If you follow the Reds, you likely know the offseason story by now. It started with Tucker Barnhart being traded as soon as the offseason began. That was followed by this ominous quote from general manager Nick Krall: “Going into 2022, we must align our payroll to our resources and continue focusing on scouting and developing young talent from within our system.” Shortly after that, Nick Castellanos opted out of his contract and entered free agency, and Wade Miley was claimed off waivers by the Cubs.
It’s possible that the departures of Castellanos and Miley mean that the alignment of payroll and resources is now done and that no further salary trimming is required. However, that didn’t stop the rumor mill from grinding up Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle throughout November, as numerous teams were reportedly interested in acquiring them.
Whether they end up finalizing a deal or not, there are still other rotation slots to consider. Castillo, Gray and Mahle have gotten most of the attention in recent months, but the club still needs to think about their fourth and fifth starters. No team gets through a full season with just five starters either, due to injuries and underperformance, meaning the club will need to think about depth as well.
Vladimir Gutierrez should be pencilled into one of the backend spots after making 22 starts in 2021. The righty logged 114 innings with an ERA of 4.74, but strikeout and walk rates of just 17.7% and 9.3%, both of which are worse than league average. There are some reasons for optimism, however, as he’s only 26 and had better results in Triple-A last year. It was only three starts and 17 innings, but his 2.65 ERA was accompanied by a 31.3% strikeout rate, although his 10.4% walk rate was still high.
2021 was an excellent year for Reiver Sanmartin, who started the year in Double-A, getting promoted after logging 18 innings with a 0.50 ERA. In Triple-A, he added another 82 1/3 innings with a 3.94 ERA, 25.9% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate. The southpaw was called up to the big leagues as the season was winding down and made a pair of starts, throwing 11 2/3 innings with a 1.54 ERA. In the Dominican Winter League, he added another 31 innings with an ERA of 1.45. He’ll turn 26 in April.
Jeff Hoffman pitched in 31 games for the Reds in 2021, with 11 of those being starts. In those starts, he put up an ERA of 5.20, with an 18.5% strikeout rate and 14.2% walk rate. He was much better out of the ’pen, throwing 28 innings with an ERA of 3.54, 32.3% strikeout rate and 12.1% walk rate. Unlike Gutierrez and Sanmartin, he’s out of options, meaning he’ll likely be on the big league team either way, but it seems like the bullpen might be a better home for the 29-year-old.
Tony Santillan made four starts for the Reds in 2021, along with 22 relief appearances. He was fine enough in those four starts, as evidenced by his 3.78 ERA. But like Hoffman, he was even better out of the ’pen, putting up an ERA of 2.36, with a 33.3% strikeout rate and 10.2% walk rate. He has one option year remaining and is still young, turning 25 in April, meaning he could be used as Triple-A depth if he’s not needed on the big league club.
Riley O’Brien threw 112 2/3 Triple-A innings last year with an ERA of 4.55. His 24.7% strikeout rate is encouraging but his 11.2% walk rate concerning. He got called up to make one start for the Reds in September, but lasted only an inning and a third. He’ll turn 27 next week but still has options remaining.
Hunter Greene is considered one of the best prospects in baseball, landing in the top 35 on the Top 100 lists of Baseball America, MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs. He started 2021 in Double-A and dominated. Over seven starts and 41 innings, he had a 1.98 ERA, 37% strikeout rate and 8.6% walk rate. After a promotion to Triple-A, he wasn’t quite as dominant but still quite effective. Over 14 starts and 65 1/3 innings, he had a 4.13 ERA, strikeout rate of 28.6% and walk rate of 9.1%. He just turned 22 in August and was added to the 40-man roster in November.
There’s another highly-touted prospect in Nick Lodolo, who also appears on the three aforementioned Top 100 lists. Like Greene, he dominated at Double-A last year, throwing 44 innings over ten starts with an ERA of 1.84, strikeout rate of 39.3% and walk rate of 5.2%. He got promoted to Triple-A and made three starts before a shoulder strain finished his season. He’ll turn 24 this week but isn’t yet on the 40-man.
Further depth options include Graham Ashcraft, who finished 2021 at Double-A, and minor league signees Connor Overton and Ben Lively. Despite that crop of intriguing options, none of them should be considered locks for 2022. Gutierrez and Hoffman are the only ones with more than 45 MLB innings under their belts, and they both come with concerns.
In a vacuum, a team with a rotation consisting of three strong starters and two question marks should be adding and not subtracting, especially if they have designs on competing. The club was connected to Andrew Heaney before he signed with the Dodgers, meaning they have at least considered supplementing this group. However, it’s possible that move would have been combined with one of the oft-rumored trade scenarios of Gray, Castillo or Mahle.
Although the market for free agent starting pitching was largely picked over prior to the lockout, there are still some decent veteran options available, such as Michael Pineda, Tyler Anderson, Drew Smyly and Brett Anderson. A signing of that nature could theoretically add some stability to this highly volatile group without breaking the bank.
The Reds front office seems to be between a rock and a hard place here, as they can’t reasonably consider tearing down the roster at this point. After six straight losing season from 2014 to 2019, which included four straight seasons in the NL Central basement, they’ve recently opened a competitive window. But after two seasons of nudging just beyond the .500 mark, they can’t ask their fans to hold their noses and start the process all over again. However, they don’t seem to have been given the resources necessary to make an impact signing, which might force them to get creative about how they build their rotation for 2022. With that impressive depth, they should be able to navigate it to some degree. But that depth could either be Plan A or Plan B, depending on whether they add or subtract after the lockout is over.