Mailbag: Looking to next year

Mailbag: Looking to next year

How do you see the rotation shaping up for next year? Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo will obviously be part of it. What is Elizardo Ramirez's status? What is Kyle Lohse's status? What free agents do you see potentially being targeted? -- Chris P., Gainesville, Fla.

Ramirez struggled in July and August before he was sent down and then came down with a sore shoulder. I still expect him to be in the mix competing for a rotation spot next spring. Lohse is arbitration eligible for the third and final time, and I also see him being brought back, even though he has struggled in recent outings. Many of you have also asked if Eric Milton will be back -- he will. Next season will be the final year of his three-year, $25.5 million contract.

Here's the projected rotation I envision: Harang, Arroyo, Lohse, Milton and a fifth spot competition among Ramirez, Matt Belisle and -- whether the brass says it or not -- Homer Bailey. Obviously, a lot could change if the Reds hit the free agent market, where names like Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Greg Maddux, Ted Lilly, Andy Pettitte and more are potentially part of a rumor mill near you, but not necessarily targeted.

Is the organization going to sign Rich Aurilia to a new contract? His production has improved as the season has progressed, and in my opinion, is the most improved player on -- if not the MVP of -- the Reds. -- Charles M., Amarillo, Tex.

After talking with Aurilia last week, I got the impression he wants to come back and that could happen without his getting a new contract. He has a $2 million mutual option with the Reds for 2007, which means both sides have to want to exercise it.

The club and Aurilia could also work out a new deal. Aurilia wants to play every day and gets to in Cincinnati, albeit several different positions per week. He also was the only offensively productive player in the final two months this season. His preference would be to get an everyday job at one spot, either here or elsewhere, but understands that might not be as feasible.

Will the Reds sign Torii Hunter and move Ken Griffey Jr. to a corner outfield position? What do you think? Is there a Wayne Krivsky connection with the Twins? -- Bryan C., Wellington, Fla.

The Twins hold a $12 million option on Hunter for next season with a $2 million buyout, and it still remains up in the air if it will be picked up. But playing with the hypothetical for a second, if anyone could potentially displace Griffey from center field for the Reds, it might be this guy. And that's if the club is even interested and if Hunter is available. Those are big ifs.

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Hunter's offensive production abilities are not overly awe-inspiring, but his main numbers were slightly better than Griffey's this season. His value would come in his superlative defense. At 31 years old, he owns five straight Gold Gloves and matches Ryan Freel for his complete disregard of his body to make a play and for a willingness to eat fences. He also takes more pride in taking home runs away from hitters than hitting one himself.

Hunter's outgoing personality and tell-it-like-it-is approach would also bring intangible value to Cincinnati's clubhouse. But if Hunter were out on the market, you can expect him to seek a four- or five-year deal worth an extremely large sum of dough. Many clubs will be willing to pay if the Twins aren't.

My prediction: Griffey will be in center field on Opening Day 2007. Hunter will remain in Minnesota.

Do you think the Reds will re-sign Royce Clayton next year, or move Brandon Phillips to shortstop? -- Chris N., Florence, Ky.

This question was sent a while back, apologies for getting to it now. I don't expect Clayton, a free agent this winter, to be re-signed. And with Juan Castro signing an extension on Monday, it became even less likely. Phillips is getting a shot at shortstop for the stretch of final games to give decision makers something to think about this winter.

It's easier to find another second baseman than a shortstop. If Phillips shows he's as skilled on the left side of the infield as he's been on the right side, he'll be stationed there next year. If not, the Reds are thrilled with his ability at second base and have no problem leaving him there.

Why do I not see names like Homer Bailey, Joey Votto, Drew Stubbs, Jay Bruce or Johnny Cueto on the Reds Arizona Fall League roster? Isn't this league a place for teams to develop their top prospects in Class A and Double-A, and wouldn't you consider those five guys the Reds' top prospects? Yet not one of them is going to play. What gives? -- G.R. Gibbs

Actually, the majority of players that participate in the AFL are from the Double-A and Triple-A levels. That eliminates younger guys like Stubbs, Cueto and Bruce. As for Bailey, he already reached his innings threshold for the year and was shut down for the year after Double-A Chattanooga's season ended.

In case you're curious, seven Reds players will be with the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the AFL -- including pitchers Phil Dumatrait (Triple-A Louisville), Jon Coutlangus, Tyler Pelland and Calvin Medlock, infielder Drew Anderson and outfielders Javon Moran and Cody Strait (all Chattanooga).

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.