Look for the Reds to be active on the trade market, as GM Walt Jocketty decides whether to use his trade chips and limited payroll flexibility on a front-of-the-rotation starter or a middle-of-the-order bat.
- Bronson Arroyo, SP: $13.5MM through 2013, plus significant deferred money
- Scott Rolen, 3B: $6.5MM through 2012
- Joey Votto, 1B: $26.5MM through 2013
- Aroldis Chapman, SP/RP: $7MM through 2014
- Johnny Cueto, SP: $23.6MM through 2014
- Jay Bruce, RF: $48MM through 2016
- Yonder Alonso, LF: $1MM through 2012
- Miguel Cairo, IF: $1MM through 2012
- Ryan Hanigan, C: $3.25MM through 2013
- Brandon Phillips, Type A 2B: $12MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Arbitration Eligible Players (estimated salaries)
- Nick Masset, RP: $2.4MM
- Edinson Volquez, SP: $2.3MM
- Homer Bailey, SP: $1.8MM
- Bill Bray, RP: $1.4MM
- Jose Arredondo, RP: $1MM
- Jared Burton, RP: $900K (non-tender candidate)
- Paul Janish, SS: $800K (non-tender candidate)
- Francisco Cordero (Type A RP), Ramon Hernandez (Type A C), Edgar Renteria (unranked SS), Dontrelle Willis (unranked SP)
The Reds had a strong offense again in 2011, but were unable to muster the needed support from their starting pitching. GM Walt Jocketty continues to face limited payroll flexibility, especially if he retains certain veterans. Jocketty's own situation was resolved in September, when ownership extended him through 2014.
There's little doubt Phillips will return in 2012, though the second baseman has indicated he'd be insulted if the Reds merely pick up his option rather than extend him. That's just talk, though — Phillips would have no basis to demand a trade, and if his performance drops off significantly it will affect his free agent payday. An extension could help the Reds in the short-term by potentially reducing Phillips' 2012 salary, though he's said there will be no "homeboy hookup." If Dan Uggla's contract is a guide, the Reds should be prepared to pay Phillips $13MM annually or else move on.
Keeping one of the game's best second basemen makes sense, but hopefully, Jocketty keeps the price down on a potential two-year deal to retain Cordero. The 36-year-old became a low-strikeout groundball pitcher this year. The transformation was effective in 2011, but the Reds can't afford to commit $5MM a year for two more seasons of Cordero. That'd be placing a premium on the save statistic, a market inefficiency the Reds should avoid.
If the Reds have an $83MM payroll next year and retain Phillips for $12MM and Cordero for $5MM, that'd leave only $7MM in flexibility before considering minimum salary players. The Reds could free up payroll by trading disappointing arbitration eligible players like Masset, Volquez, or Bailey, but they all project affordably at around $2MM each.
In September, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wrote the Reds' number one goal is to add a middle-of-the-order hitter at left field, third base, shortstop, or center field. The Reds have solid incumbents at each spot, led by Alonso, Rolen, Zack Cozart, and Drew Stubbs. Grady Sizemore could be an interesting free agent target, otherwise, those are tough positions to fill with affordable middle-of-the-order bats through any means.
The rotation is another big need, one Jocketty tried to address by checking in on Ubaldo Jimenez and James Shields at the trade deadline. The Reds are deep in fourth and fifth starter types, said pitching coach Bryan Price in September, but they need a number two type at the front. The Reds have starters with good stuff, but their most dynamic young pitchers seem unlikely to rack up 200 innings. Chapman will probably get a look, but he's a wild card if there ever was one.
The Reds have trade bait all over the place with their depth at catcher, interesting young starters, and promising position players in Alonso and Chris Heisey. Alonso is a first baseman by trade, but he's penciled in as a left fielder due to Votto's presence. If Alonso's big league debut this year was any indication, they're not going to find a better bat on the trade market. Perhaps a Votto trade will make sense a year from now and Alonso can play left field until then. The problem is the Reds can't acquire a front-rotation starter like Shields without starting their offer with Devin Mesoraco or Alonso. The Reds could match up well with the White Sox, who may listen on Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and Carlos Quentin.
The Reds are likely to lose a top offensive catcher in Hernandez, but Mesoraco appears as one of few catching prospects able to replace his bat. An arbitration offer is probably in order for Hernandez, a Type A free agent.
The Reds' offense should remain strong, especially if they get more out of Stubbs or Rolen next year. Jocketty's big challenge is trading for an affordable front-line starter, especially since top chips Mesoraco and Alonso are penciled in for important roles next year.