Reds Continue Cost-Cutting with Trade of Iglesias

After beefing up their payroll to the point of setting a franchise record, the Reds made the playoffs for the first time since 2013, but thus far this winter, they’ve gone into cost-cutting mode. Not only do they appear likely to lose Trevor Bauer in free agency, but they non-tendered late-season pickup Archie Bradley, have let it be known that they’re listening to offers for Sonny Gray, and on Monday traded closer Raisel Iglesias to the Angels for reliever Noé Ramirez.

Quite clearly, for the Reds it’s money driving this particular move rather than talent. Iglesias, who turns 31 on January 4, has saved 100 games over the past four seasons and is coming off a strong campaign — if 23 innings can be called a campaign — in which his 1.1 WAR ranked second among NL relievers behind Rookie of the Year Devin Williams. He’s due to make $9.125 million in the final year of a three-year, $24.125 million extension that he signed in November 2018. By contrast Ramirez, who turns 31 on December 22, has compiled just 0.4 WAR in parts of six major league seasons, including 0.1 in his 21-inning season with the Angels. As a Super Two, he’s heading into his second year of arbitration eligibility but is under club control through 2023; if not for the pandemic, he would have made $900,000 in 2020 (all dollar figures in this piece are full-season salaries, not prorated).

The Reds are sending an undisclosed amount of cash to the Angels, and will receive “future considerations,” either a player to be named later or cash sometime down the road. At best, that’s a minimal sweetener to offset the apparent imbalance in talent. Perhaps there’s something that Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson — whose reunion with Gray, whom he coached at Vanderbilt, helped him regain form, while pitchers such as Luis Castillo, Anthony Desclafani, and Bauer improved on his watch as well — sees in Ramirez, but given his low velocity (an average of 88.8 mph on his four-seam fastball, putting him in the eighth percentile) and underwhelming numbers, its unclear what that might be.

In other words, this is clearly a salary dump.

In Iglesias, the Angels are getting a reliever who has had his ups and downs in recent years but who has generally been reliable, ranking seventh in relief innings since 2017 (238), 14th in WAR (4.5), and 30th in ERA (2.95), strikeout rate (30.2%), and strikeout-walk differential (22.1%) among the 218 relievers with at least 100 innings in that span. In 2020, he posted his best fastball velocity since 2017 (96.2 mph), and set career bests in swinging strike rate (18.2%), strikeout rate (34.1%), walk rate (5.5%), strikeout-walk differential (28.6%), O-Swing rate (36.8%), and home run rate (0.4 per nine). He was outstanding at suppressing hard contact; his 27.5% hard-hit rate placed in the 93rd percentile, his .236 xwOBA in the 96th. In the small slice of innings he had — a total exceeded by 71 relievers — he just never had a bad stretch unless you count the first two outings of his season, when he allowed four of his 11 runs.

He’ll slot in at closer in a bullpen that was due for a significant makeover. The unit as a whole, which ranked 10th in the league in ERA (4.63) and eighth in FIP (4.17), wasn’t the Angels’ biggest problem; a rotation that was lit for a 5.52 ERA and 4.78 FIP played a bigger role in the team’s 26-34 finish. Nevertheless, the Angels didn’t have much stability in the ninth-inning slot. Hansel Robles, who picked up the slack and saved 23 games when the signing of Cody Allen went sideways in 2019, was torched for 10 runs in his first four appearances, after which he was rarely used in a high-leverage spot; he was non-tendered last week. Ty Buttrey saved a team-high five games, albeit with a sky-high 5.81 ERA and 4.94 FIP. Matt Andriese, Mike Mayers, and Felix Peña each collected a pair of saves, but Andriese was non-tendered as well. The Angels’ bullpen currently projects to be eighth in the majors in WAR via our Depth Chart rankings, but with dozens of free agent relievers yet to sign, that’s a very preliminary placement, and new general manager Perry Minasian should strive to keep improving the unit.

Here it’s worth noting that Raisel is actually the second Iglesias whom Minasian has traded for; shortstop José Iglesias was acquired from the Orioles earlier this month. We’re still awaiting word on whether Minasian will have the payroll to go after the legendary singer Julio Iglesias, but with the team currently third in the majors in 2021 commitments already at $164 million ($178.2 million for Competitive Balance Tax purposes), the Halos will probably have to go a less expensive route.

