquantino are also close to MLB-ready, with Pasquantino perhaps an eventual successor to Joey Votto. I tried to push Terrell on Adalberto Mondesi, but the Reds seem to see Kyle Farmer as a fine stop gap with Jose Barrero near MLB-ready. However if Krall feels differently, perhaps he or Nicky Lopez is an option as well.
Why the Royals don’t do it: Trading Isbel makes their outfield depth very thin, and he could be a fallback option if they don’t bring Benintendi back in 2023. Pasquantino could be a DH option for an offense that still needs major upgrades. Gray wouldn’t really move the needle much, and his age and contract are cause for concern. If the Reds are really looking to just dump salary and a market for Gray doesn’t really materialize, this package may be too much to offer.
Why the Reds don’t do it: Gray has been pretty good and with more teams looking to increase their payroll, the Reds could get a more attractive haul than this. There are no high-ceiling prospects in this package.
Would you trade Kyle Isbel, Vinnie Pasquantino, and Emilio Marquez for Sonny Gray?
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