What will the Reds rotation look like in 2015?

BY foxsports • December 11, 2014

SAN DIEGO -- Now that Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon have been traded, the Reds have openings in their starting rotation. They can also look closer at the prospects of extending the contracts of two other starters who are due to become free agents at the end of next season.

Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake are entering the final seasons of their contracts and the Reds would like to keep them in a Cincinnati uniform beyond 2015. Making that happen with Cueto will be tougher to accomplish than Leake, especially after Jon Lester's mega-deal signed Tuesday night with the Chicago Cubs, but the Reds have built this team around its starting pitching. That's not a philosophy they will change.

The Reds did get inquiries about Cueto, who was runner-up to Clayton Kershaw of Los Angeles in voting for the National League Cy Young award, and were willing to listen but the compensation being offered them wasn't anything close to acceptable for a player of Cueto's talents and accomplishments.

"We really didn't want to move Johnny if we had to," said general manager Walt Jocketty Thursday at MLB's Winter Meetings at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. "We wanted to compete and win the division and Johnny at the top of the rotation allows us to do that."

Cueto, Leake and Homer Bailey make up 60 percent of the rotation as it stands now. Reds starters were third in the NL last season in ERA (3.38) and led the league in innings pitched (1,023 2/3), lowest batting average against (.238) and fewest home runs allowed (118). For a team that was as offensively deficient as the Reds were, they relied heavily on their starting pitching and defense to win games.

Bailey was in the same situation last year as Cueto, Leake, Latos and Simon find themselves this year in that he was entering the final year of his contract. He and Reds agreed to a contract extension through 2020 worth $105 million. Cueto will make $10 million this season, while Leake is projected by MLBTradeRumors.com to make $9.5 million when the arbitration process is complete.

Bailey is working his way back from surgery last September to repair a flexor mass tear in his right forearm but is expected to start his normal offseason throwing regimen after Christmas and be ready for spring training.

Thursday's trades mean there are opportunities for several candidates, including Tony Cingrani, David Holmberg, Dylan Axelrod, Daniel Corcino and Anthony Desclafani, who was acquired in the Latos trade with Miami, to compete for spots. The Reds could also look to sign a veteran free agent as spring training approaches in February.

It's a situation the team has been planning for. Manager Bryan Price has said throughout the offseason that if all five starters returned he'd be happy because of the quality and depth of arms. He also realized it was an unrealistic scenario because the Reds needed to cut payroll while attempting to strengthen other areas, such as finding a left fielder. Latos and Simon are projected to make a combined $13.5 million this coming season, according to MLBTradeRumors.com, when the arbitration process is complete.

"We're not in that environment where we can pay these guys the terms of the contract that they've earned through their performance," said Price earlier this week at the Winter Meetings. "We have to be able to make smart decisions. I think we're in a similar playing field with many teams, but there's other teams that have more ability to take on that type of a financial commitment. We also have other parts of our team that we have to improve. We feel there's some pitching depth in our system that's going to be in the next year or so is going to be able to help us."

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