As for the Reds, last winter after a 75-87 season in which they demonstrated that they had the pitching to contend for a playoff spot, they signed both Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas to four-year, $64 million contracts, added Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama via a three-year, $21 million deal, and snapped up Wade Miley via a two-year, $15 million pact as well. They also retained Bauer, whom they had acquired from the Indians at the July 31 trade deadline, via a one-year, $17.5 million deal in his final year before free agency.

The result was an Opening Day payroll that would have weighed in at a franchise-record $147 million, according to Cot’s Contracts. But even with the pricey overhaul, the team’s offense was thoroughly underwhelming, ranking second-to-last in the NL in scoring at 4.05 runs per game, and 11th in wRC+ at 91. On the other hand, a rotation led by a Cy Young-winning season from Bauer posted an major league-low 3.47 FIP as well as the NL’s third-lowest ERA (3.50), though the bullpen was eighth in both FIP and ERA (4.64 and 4.53, respectively).

In the pandemic-shortened season, the Reds went 31-29, tying the Cardinals for second in the NL Central but winding up with the seventh seed in the expanded playoff field, and facing the NL East champion Braves in the Wild Card Series. Though Bauer and Castillo both pitched very well, combining to allow just one run in 14 innings, the Reds’ offense didn’t score a single run in 22 innings as the team was quickly swept out of the playoffs.

Now, after a season in which they neither took in gate revenue nor received revenue sharing money from large-market teams, the Reds are shedding parts and payroll left and right. Bauer had the team’s second-highest salary behind that of Joey Votto, whose three years and $82 million remaining (including a $7 million buyout for 2024) makes him virtually untradeable given his offensive decline. Gray, who pitched to a 3.70 ERA and 3.05 FIP in 2020, had their fifth-highest salary ($10.825 million). He has two years and $20 million remaining on his deal, plus a palatable $12 million club option for 2023. An honorable mention in our most recent Trade Value Top 50 series, he would probably bring back multiple players in trade, but not necessarily ones that would replicate his performance as a second or third starter in 2021.

Iglesias, at $9 million before proration, had the team’s sixth-highest salary 2020. Starter Anthony DeSclafani and middle infielder Freddy Galvis, both of whom became free agents, were ninth and 10th with salaries of $5.976 and $5.5 million, respectively, while Bradley made $4.1 million, which would have ranked 11th had the Reds picked up the whole tab. So that’s five of the team’s top 11 salaries from 2020 off the books, totaling about $42 million minus whatever the Reds sent to the Angels in the trade.

If the Reds fancy themselves contenders in 2021, new general manager Nick Krall — who characterized the Iglesias trade as “a move that helps us reallocate resources” — will have to spend some of that money, as their biggest needs are a starting shortstop and more pitching depth. The rotation currently projects to include Castillo, Gray (if he’s not traded), Miley (who missed nearly a month of 2020 due to a shoulder strain), and Tyler Mahle, with Michael Lorenzen, Tejay Antone, and newly-acquired Jeff Hoffman additionally in the mix for a rotation spot. Even without Bauer, the unit currently projects as the majors’ sixth-best, again with the caveat regarding free agents remaining.

The bullpen projects to be middle-of-the pack, but beyond whatever surplus arms there are from the rotation battle, Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims are the only relievers to write home about, projection-wise, and neither has any real experience as closer. Retaining Bradley, who saved 24 games for the Diamondbacks in 2019-20, and who turned in a 2.95 ERA and 2.59 FIP in 18.1 innings last year, would have made a whole lot of sense, particularly given that he projected to make something in the $4.7-$5.7 million range in his final year of arbitration eligibility according to MLB Trade Rumors. How the Reds intend to get that kind of bang for the buck from another closer alternative is a mystery at this writing.

As for Ramirez, the forgotten man in this transaction, he hardly profiles as a late-inning option. Though he set a career low with a 3.00 ERA in 2020, his 4.52 FIP represented a jump of 0.8 runs per nine over ’19. His strikeout and walk rates converged, with the former plummeting from 28.2% to 16.5% and the latter climbing from 7.1% to 10.6%; his chase rate and swinging strike rate both took substantial hits. He did have a barrel rate that was well above average (4.9%, 77th percentile), but his .295 xwOBA placed him in the 58th percentile. Short story shorter: he’ll have to miss more bats if he’s going to be more than a middle reliever.

All of which is to say that the trade of Iglesias helps to clear some salary for the Reds, but after a year in which they took a significant step forward, their commitment to remaining contenders appears to be taking a back seat to financial concerns.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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Cave Dameron
1 year ago

Now they can afford to sign Yadier Molina.

1 year ago
Reply to  Cave Dameron

idk the hate, this is a good joke lol