"This is going to be a strange offseason, I think," said pitcher Bronson Arroyo, the longest-tenured Reds player. "I don't think anyone in the locker room here has any idea what moves the front office wants to make. We're flooded with extra guys in a couple of positions. We're lacking some guys in a couple of positions. We have a really young ballclub with a lot of guys that deserve to be at this level. That being said, obviously we weren't good enough to compete in this division this year."
Cincinnati thought it was deep with pitching and soon realized how short it was after some injuries and with the lack of a proven ace. The same cast of characters should be back in the mix: Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey and, after their disappointing performances, Arroyo, Edinson Volquez and Travis Wood. All signs are pointing to reliever Aroldis Chapman being in contention for a spot as well.
The free-agent market will be sparse for top-flight starting pitching -- with Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson likely to be the biggest name. Jocketty might want to consider emulating the Brewers, who emptied their farm system to acquire ace Zack Greinke and No. 2 starter Shaun Marcum. It helped Milwaukee dethrone the Reds as division winners.
The core of position players -- Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Scott Rolen and Drew Stubbs -- is expected to be back. Like last winter, there are question marks going into this offseason about left field and shortstop again after no one really cemented those roles regularly during the season.
The Reds' attendance climbed from 2.06 million last season to 2.21 million this season, which is often an indication that there might be a little more money to spend after there was an $80 million payroll in 2011.
"They have a lot on their plate, and I don't know what direction they'll go," Arroyo said. "It's whether to keep it young and keep the core guys here that we have or add a couple of pieces or feel like there should be a couple of drastic trades with some of our prospects to acquire other guys."
This is where the Reds' roster stands as they head into the offseason:
C Ramon Hernandez, LHP Dontrelle Willis, SS Edgar Renteria, OF Fred Lewis
2B Brandon Phillips, RHP Francisco Cordero
Eligible for arbitration:
LHP Bill Bray, RHP Edinson Volquez, RHP Nick Masset, RHP Homer Bailey, SS Paul Janish, RHP Jose Arredondo, RHP Jared Burton
It seems unlikely that the Reds would retain Hernandez with top prospect Mesoraco having reached the Majors and being highly regarded. Manager Dusty Baker likes to keep his catchers' legs fresh, and a tandem situation in 2012 with Hanigan and Mesoraco seems like a strong possibility. Grandal climbed from High-A and reached Triple-A by season's end and acquitted himself well in his first full pro season.
Votto backed up his 2010 MVP season with another excellent year that might have garnered more MVP talk had the Reds been contenders. Media speculation is simmering that the Reds might move Votto with two years left on his three-year contract, since he will make an affordable $9 million in 2012 before the big jump to $17 million in 2013, followed by possible free agency. Bet that Votto will still be in a Reds uniform come Spring Training.
Phillips' $12 million option is going to be picked up, now the only question is whether he and the Reds can complete a contract extension. Either way, Phillips seems to be the incumbent at the leadoff spot, and his superlative glove is going nowhere. Valaika, who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL, should be in the mix to compete for a roster spot at camp next year.
After Janish and Renteria were unable to hold down the job, the Reds called up Cozart from Triple-A Louisville. Cozart only played in 11 games in the big leagues before a freak elbow injury from a second-base collision ended his season. But it was an all-around impressive 11 games, and enough that Cozart at least has the inside track going into camp. The job was Janish's entering the year, but he never got on track offensively, and he made some unexpected errors. If the Reds do go with Cozart, they would be wise to choose better insurance than Renteria, who was lackluster offensively and brought little to the table defensively. He also didn't provide much bench flexibility by playing only one position.
Rolen was limited to 65 games because of a bad left shoulder, an injury that required surgery, and he is entering the final year of his contract. Injuries to Francisco scuttled a huge opportunity until September, but he's shown impressive power and improved defense that should leave the Reds optimistic. Frazier did not hit well, but he played strong defensively and can play all around the infield.
Left field is the huge question mark. Chris Heisey hit well when he got the opportunity, but he was also given favorable matchups. Although right-handed, Heisey isn't strong against lefty pitchers and mostly pulls the ball. Alonso showed he could hit big league pitching and belongs at the highest level. He was initially shaky in left field because he lacks speed, but he proved more competent over the last few weeks. The former first baseman is dedicating himself to shedding weight and preparing himself for left field in the offseason. If the Reds do go outside the organization for a bat, this might be where they put him.
Once again the rotation is deep, with more names than spots, but as was learned this season, it doesn't guarantee positive results. Cueto took a huge step forward and is the likely ace for 2012. But as the Phillies and Giants have shown, it doesn't hurt to have multiple aces, and the Reds would be wise to see what's out there. Volquez and Wood were the two biggest disappointments this season, and a rebound by both would be a boost. Arroyo set a club record for home runs allowed and will have to figure out how to improve himself at 35 years old. Leake took a step forward in his second pro season and could be a candidate to work 200 innings next season. Bailey had some positive moments but wasn't durable. He needs to stay off the disabled list. The X factor is Chapman, who might thrive throwing every fifth day. But, after he demonstrated physical and maturity issues this past season, does he have the makeup to handle the job?
The big question is what the Reds will do for a closer if Cordero's $12 million option isn't picked up or an extension isn't worked out. No viable candidates presented themselves in-house this season. If Cordero doesn't return, the club would likely have to go outside the organization. Though Chapman has closer's stuff, he doesn't have the ability to work over several consecutive days. He is also a good bet to start next season.