Much was expected for the Reds after making an "all-in" type of deal last winter to get Shin-Soo Choo, who could become a free agent after the season. Cincinnati ultimately finished third in the AL Central, and losing their last five games meant they had to play the one-game wild-card playoff on the road at Pittsburgh. That lackluster finish cost manager Dusty Baker his job, and the Reds are hoping that new skipper Bryan Price provides a new voice and approach. Cincinnati still has a strong core with its lineup and pitching staff, but how general manager Walt Jocketty adds complimentary pieces will determine whether or not his team can hang with the Cardinals and Pirates in the division race next year.
The Reds' offseason could be defined more by their losses than additions. If Choo signs elsewhere as a free agent (which seems likely), then Cincinnati has to replace a leadoff hitter and center fielder. If Bronson Arroyo departs (which also appears probable), there's an opening in the starting rotation to fill.
Cincinnati also needs a left-handed reliever to go with Sean Marshall. Either Zach Duke or Manny Parra (or both) could be re-signed for that role. If Price decides to try Aroldis Chapman in the starting rotation, that creates another possible opening in the bullpen. Sam LeCure or J.J. Hoover could take over as closer, unless Price decides to go with Jonathan Broxton, who has more experience pitching the ninth inning.
Jocketty will also have to address the team's bench, particularly the utility infielder role. Cesar Izturis provided good defense backing up second base and shortstop this past season, but only hit .209. The Reds might want a little more punch in the lineup when Zack Cozart or Brandon Phillips gets a rest. Someone who could fill in at the corner infield spots (though Joey Votto played all 162 games at first base this year) could also be an asset.
Rather than pursue free agents to replace Choo and Arroyo, the Reds will probably opt for in-house promotions first. Billy Hamilton should take Choo's position in center field. The question is whether or not he's ready to be the leadoff batter. If not, that causes a problem because there's no one else on the roster really suited for the role.
Would the team have to go after someone like Rajai Davis, and thus be forced to play him in center field? If Phillips is traded, perhaps a leadoff candidate would be part of the return. Or maybe it opens up second base for Hamilton (a former shortstop), though he's never played that position before. However, after grooming him to play center field, the Reds probably want to stick with Hamilton there.
Tony Cingrani will likely fill Arroyo's spot in the rotation. In 18 starts this past season, he finished with a 7-4 record, 2.92 ERA and a strikeout rate of 10.3 per nine innings. Plus, Cingrani would give the starting staff a left-hander. That is, unless Price really wants to try Chapman in the rotation, something the Cuban lefty apparently doesn't want to do.
The Reds should have easier decisions to make when it comes to finding left-handed relievers and utility infielders on the free agent market. Jocketty's best move for the bullpen is probably to re-sign Parra, who struck out 56 batters in 46 innings and allowed a .167 average against lefty batters this year. No need to go after someone like J.P. Howell or Javier Lopez with Marshall already on hand. For the utilityman, Willie Bloomquist or Nick Punto would be a nice fit. And how about bringing Cincinnati native Kevin Youkilis in to fill in at third base and first base when needed?
Jocketty just doesn't have much to work with here, which is a likely a big reason why there's talk of trading Phillips. Besides the four years and $50 million remaining on his contract, Phillips also made waves by criticizing ownership before agreeing to his extension and insulting a reporter in the clubhouse for having his on-base percentage pointed out. The Reds would likely draw heavy interest from several teams, which could ultimately yield a better return in trade.
Otherwise, the Reds are faced with possibly taking a chance and dealing someone like shortstop Zack Cozart or outfielder Ryan Ludwick. But would trading either of those players make the Reds better? Losing Ludwick for four months because of a shoulder injury was a significant blow this year, a circumstance Cincinnati surely doesn't want to repeat. And though Cozart batted .254, he was often miscast as a No. 2 hitter by former manager Dusty Baker. His glove would also be extremely difficult to replace at a premium defensive position.
Unless the Reds receive a second baseman in return for trading Phillips (for example, Dan Uggla could go to Cincinnati if Phillips is dealt to Atlanta), Jocketty may have to pursue someone to play that position. Howie Kendrick of the Angels is one name that comes to mind who would be less expensive than Phillips and could be the No. 2 hitter the lineup needs. The Mets' Daniel Murphy is another possibility. Or maybe the Reds could take a chance on someone like Danny Espinosa from the Nationals, hoping he might benefit from a new coaching staff.