Aug 7, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey (34) releases a pitch against the Cleveland Indians in the first inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
With just 34 days until Cincinnati Reds pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, we turn our attention to a player who, in many ways, embodies what the 2014 team was all about. The Number 34 guy on our countdown team is right-hander Homer Bailey.
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Bailey, originally drafted by the Reds as the Number 7 overall pick in the 2004 amateur draft has always tantalized fans, and his team, with flashes of greatness. Those glimpses of what might be include two no-hitters, a fastball that sits in the low-mid-90s and can touch 97 or 98 on occasion, and a slider that developed into a pretty decent out pitch over his first several years.
All of those factors prompted the Reds to sign Bailey to a six-year, $105-million contract extension last February despite the fact that he had never won more than 13 games in a season, never had an ERA lower than 3.49 and never struck out as many as 200 hitters. As a reward for their confidence in the no-longer young hurler, Bailey gave the Reds about what they had seen from him before: 9-5, 3.71 ERA, 97 ERA+, 1.229 WHIP in 145.2 innings over 23 starts.
And then, thanks to a forearm flexor mass tendon strain, Bailey was done before the middle of August. Coincidentally (or not), that’s about the same time that the Reds tanked for good.
As turns out, that strain was reclassified as a tear, and Bailey underwent surgery to correct the problem in September. Now, entering his age-29 season, Bailey must step up to replace the starting power that the Reds lost when they traded Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon this winter.
In an ironic twist, the Bailey contract is often cited as the one that opened the floodgates for less-than-stellar pitchers to regularly land nine-figure deals, a situation that led the small-market Reds to decide that they couldn’t afford to keep their four free-agent-to-be starters after 2015. Latos and Simon are gone, and the futures of Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto are still up in the air.
A year from now, then, Bailey may be the only one left from a rotation that once looked like it could carry the Reds to a championship. How well he can keep the lights on will go a long way to determining how far the Reds will fall.