In this relatively young offseason, there are a handful of known things about the Cincinnati Reds and still plenty of unknowns. Who will lead off in the lineup next season? Who will be the everyday LF? Heck, who will be the everyday CF? Which of the team’s free agents is returning … and which are going to sign elsewhere? Who will be the closer? Some of these problems are “good” problems in a way, helping to drive some clarity for an offense that needs some fine-tuning.
The list of free agents from the 40-man roster has grown in recent days, with both Bill Bray and Wilson Valdez electing free agency after being non-tendered contracts despite arbitration eligibility. Both were relative non-factors for the 2012 season (particularly Bray due to injuries), so seeing them leave isn’t a complete surprise. We already know Ryan Ludwick, Jonathan Broxton, Ryan Madson, and Scott Rolen are in the free agent pool as well. At this point, any one or all … or none … would surprise me. Ludwick is an awfully good fit in Cincinnati, but his return depends a lot on some other team dangling a decent carrot out there (which may or may not be happening). Broxton was decent if not spectacular, and I would be okay with seeing him come back … but I have just as much faith J.J. Hoover (among other possibilities) can step into the closing role just as easily at a lot less cost. Madson is intriguing only because we never saw what he could or couldn’t do … but he’s only worth a shot if the salary comes on the cheap (unlikely unless he gets no other suitors – a possibility coming back from injury). Rolen likely won’t be back (especially facing only a part-time role) and may opt for retirement given his recent seasons of injury / decline.
The good things: the nucleus remains and stays very strong. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips anchor the right side of the infield. The starting pitching is as strong as it could be (and could be even more dominating with an Aroldis Chapman transition there). Jay Bruce is getting better year-on-year (and just garnered a Silver Slugger himself). The core of the bullpen remains intact (Marshall, Hoover, LeCure, Simon, Arredondo, et.al.). There are plenty of things to like here.
I could speculate on a lot of possibilities in the free agent pool where the Reds could make a splash. I think in the right package deal, trading with someone like Drew Stubbs and possibly someone else (even Zack Cozart is a consideration with Didi Gregorius in the wings) to land a longer-term outfield option in lieu of a bigger-market free agent isn’t out of consideration, either. It’s hard to tell what Walt Jocketty may be thinking as some of his past deals haven’t immediately materialized … but that methodical approach isn’t always a bad thing.
An extreme overhaul isn’t necessary. Major salary loading isn’t necessary. Many of the critical pieces are already in place to do some good things. The arrival and flexibility of someone like Todd Frazier (who can play 3B and LF, among others) is a needed blessing. Having the flexibility to consider shifting Chapman between starter and closer is a luxury. There’s no reason this team can’t become a stronger contender next year than this one.
Continue the conversation with me on Twitter, @JDRentz.