The Cincinnati Reds ended the abbreviated 2020 season ranked second-to-last in Major League Baseball within the saves category with nine.
The team traded former second-round pick Stuart Fairchild and utilityman Josh VanMeter to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Archie Bradley to solidify the back end of its bullpen. It held a reliever earned run average of 4.53 and the 15th-most strikeouts with 234. The Reds needed an upgrade.
Cincinnati’s approach to its offseason so far has been addition by subtraction. First, the Reds non-tendered Bradley on Dec. 2, which was the deadline to offer a contract to arbitration-eligible players. Then, the ballclub sent Raisel Iglesias, who had been Cincinnati’s most familiar closer, to the Los Angeles Angels on Dec. 7 for right-hander Noe Ramirez, who will soon be 31-years-old. He struck out 14 and allowed seven runs in 21 innings pitched this season.
As the Winter Meetings – virtually – wrap up, the Reds stand without their eighth and ninth inning arms.
While trading Iglesias’s contract and non-tendering Bradley did cut costs, it shows the front office must trust its remaining relievers to close games next season. Let’s take a look at which pitchers may be handed the ball to save ball games for Cincinnati in 2021.
Perhaps the first player who comes to mind is the 28-year-old left-hander. Amir Garrett, who has just one career save and finished 14 games, held opposing batters to a mere .176 batting average.
Garrett stepped up in 2020 both on and off the field. He became an influencer on Twitch and social media, as well as finished with a career-low 2.45 ERA. About two-thirds of opposing batters have been right-handed hitters over Garrett’s career, which has come almost exclusively from the bullpen as he hasn’t started a game since 2017.
The energy and mindset in which Garrett pitches could be fierce enough to handle closing duties. Garrett has thrown just 6.2 career innings in the ninth vs. 55.1 in the seventh, which is his most, so he’s comfortable with performing as a set-up man as well.
A one-time, two-way consideration may see himself ending ballgames should Cincinnati turn to the six-year veteran.
Michael Lorenzen started as many games as he finished in 2020 – two. He appeared out of the bullpen in 16 games, allowing 14 runs in 24 IP. The 28-year-old also recorded a career-high 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings, but his walk numbers also increased and tied his career-high of 4.5 per nine walks per strikeout.
Lorenzen has 10 career saves and has allowed the third-fewest runs in the ninth inning in his career with 13. His eighth-inning statistics are a bit sharper as he held opposing batters to an inning-low .229 batting average and has struck out 96 batters. Similar to Garrett, Lorenzen could pitch as a set-up man.
A rather surprising choice comes as the lone player left from the Adam Duvall trade in 2018.
The Reds have thought highly of Lucas Sims, and rightfully so, as he is just 26-years-old and has pitched in parts of five seasons. While he’s yet to record a save, Sims finished five games last season and pitched a 2.45 ERA. His 34 strikeouts were second-most for a Reds reliever, behind Lorenzen.
It is likely that Cincinnati is still tinkering with where it views Sims. He’s thrown just 6.2 innings in the ninth, but holds career-lows in innings 7-9 with an opponent batting average (.175), runs allowed (19), and on-base percentage (.294). Sims could be a sneaky choice to earn the role as the Reds’ closer next season.
Should the Reds look elsewhere to fill their closer role, there are a few options in the market.
Liam Hendriks is a free agent and has held down the closer role for the Oakland Athletics the last two seasons, accruing 39 saves in that time. His salary last season was $5.3 million, according to Baseball-Reference. Hendriks allowed just one home run in 25.1 IP in 2020 but has also been linked to the New York Mets, according to Andy Martino of SNY.
Brad Hand is a left-handed option and was the Cleveland Indians’ closer for the last two-and-a-half seasons. He led all of baseball in saves, recording 16 in 2020, and allowing five earned runs in 22 IP. Hand’s salary was north of $7.5 million a year ago.
Trevor Rosenthal and Blake Treinen are a couple of other free agent possibilities. Rosenthal excelled with the Kansas City Royals and was traded to the San Diego Padres. He pitched a 1.90 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 23.2 IP this season. Treinen had a 3.86 ERA and allowed 23 hits in 25.2 IP with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season.
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