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Beginning the breakup with Homer Bailey

Before the Bigs

June 7, 2004. The Cincinnati Reds are on the clock with the seventh pick in the draft. In a draft class loaded with former and current major league pitchers, the Reds decided to take the 18-year-old high school star from La Grange, Texas. Homer Bailey was considered one of the top players in the draft, and then general manager Dan O’Brien was ecstatic when his name was still on the board when it was the Reds’ turn to pick. Bailey’s high school resume spoke for itself.  In his senior year, he had a 15-0 record, with an earned run average of 0.68, while striking out 201 batters in just 92 2/3 innings and earning the honor of being named USA Today High School Player of the Year. The Queen City found its future ace.

Making the Team

Bailey spent three years in the minors before making his highly anticipated debut three years and one day after getting the call from O’Brien, on June 8, 2007. He pitched well enough to earn the win but only stayed with the club for a month before heading back to Louisville.

Bailey made 16 more starts between the 2007 and 2008 season and the results were less than impressive. He struggled with his control and found himself on the outside looking in when the Reds announced their opening day roster before the 2009 season. Bailey was recalled halfway through the season, and while his stuff wasn’t the ace material they thought they were getting when they drafted him, there was improvement.

Homer Bailey no-hitter
(Photo by usatoday.com)

For the next two seasons, he remained the mediocre pitcher they saw in 2009. While he was not terrible, it was clear he was not who seemed like the potential perennial all-star they thought they drafted.

The 2012 season was a sign of encouragement, as Bailey finished with a 3.68 ERA, with a special performance in his last start of the regular season. On September 28, he struck out 10 Pittsburgh Pirates and only walked one on his way to the first no-hitter by a Reds pitcher since Tom Browning’s perfect game in 1988.

Just 277 days later, Homer became the seventh pitcher ever to throw the last no-hitter of a season as well as the first of the following season, when he no-hit the San Francisco Giants on July 3. Bailey ended the season with a 3.49 ERA and began to look like a future number two pitcher, behind all-star Johnny Cueto.

The Contract

General manager Walt Jocketty had a tough decision to make in the offseason following the 2013 season. Cincinnati, a small market team, could only afford to sign one of their two stars that were scheduled to be free agents soon.

Johnny Cueto was clearly the better pitcher, but would also command more money. Jocketty liked the progression that Homer had been making in the last three seasons and believed that he would continue to progress and be the ace of a staff that had dominated National League hitters for the last few seasons.

On February 19, 2014, Walt made his decision and inked Bailey to a six-year deal, worth $105 million. The deal had mixed reactions from the fans. While he had been improving, many wondered if he was truly becoming an ace, or if he just was rewarded for two dazzling performances resulting in his consecutive no-hitters.

In 2014, he pitched well, but his season was cut short due to fatigue in his right arm. He was still able to manage a 3.71 ERA and the front office believed it would have been lower if not for the fatigue. The city of Cincinnati was scared. The club struggled throughout the 2000s and it was largely in part to having an awful rotation. Aaron Harang was arguably the only pitcher worth noting throughout the decade. Did the front office make the right call, or was the team headed back to its miserable pitching days with Cueto departing soon?

The Disabled List: Homer’s New Home

The 2015 season had begun and the former first-round pick was stuck on the disabled list. Bailey made an attempt to pitch that season, but after just two games he was diagnosed with a torn UCL, an injury requiring Tommy John Surgery, and his season was cut short.

The 2016 season nearly mimicked the previous season. Bailey was constantly battling injury, with many setbacks while rehabbing and when he did pitch for the club, his command was poor and it was essentially batting practice for opposing hitters.

On February 8, 2017, Bailey had yet another surgery to remove bone spurs from his right elbow. Fans already had little to no hope that he would ever return to his previous form, and this surgery solidified that feeling.

The small market Cincinnati Reds spent a fortune on a pitcher who could hardly find his way to the mound, and when he did, everyone at Great American Ballpark watched in agony. It is hard enough to watch Bailey pitch every fifth day as it is, but much harder knowing that the team cannot sign other key players, because they sunk all their money into an underperforming starter. While the club could not have afforded the likes of Cueto, unless they wanted their entire payroll to consist of him and Joey Votto, it adds insult to injury that Cueto won a ring with the Kansas City Royals the same season he was traded.

Bailey to the Bullpen

Fast forward to this season, the Reds are in last place with one of the worst records in baseball. While their offense has been average, it is not the reason the Reds find themselves in the cellar of the NL Central.

The Reds pitching staff is one of three that has allowed 300 or more runs through the first two months of the season. While the staff as a whole has been horrendous, Bailey has been exceptionally poor.  He leads the majors in hits, home runs, and earned runs allowed.

The city has been begging the front office to designate Bailey for assignment, despite the money he is stealing from the team. Often times when a player makes the kind of money that Bailey makes, they try to squeeze every last ounce of baseball from them to not let their money go to waste. The Reds are not a team that should be doing that though.

In the midst of a shaky rebuild, the team needs to let their young pitchers, of which they have quite a few promising prospects, rack up as much experience and as many innings as possible to potentially produce the next time the Reds find themselves in the hunt for October. After Bailey’s last start, the club stated that Bailey might be pitching out of the bullpen for the remainder of the season. While many would still love to see him removed the roster completely, this is a step in the right direction. It shows the city that the team is trying to make positive strides moving forward, despite some questionable lineups, but that is a different topic for another day.

What Now?

During his three-year stretch where he started to look like the former first-round talent the team hoped he would be, he produced memorable moments for the city. His no-hitters will never be forgotten. He helped the team to three playoff berths in four years.

Bailey’s time in Cincinnati will be remembered and appreciated by the fans and front office, but it is time to cut ties.  A move to the bullpen is the first step, but a reliever making $19 million a year is not sustainable for a small market team. The young pitchers within the organization need a shot to crack the rotation if the club wants the rebuild to be successful. The front office needs to accept the fact that their 2014 deal is a lost cause, as hard as it may be, and say goodbye to Homer Bailey.

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