CINCINNATI -- With the World Series in the rear-view mirror, the free-agent bonanza is poised to commence around Major League Baseball. Don't expect the Reds to dip much more than their toes into the market's open waters, however.
Free-agent expenditures have been a rarity and payroll flexibility minimal during Reds general manager Walt Jocketty's tenure. Outside of adding complementary pieces, that isn't likely to change.
One year after experiencing the thrills of the National League Central title and a playoff berth, the Reds fell well short in 2011. Looking ahead to '12, the club still has its nucleus back and little money coming off of the books.
The $12 million club option on Brandon Phillips was picked up Monday, but the identical tab on Francisco Cordero was declined. Cincinnati is hopeful both can be signed to multi-year deals. Other players already under multi-year contracts, like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, have raises built into their existing deals. There are also seven players eligible for arbitration.
More than $50 million is already committed to players under contract for the 2012 season, a number that should spike some more should Cordero be re-signed or new deals for Phillips and Cordero come to fruition.
That doesn't mean there are no needs to address, and the Reds certainly have a few. Despite its depth, Cincinnati could use a top-end starter -- while left field and shortstop are unsettled situations for the second winter in a row. Considering the organization's depth of prospects and young talent, it might be more realistic for the Reds to trade to get their desired upgrades.
Under the rules, all players with expiring 2011 contracts automatically become free agents five days after the conclusion of the World Series. Don't expect any of the Reds' free agents -- namely catcher Ramon Hernandez and shortstop Edgar Renteria -- to be retained during the brief, exclusive negotiating window or return at all.
The last time the Reds made a huge splash in the free-agent market was when Cordero signed a four-year, $46 million deal in November 2007. That was before Jocketty's regime took over. His only two free-agent moves were to add Renteria and outfielder Fred Lewis in one-year deals.
Free agents: C Hernandez, LHP Dontrelle Willis, SS Renteria, OF Lewis, RHP Cordero Player options: None Eligible for arbitration: LHP Bill Bray, RHP Edinson Volquez, RHP Nick Masset, RHP Homer Bailey, SS Paul Janish, RHP Jose Arredondo, RHP Jared Burton
AREAS OF NEED
Starting pitcher: The Reds have emerging ace Johnny Cueto and a lot of returning arms, including Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo, Volquez and Bailey. What they don't have is another stopper-type starter to pair with Cueto near the top of the rotation. Left-handers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle are the top free agents on the market, but the Reds won't be opening their wallet to nab such pricey targets.
Shortstop: Rookie Zack Cozart made a nice impression in a short period of time until an elbow injury ended his season prematurely. Cozart still has the inside track, but the Reds will need a veteran backup capable of doing more, if need be.
Left field: Chris Heisey demonstrated he deserves a shot, while Yonder Alonso showed he can hit in the Majors and will be dedicating his offseason to sharpening his defense. This is a position that has lacked stability since the departure of Adam Dunn in 2008.
The Reds' payroll inched from $76 million in 2010 to around $80 million in '11. Another incremental increase seems to be in the cards again -- something in the $84-$86 million range would fit the trend.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.