When Cincinnati Reds fans and baseball pundits toss around ideas for what the team can do to improve on its bland first half of 2014, four themes generally emerge: get healthy, upgrade left field, land a shortstop who can hit, and find some bullpen help. Keeping players in the lineup would undoubtedly do wonders for the Reds’ run-scoring ability and could even dampen the need for an infusion of offensive talent at specific positions, so those problems might be self-healing (pun intended). On Friday, though, the Reds took an unorthodox step toward shoring up that shaky bullpen by inking Cuban defector Raisel Iglesias to a seven-year contract, setting up a possible reunion with fellow countryman Aroldis Chapman. Jen Rainwater at Call to the Pen runs down details of the deal, but I’m fascinated by what the team might have planned for Iglesias this season.
According to Mike Rosenbaum of the Bleacher Report, Iglesias is a seasoned 24-year-old who was coveted by several Major League teams before the Reds nabbed him for $30 million. Though Iglesias is two years older than Chapman was in 2010 when he signed his own big deal, and though his fastball is about 10 miles per hour slower than Chapman’s, Iglesias appears to be more ready for the majors than Chapman was four years ago. And, although many see Iglesias as a potential starter, the Reds desperately need quality bullpen innings to bridge the gap between their stellar starters and Chapman.
Cincinnati ranks 24th in the Majors with a 4.16 bullpen ERA, and that includes Chapman’s 2.45 mark over 22 innings. Compare that with the Reds’ fifth-ranked 3.37 rotation ERA, and it’s clear that suspect relief could spell an early end to Cincy’s playoff hopes, even if the hitting picks up with improved health. There will undoubtedly be middlemen available on the trade market, but using Iglesias as a long reliever could offer a couple of advantages. First, he is a veteran of the World Baseball Classic and has pitched against high-level competition for several seasons now. Second, regardless of how the Reds plan to use Iglesias in the future, an extended run in the bullpen would give the team a good look at his talents and would help him get acclimated to the Major Leagues.
Of course, the ultimate benefit for the Reds would, hopefully, be a sturdier bullpen and a playoff berth come October. So, while Iglesias may begin his American adventures in Pensacola, don’t be too surprised if he’s rocking the mound at Great American before the trade deadlines pass. As the Reds themselves pointed out on Twitter (@reds), there may soon be a Cuban Missile Arsenal in Cincinnati.