Cincinnati – Willie Diggins sets off the Big Red Machine’s Arms Race
In a division with two clubs that post team ERAs and WHIPs in the top ten of the league, the Reds went into the offseason with the mindset to fight fire with fire. A trio of major league prospects boarded a plane to Los Angeles this winter, and in return Cincinnati welcomed the centerpiece of their made-over pitching staff: Willie Diggins.
Diggins went 19-6 for Los Angeles while limiting opposing hitters to a .200 average and posting a 0.96 Whip. While those numbers should inflate somewhat in hitting-friendly Great American Ball Park, Diggins did fan 230 batters while walking only 54. An extremely effective pitcher with good speed and command, Diggins’ five-pitch repertoire features a change-up that freezes batters. He is an instant upgrade on the mound for a team that ranked 23rd in ERA (4.78) and 24th in WHIP (1.50) last season. On the plus side for the Reds, the 33-year-old Diggins still has three more years remaining on his contract after the coming season.
The Reds were the most active team in the offseason in the NL North, signing multiple free agents and making trades with five different ball clubs. In addition to Diggins, starting pitcher Ryan Fasano (6-11, 25 starts) joined them from the Diamondbacks in exchange for a utility outfielder. Starting third baseman Abdul Sweeney who hit .298 in 547 AB was packaged with a prospect and dealt to the Athletics, taking his defense with him. Oakland returned starting pitcher Vinny Weatherford, who went 7-14 in 34 starts and becomes the team’s fifth starter (the Reds also obtained corner outfielder Steve Parrish in the deal.)
The bullpen, which allowed 38% of their inherited runners to score to help inflate a negative run differential (-131), also saw changes. The Reds inked aging Vinny Kwon, Boston’s durable set-up man who logged 78 innings of work and should see regular appearances. They then signed a pair of two-pitch right-handers not exactly known for their command of the strike zone: the Royals Erik Eaton, who struck out 46 batters in 52.2 innings of work, and the Rockies Justin Duran. When the Rockies also declined the option on Ned Turnbow, the Reds signed the free agent to a three-year 13.5 million deal. The burly 219-lb. right-hander lets fly a whistling four-seamer but fans say that Turnbow nevers knows where it will land. He is as likely to walk a batter as to K him, giving up 55 free bases in nearly an equal amount of work.
In the field, $22 million wins the services of Ricky Rose from rival Milwaukee, bringing the promise of more consistent power, upgrading the defense and filling the void left by Bob Hansen’s departure to Toronto. Spring training has shown Ricky’s lost a step from the box to first and the zip on his throws have lost a “z” or two, but he will continue to be an offensive threat especially considering the short porch.
They also signed career minor leaguer Harold Ojala of Seattle, giving him his shot at the show. Ojala fits the Cincinnati mold: elite power but struggles to connect with the ball. He slugged 54 homers with the Mariners AAA affiliate. His range may be a liability at third.
The Reds retained the services of Spike Allen after they allowed him to explore free agency. Allen appeared in about 100 games mostly to the rest the starter in left field, logging 289 AB but making the most of them by swatting 27 homers and slugging .550. He is not gifted defensively.
The offensive attack should continue to rely on the long ball. Last year, the team slugged 216 of them, good for 13th in the league, but ranked 26th overall in Runs and RBI. The team lacks speed. Jorge Perez, a utility player who managed 89 AB last year, led the team in steals with 9.
Also of note, starting second baseman Damion Kim is traded to Baltimore, taking his 18 positive plays with him in return for a trio of prospects. Kim was a decent defender up the middle on a team that was overall a shade better than average defensively.
dwb’s take: the presence of Diggins alone is an upgrade to the pitching staff and potentially the win total for the club. Signing Rose away from a rival improves the Reds offense and deprives Milwaukee of a key weapon. Together, the two major acquisitions should tighten the race in the NL North but it remains to be seen if it’s enough to overcome the leaders at the top.