The Cincinnati Reds have a strong collection of position players, but have remained near the bottom of the NL Central standings as they’ve struggled to develop pitching from within. It seemed likely that they’d add pitching either via trade or free agency this winter in an effort to compete before their core group of hitters begins to decline. After already adding a few minor pieces (Matt Bowman, Robby Scott), the Reds made their biggest splash of the winter so far by acquiring Tanner Roark from the Washington Nationals in exchange for 25-year-old relief prospect Tanner Rainey.
Roark has been a durable part of Washington’s rotation for six years and has thrown 180 or more innings in four of the last five seasons, only failing to do so in 2015 because he was relegated to the bullpen after Max Scherzer’s acquisition and because he was briefly on paternity leave. That quantity of innings drove mid-rotation WAR production during his tenure in D.C., though he has been declining in that regard (3.3 WAR in ’16, 2.5 in ’17, 1.9 in ’18) despite showing very little decline in stuff. Steamer and Depth Charts both project a continued gradual decline (1.5 WAR) in 2019, Roark’s final arbitration year before hitting free agency. Those projection systems assume Roark’s workload will scale back in his age-32 season, and they have him projected to make just 26 starts. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections expect similar production.
For now, Roark probably slots into the no. 2 spot in the Reds rotation behind Luis Castillo. The Nationals should be able to back fill for Roark with some combination of Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, or perhaps a quick-moving Wil Crowe, to say nothing of what Washington may add via free agency.
For one year of Roark, the Reds sent relief prospect Tanner Rainey to Washington. Rainey has good stuff, with his fastball sitting in the 95-99 range and touching 100, and his upper-80s slider spinning in at an average of 2600 rpm, which is rare for a pitch of that velocity.
Each of those impact pitches theoretically give Rainey a shot to be a late-inning, high-leverage reliever, but his command, which is not great, might force him into a middle-relief role instead. The chance that one of Rainey or Jimmy Cordero — who is similarly talented and similarly flawed — figure things out and become a real late-inning option are pretty fair, and the Nationals have several years to polish Rainey’s talent. That Rainey is leaving a place that has struggled to develop pitching probably helps his chances of getting there.
Rainey was a 40 FV player on our recent Reds prospect list, ranking 18th. He was one of several hard-throwing Reds relief prospects in their mid-20s who are approaching the Majors. They’ve traded from a position of depth to acquire a player of great need, and the short window of team control over Roark would seem to indicate that they’re going to add more pitching in attempt to field a competitive team.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.