CINCINNATI — The fact that the Reds are bringing Bryan Price back tells you that the club does not think the problem is with its manager or coaches.
If you think that, you’ve got to give Price a team that is capable of winning in 2018. To do that, the team has to address the pitching. The offense was good enough to win with this year.
The Reds are sixth in the National League in runs scored. The five teams above them — Washington, Colorado, the Chicago Cubs, Arizona and the Los Angels Dodgers — would all be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
The Reds, of course, would be heading home if the season ended today. That’s because the team has the worst pitching in the NL. The overall ERA is 5.26. The starting pitching has been incredibly bad — 5.76 ERA with an average outing of just over five innings per game. That’s affected the bullpen, which was decent until the workload caught up with them.
There have been some encouraging signs lately. Going into Tuesday, the starters had put up a 2.94 ERA over the last 11 games. The rookies in the rotation seem to be rounding into form. Luis Castillo, Robert Stephenson, Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano are on good rolls.
Based on that, Price thinks the Reds can take a big step forward next year. But that is not to say, he thinks they can do with the pitchers currently on the roster.
“I do think we can win next year,” Price said. “But I think we need to prop the pitching up with some experience. I think the bullpen is going to need an injection of experience, and I think we could use a veteran that could compete for a job in the rotation or something more substantial.
“The challenge we have is defining our anticipated starting rotation or anticipated depth and then answering that ‘what if?’ question. My concern is what happens if we had a setback to an experienced guy who we’re counting on in our rotation.
“I think to make a big stride we have to be competitive one through five in our rotation. That’s really where our success was in our recent history and in the long history of the Reds.”
The "what if" happened early for the Reds this year. Homer Bailey had a setback before the season began. Anthony DeSclafani has been hurt all year. Brandon Finnegan has been out since April.
If something were to happen in ’18, Price would like to have a veteran to rely on.
“The issue is, we’ve had a really hard time getting out of spring training healthy for the last several years,” he said. “The issue is if something was to happen . . . We’re somewhat heavy in young starting pitching now. We’ve got a lot guys who got to Triple-A or the big leagues that we’re excited about.
“The issue is if something happens to a more experienced guy. Now you have to plug someone in who’s not quite ready for big leagues. They’re a stopgap. I’d like to avoid that if possible.
“We’ll have a lot of internal discussions. This isn’t my call. But my recommendation would be to have some experience.”
Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams shares that belief.
The problem for the Reds is starting pitching is probably the most expensive and sought-after commodity on the free agent market. Brandon Phillips ($13 million), Zack Cozart ($5.3 million), Drew Storen ($3 million) and Scott Feldman ($2.3 million) will come off the books.
That’s $23.6 million. That would buy a pretty good starter. Think Lance Lynn, maybe.
Of course, no decent starter is going to sign for one year. But the Reds would really only have bite the budget bullet for two years. Homer Bailey is signed through 2019. After that, his $23 million salary comes off the books.
I think the Reds have to make a bold move. Fans are growing weary of the length of the rebuild. Another lost season is going to test even the most patient fans.
The Reds will get a much better idea in the last month of season on what they have as far as pitching depth.
Castillo and Mahle will come out because they are approaching their innings limits. Amir Garrett will go in. Cody Reed and Rookie Davis, like Garrett, will get another shot at the rotation.
If they pitch well, it bodes well for 2018. Any of the three could be used in the bullpen or rotation for 2018. Right now, it looks like the Reds have more arms than slots.
But as the last couple of years taught us, you can never have too many good arms.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.