A deal of this capacity with the Reds would arguably present the most volatility, but the upside that would be involved is undeniable. That’s because it would involve Homer Bailey.
The Reds, a team clearly in a re-building state, and well-known as a mid-to-low market team, could benefit from getting Bailey’s contract off the books. That in itself lends in the Blue Jays’ favour when negotiating a deal that involves so much money. Bailey, who has only thrown 34.1 innings over the last two years, is owed $63 million over the next three years, with a $25 million option for 2020. That’s a lot of money for a pitcher with a multitude of arm injuries the last two years, including Tommy John, and “biceps tenderness” after returning late in 2016.
Taking on a contract of that size for a player that has failed to stay on the field with any sort of regularity is a huge risk, but with that risk comes an opportunity to include a valuable player in the same deal at a very low cost. The Reds have a couple of OF’s that are very intriguing, in Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall. I believe Duvall is more realistic in this case, so I’ll look at him in more detail.
But first, let’s look at Bailey. Before his monster contract extension and TJ surgery that followed, Bailey was a very effective, durable Major League starter. Obviously, the fact that he’s been inactive for nearly two years is a huge risk, but the stuff he showed when he returned for six starts late in 2016 was very good.
It was a small sample of just 23.1 IP, but he struckout 27 batters and only walked seven. This 11 strikeout start in September against the Brewers illustrates that power stuff. His fourseam fastball averaged 93.85 mph and got up to 97.56 mph, which is a great sign he has his velocity back. He also threw a sinker, slider, curve and split at least 8% of the time, showing that his repertoire is deep despite the missed time.
If he can indeed stay healthy, (which looks good at the moment, as his offseason is normal for the first time since 2014) then the stuff he showed, combined with the track record of success, could lead to a solid mid rotation starter. There is huge risk/reward involved here, but it may be a risk worth taking if he can stay on the field. He would enter into a fifth rotation spot with Liriano heading to the ‘pen.
Making this financial commitment worth it would only exist if a controllable OF came with Bailey. Duvall, in his first major league season, slashed .241/.297/.498/.795 with a 104 wRC+ and 33 HR. He posted a 3.3 fWAR and 3.2 bWAR, suggesting he provides value in more ways than with just his bat.
The power he showed in the minor leagues transferred rather seamlessly to the MLB this year, as his .257 ISO ranked 13th among all qualified hitters, and he makes hard contact at a 38.9% rate, ranking 18th among all hitters.
Concerns relate to his below average 6.7% BB rate, and high K rate of 27%. However, despite the OPS falling from .839 in the first half to .741 in the second, he made some strides forward in this regard. His first half BB rate of 4.9% went up to 8.8%, and the K rate moved from 29% to 24.6%. If he can maintain rates like that while his plus power plays, he’s going to be an effective hitter.
He was mostly a corner infielder in the minors, but the Reds moved him to LF last year and the move paid dividends. Defensive metrics are prone to fluctuation, but his 16 DRS and 10.2 UZR across 1173.1 innings is a great sign that he’s more than a place holder out there. He also threw out eight baserunners, showing off the decent arm strength he possesses. His experience at 3B is also an asset, as he can fill in for days Donaldson gets a rest or plays at DH.
He’s also got five years of control, so the money you pay Bailey the next three years can be made up by the value that Duvall could provide while paying him league minumum. That Bailey contract is undoubtedly tough to take on, but if the asset cost is affordable and you can get a player of Duvall’s caliber without giving up a big package of prospects, then you can afford to do so.
Due to the volatility of Bailey and his health, and the questions about Duvall’s ability to replicate or improve upon what he did last year, this deal carries the most risk of the ones I’ve outlined. But, it also has a high upside aspect as well. Bailey can provide a viable mid-to-back end starter if healthy, and Duvall can be an everyday, middle-of-the-order 30 HR bat in LF, that’s big value. Any money that the Reds can eat is a bonus.
Any trade between MLB teams, nevermind one that has as many variables as these kind of deals, are incredibly hard to predict. But, due to the current free agent and trade markets, and the Blue Jays position with regards to team needs, payroll availability, and prospect capital, it seems like a scenario that could be in play for Atkins and the rest of the management group.