Conventional wisdom holds that one does not get too excited about anything going on in the standings before Memorial Day, and that’s still two weeks from now. Still, how can you now get a kick out of the Cincinnati Reds sitting in first place?
Especially that first place came as the result of taking two of three from a St. Louis Cardinals team that everyone — myself included — figured would have an easier path to a division title than anyone in baseball. Sure, I and a lot of others tabbed the Reds as their trendy little “they might surprise” pick, but we figured that a surprise from the Reds might be that they come within five games of the Cardinals. Not that they’d pass them up.
But like I said: it’s early. The current surge has had a lot to do with facing cold teams like the Pirates and a suddenly-skidding Cardinals squad. They’ve gotten great starting pitching — three complete games last week — and sparkling defense as of late that, while obviously indicative of talent, has been so good that even the most optimistic Reds backers can’t expect it to be sustainable.
But of course all good teams go through stretches like this. The key to staying in contention all year is avoiding skids, which is something the Reds — usually a respectable team on paper, but subject to swoons — haven’t been able to avoid in recent years.
But at the risk of reading too much into a good week, I’m going to say they can avoid it this year. Defense isn’t as streaky as hitting can be and Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey — two guys who have been beat up a bit in the early going — are starting to pitch to their potential.
The Cardinals will go back to winning soon, but I don’t see the Reds returning to losing. There are just too many bad teams in their division to feast on, and I think the Reds will play continue to play good baseball and, at the very least, remain in the wild card hunt all season.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Blue Jays are on the prowl for relievers with closing experience. Ryan Madson is one of the names on their list.
Madson, 35, had a career rebirth with the Royals in 2015. He signed a minor league deal with the club that paid him a salary of $850,000 if he made it back to the majors. Due to a plethora of arm injuries, Madson hadn’t pitched in the majors since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals as a member of the Phillies. For the Royals, he wound up becoming a crucial member of the bullpen, finishing with a 2.13 ERA and a 58/14 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.
While Madson allowed five runs in 8 1/3 post-season innings, he pitched well when it mattered most, as he hurled three scoreless frames in three appearances in the World Series against the Mets.
Madson has closing experience, with 55 career saves. 32 of them came in 2011 when he took over the closer’s role from Brad Lidge.
After signing Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, and trading for Jesse Chavez, the Jays have bolstered their rotation but it was reported on Saturday that interim GM Tony LaCava is still focused on upgrading the pitching staff.
ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that free agent pitcher Trevor Cahill is looking for a one-year, bounce-back deal. The Pirates are one of the potential teams he is considering.
It’s no surprise that the Pirates are on Cahill’s list. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has garnered a reputation as a miracle worker after turning around the careers of a handful of pitchers, including Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ. Volquez parlayed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Pirates into a two-year, $20 million deal with the Royals last December. Liriano signed with the Pirates on a one-year, $1 million contract and turned that into a three-year, $39 million deal. Happ, dealt to the Pirates from the Mariners at the most recent trade deadline, just signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Blue Jays.
Cahill, once a highly-regarded pitching prospect, has scuffled over parts of seven seasons in the majors. The 27-year-old owns a career 4.13 ERA with a 754/427 K/BB ratio in 1,083 2/3 innings. Cahill had some brief success after signing with the Cubs as a free agent in mid-August, compiling a 2.12 ERA in 11 appearances out of the bullpen.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Blue Jays have narrowed their search for a new general manager down to two candidates: current interim GM Tony LaCava, and Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins. Former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos resigned last month.
LaCava was promoted to interim GM on November 2 and has already made a handful of moves along with new president Mark Shapiro. The club acquired Jesse Chavez in a trade and signed pitchers Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to multi-year deals.
Atkins worked under Shapiro in the Indians organization for 15 seasons, so it is no surprise that he is a finalist for the open GM position.
Update (7:58 PM EST): Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart met with Cueto earlier this month in the Dominican Republic and made a contract offer that the right-hander turned down. The Diamondbacks maintain interest in the free agent.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Diamondbacks spoke with Bryce Dixon, the agent of free agent starter Johnny Cueto. However, Rosenthal notes that Cueto’s price tag is expected to exceed the Diamondbacks’ comfort level.
Cueto, 29, is one of a handful of highly touted starting pitchers in this offseason’s free agent class. He is joined by David Price and Zack Greinke, among others. Jordan Zimmermann inked a deal in the neighborhood of $110 million over five years with the Tigers on Sunday morning, which will serve as a barometer for Cueto.
Cueto finished the 2015 regular season, between the Reds and the Royals, with a 3.44 ERA and a 176/46 K/BB ratio over 212 innings. He made 13 shaky starts with the Royals, but outside of a shellacking in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, pitched well in the post-season. Cueto pitched a complete game in Game 2 of the World Series against the Mets, helping put the Royals up two games to none at the time.
As a result of switching teams during the season, Cueto was not eligible to receive a $15.8 million qualifying offer. This means that Cueto, unlike Zimmermann for example, does not come attached with draft pick compensation.