Wade Miley might not have been the highest profile lefty to sign over the weekend, but he makes a burgeoning Reds team better. For a fourth or fifth starter, teams could certainly do worse than Miley for two years and $15 million. Two years ago, Miley’s career looked to be over, but an impromptu cutter revitalized him.
With the Astros, Miley threw 167 1⁄3 acceptable innings. Though every ERA estimator suggested he was worse than his 3.98 ERA, they still have him pegged as a roughly league average pitcher. He’s a fitting addition for an already strong Reds rotation that features Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo at the top with Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani in the middle.
Wade Miley is not the sort of signing that puts a team over the top, but it’s a reminder that the Reds are closer to a division title than their 75-87 record would indicate. Baseball Prospectus’s third-order winning percentage, which is based on the team’s underlying performance and adjusts for the quality of their opponents, had the Reds in a virtual tie with the Brewers at 86 wins and two games behind the Cubs and a surmountable five games behind the Cardinals.
The Cardinals have bolstered their rotation with Kwang-hyun Kim from the KBO. It remains to be seen whether the Cubs will get worse by trading away Kris Bryant or Willson Contreras, but there’s no indication that they will get any better. The Ricketts, who own a baseball team valued at $3.1 billion, are really strapped for cash.
The Brewers have been busy, but they seem to be treading water more than surging ahead. They have replaced Trent Grisham with Avisaíl García while swapping out Mike Moustakas with Luis Urías. Brett Anderson is taking the place of Jordan Lyles. They’ve gone from Yasmani Grandal’s league-leading framing to Omar Narváez’s league-trailing receiving. Ryon Healy will be playing the role of Eric Thames. With Drew Pomeranz heading to San Diego and Travis Shaw being non-tendered, there’s a fair argument that the Brewers have gotten a few wins worse.
The Reds, of course, are far from a finished product. The rotation appears to be the best in the division, and a bullpen led by Amir Garrett, Raisel Iglesias, and Michael Lorenzen will work. There are tons of question marks on offense, though. Eugenio Suárez is a perennial All-Star and Moustakas should continue to hit well at Great American Ballpark though the plan to stick him at second is at least somewhat dubious. Joey Votto’s best days are behind him, but he’s still a competent hitter. At 36, he’s only a year removed from a 130 wRC+ season.
Things get a little less certain after that. Jesse Winker is a capable hitter, but his defense is questionable. Nick Senzel is entering his sophomore season, and he’ll look to improve on a .256/.315/.427 slash line. There’s a very good chance we’ve already seen the best that Aristedes Aquino has to offer. For one, it’s hard to get much hotter than Aquino was in August. For another, Steamer projects Aquino for a 94 wRC+ in 2020. Freddy Galvis is a glove-first shortstop whose glove might not actually be any good. Jonathan India only has 145 plate appearances at Double-A, so even if he makes his big league debut this year, his impact will likely be limited.
In their current configuration, the Reds are at least a corner outfielder and a middle infielder away from serious contention. The outfield is easier to address. Marcell Ozuna and Nick Castellanos are both still available, and there are plenty of cheaper options from Yasiel Puig to Hunter Pence to Corey Dickerson. Finding a middle infielder is a little trickier. Their best option is probably a reunion with José Iglesias or else believing in Eric Sogard’s 2019 and his ability to play short.
Even without upgrades, no one in the NL Central has separated themselves from the pack except for the Pirates who have gone in the opposite direction. Random variance may ultimately be the deciding factor in who wins the division. The Cubs are hoping luck breaks their way. The Reds shouldn’t follow suit.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for McCovey Chronicles and Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.