Right-hander Sonny Gray is reportedly in agreement with the Cardinals on a three-year, $75MM deal. Per a report from Mark Sheldon of MLB.com, the Reds pursued Gray and were “close” before Gray agreed with the Cards instead. Sheldon adds that the Reds are interested in righty Tyler Glasnow of the Rays, who is thought to be on the trading block.
Pitching is in an obvious target area for the Reds this winter, given that they have a surplus of position players. They have enough choices for their lineup that they declined their club option on franchise icon Joey Votto, with president of baseball operations Nick Krall explaining that the club didn’t have the necessary playing time for him. Jonathan India might be in a similar boat, despite having a reputation as a strong clubhouse presence and having won Rookie of the Year back in 2021. Reports have suggested a trade is likely, though Krall has pushed back on that.
Regardless of whether India is available or not, the pitching staff is clearly the place for the club to dedicate some resources, something that Krall has admitted. The talented lineup almost vaulted the Reds into the 2023 postseason, but they ultimately came up just short while deploying an injury-marred and insufficient pitching staff. The club’s hurlers had a collective 4.83 earned run average on the year, which placed them ahead of just five teams in the league. The rotation was a particular problem, as the starters posted a combined 5.43 ERA that was better than just the Athletics and Rockies.
Health was a significant factor there, with many of their young hurlers hitting the injured list. Lefty Nick Lodolo had a strong debut in 2022 but was limited to just seven starts this past year due to a stress reaction in his left tibia. Hunter Greene missed a couple of months due to hip pain and posted a 4.82 ERA in his 22 starts. Graham Ashcraft went to the IL both due to a left calf contusion and a right big toe stress reaction, being limited to 26 starts with a 4.76 ERA.
If all three of them are healthy next year, then that gives the club a solid young core. Lefty Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson should be in the mix after decent rookie seasons in 2023, with Abbott having recorded an ERA of 3.87 in 21 starts while Williamson was at 4.46 in his 23 outings. But Abbott’s 79.9% strand rate was a bit on the high side, leading his 4.20 FIP and 4.33 SIERA to be a bit skeptical of his ERA, whereas Williamson posted his passable results despite a subpar 20% strikeout rate.
There’s clearly lots of talent in that rotation mix but each guy is fairly inexperienced. In 2023, most of them were either injured or putting up tepid results or both. Bolstering this group with an established arm could raise the ceiling while also improving the depth, reducing the chances of them being undercut by injuries yet again in 2024.
It seems they have some funds available for such a pursuit, based on this report. While we don’t have any details on what kind of numbers the Reds were putting in front of Gray or if an official offer was made, the Cards seem to have sealed the deal at $25MM per season. The Reds could have offered a higher average annual value on two years or perhaps offered a four-year deal with a lower AAV, but the fact that they seemed to be in the running suggests that they had some ability to add a contract around that size.
That tracks with the interest in Glasnow as well, since he has one year left on his contract with that exact figure of $25MM. That’s a bargain for a pitcher of Glasnow’s quality, as he has a 3.03 ERA over the last five years, striking out 35% of batters while walking just 7.7% and keeping the ball on the ground at a 47.2% rate. He wouldn’t really help the injury instability in Cincinnati since he just returned from Tommy John surgery that wiped out much of his 2022. The 120 innings he threw in 2023 are actually a career high, as he’s dealt with various other ailments throughout his career. But he would immediately jump to the top of the rotation in Cincy if they were able to acquire him. MLBTR’s Anthony Franco recently took a look at 12 teams that made sense for Glasnow, with the Reds being one of them.
Whether they can actually get him is another question. The Rays have every intention of continuing to compete and aren’t rebuilding. The only reason Glasnow is considered available is because of his contract and the constant payroll concerns of the Rays. Sheldon adds that the club would be looking for an MLB-ready starter in return.
That makes sense when considering things from the Tampa perspective. In the 2023 season, each of Shane McClanahan, Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen underwent a significant elbow surgery and those three are set to miss most or all of the upcoming campaign. That leaves them with Glasnow, Zach Eflin and Aaron Civale in their rotation. Shane Baz should be in the mix but he just missed all of 2023 recovering from his own Tommy John surgery. Taj Bradley had a fairly uninspiring rookie campaign. Zack Littell could play a role but he was just recently moved from the bullpen to the rotation.
There’s plenty of uncertainty there and that’s especially true if Glasnow is removed from the equation. If the Reds were to strike on Glasnow, they would probably have to include one of their own young starters, allowing the Rays to save money but keep their rotation in competitive condition. After the Reds missed the playoffs, Krall spoke to reporters about the club’s lack of activity at last year’s deadline. “I don’t have any regrets not doing anything,” he said. “I still wouldn’t have given up players on our roster for shorter-term assets.”
Glasnow only has one year remaining on his deal, so he would be a short-term asset. Though by acquiring Glasnow in the offseason as opposed to the deadline, there would at least be the chance to recoup a draft pick later by extending the qualifying offer at the end of the 2024 campaign. Perhaps that makes Krall more willing to accept the acquisition cost of getting a short-term asset but it’s also something that the Rays will be factoring into their asking price.
Time will tell whether a Glasnow deal can come together, but even if it doesn’t, it seems the Reds have at least some willingness to add a sizeable contract to their books as a means of upgrading their rotation. Roster Resource estimates their payroll at just $52MM for 2024, as of today. They were at $83MM in 2023 and have been as high as $127MM in the past, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Even if they add a $25MM contract, they would only be at $77MM, presumably leaving more room for bullpen/bench additions as they look to take another step forward next year.