Reds add veteran starting pitcher to inexperienced rotation

Reds add veteran starting pitcher to inexperienced rotation

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The Reds have agreed to a deal with free-agent righty Frankie Montas, according to Jon Heyman of the New York Post.  Heyman reported that Montas would receive somewhere in the range of $15M-$16M on the one-year deal, and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale adds that the salary is indeed $16M.  Montas is represented by the Boras Corporation.

With Nick Martinez signed to a two-year, $26M deal last month, Montas is the second Boras client to join Cincinnati’s rotation mix.  While Martinez might still factor into the Reds’ bullpen plans, Montas is more of a clear-cut starter, assuming that he is back to full health after a lost 2023 season.

The Reds’ projected rotation of Hunter Greene, Andrew Abbott, Graham Ashcraft and Nick Lodolo have a lot of potential but also a lot of injury questions and not a lot of big league experience.  As a result, the Reds were known to be looking for starting pitching help this winter, and they have been linked to a wide array of names on both the free-agent and trade fronts.  A trade has always seemed to be the likeliest route for pitching help given Cincinnati’s wealth of minor league depth, yet the Reds have also been linked to such free agents as Seth Lugo, Yariel Rodriguez, and old friend Sonny Gray.

Gray’s name might linger in the background of today’s signing, as the Reds would surely love to see Montas replicate Gray as a starter who got back on track in Cincinnati after struggling in the Bronx.  After finishing sixth in AL Cy Young Award voting with the A’s in 2021, Montas continued to pitch well in 2022 and was one of the more sought-after pitchers at the trade deadline.  Oakland ultimately moved Montas to the Yankees as part of a six-player trade, yet things went haywire for Montas almost as soon as the deal was completed.

Montas struggled to a 6.35 ERA over eight starts and 39 2/3 innings for the Yankees, as he tried to pitch through some shoulder problems that bothered him prior to the trade.  He spent some time on the injured list due to shoulder inflammation, which unfortunately set the stage for his nightmare of a 2023 campaign.  The right-hander ended up undergoing labrum cleanup surgery in February and pitched in just one game (1 1/3 innings on September 30) last year, at least giving himself some peace of mind health-wise as he entered the offseason.

The Yankees felt good enough about Montas’ shoulder that they had some interest in re-signing him this winter, yet Montas will now head to Cincinnati for a fresh start.  His deal almost exactly matched the one-year, $15M pact that MLB Trade Rumors projected for Montas in our top 50 free agents list, with Montas sitting 44th in the ranking.  If $16M seems high for a pitcher who basically missed an entire season, the price tag speaks to the high cost of pitching, and the possible upside Montas brings if he is back to his old self.

Montas showed flashes of his quality in posting a 3.13 ERA over 161 innings for Oakland during the 2018-19 seasons, yet the latter season was cut short by an 80-game PED suspension.  He also struggled during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign before delivering his first full top-tier season in 2021, with a 3.37 ERA and solidly above-average strikeout and walk rates over 187 innings.

Naturally there’s some risk for the Reds in this deal, as $16M is a big expenditure for a team with a mid-level payroll and Montas isn’t a sure thing.  However, the risk is at least somewhat reduced as just a one-year splurge, plus Montas might have some extra value if he does return to his old form.  Should Montas pitch well, the Reds could issue him a qualifying offer next winter, and thus net a compensatory draft pick if Montas signed elsewhere.  Or, of course, Montas and the Reds might end up working out a longer-term contract themselves depending on how things play out in 2024.

Cincinnati’s payroll sits just under the $103M mark after this signing, according to Roster Resource.  Considering that the Reds topped the $126M payroll mark as recently as 2021 before their brief rebuild period, president of baseball operations Nick Krall might have a bit of extra spending capacity in what has already been a busy winter.  In addition to Montas and Martinez, the Reds also signed Jeimer Candelario to a three-year, $45M deal, and reliever Emilio Pagan for two years and $16M.  Cincinnati already emerged from its rebuild with an 82-win season in 2023 and now looks to challenge for the NL Central title, with these veteran signings buoying the club’s exciting core of young talent.

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