The Cincinnati Reds will most likely have to deal a starting pitcher this year, even if the return trade doesn’t provide the most immediate fix for an anemic offense.
Four of the Reds’ likeliest starting rotation upon the return of Mat Latos will be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season: Latos, Johnny Cueto, Alfredo Simon and Mike Leake.
Of the four, Latos and Cueto are front-end starters, the kind of starters that are rare for a small market team like the Reds to secure with any regularity. Trading either Latos or Cueto would be self-defeating if the Reds have any expectation to vie for the postseason or go deep into it this year or next.
Besides, back-end starters of the rotation like Simon and Leake are more easily replaced than front-end starters like Latos and Cueto. Back-end starters won’t yield the same quality of return in a trade, but the Reds need to deal a starter for a few different reasons.
Leake makes the most sense because Simon can be retained for a fraction of the cost of keeping Leake, who stands to haul in at least $9 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility in 2015. The sooner the Reds trade Leake while he has his 2014 salary in place the better in terms of trade value.
Besides considerations of money and trade value, the Reds have a rotation logjam. Tony Cingrani will most likely be the short-term casualty of that logjam when Latos makes his season debut in the near future. Cingrani needs to remain a starter now and in the future. Dealing Leake enables Cingrani to continue his starting role.
There’s also the likelihood that the Reds could have two minor leaguers ready for a big league splash as early as 2015 in Robert Stephenson and Michael Lorenzen, either of whom could find their way in the rotation then by virtue of injury or performance.
So even though Leake may not command top trade value, the Reds are better off dealing him and not offering another Homer Bailey type contract extension for a pitcher who seems destined to remain a back of the rotation starter.