There were a considerable amount of items on Cincinnati's offseason to-do list at the conclusion of the 2013 campaign. In fact, much more than the previous two offseasons. And the Reds wasted no time in marking one of the items off when they decided to part ways with Dusty Baker after six seasons at the helm. The team then promoted from within by naming pitching coach Bryan Price the manager some time later.
Since then the Reds have added a few more pieces to the puzzle in the personnel of free agents Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena. They also traded veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan and acquired left-handed pitching prospect David Holmberg in return. And although a flurry of rumors swirled around the winter meetings last week, with nothing actually coming to fruition, a few of the biggest offseason issues still remain.
I'm no general manager nor do I pretend to be. But I am a student of the game and I have watched, read, and educated myself enough to know what constitutes a good baseball/business decision and what does not. With that being said, here is my attempt to suggest four bold moves the Reds should make this offseason in order to set them up for success in the long run.
1) Re-sign Bronson Arroyo - Sometimes it benefits to wait and see how things shake out before making a move. This holds true for the Reds when it comes to Arroyo this winter as the market for veteran starting pitchers has dwindled over the past few weeks. Although Arroyo is reportedly seeking a multi-year contract, the Reds are said to be laying a one-year offer on the table for the 36-year-old, which he may or may not accept depending on any other proposals he receives. Is Arroyo worth the risk of signing for any longer than one season? I'm not sure. But I do know he has been nothing short of amazing since arriving to the Queen City in 2006. Arroyo has provided unparalleled leadership, durability, and reliability over his eight seasons with the club and despite his knack for the occasional horrendous start has been about as valuable a contributor to the recent resurgence of the franchise as anyone on the roster. Arroyo would certainly be welcomed back with open arms if he and the Reds could strike an accord. If I'm Walt Jocketty, I do what it takes (within reason) to bring back the beloved pitcher, who takes care of his body far more than any player I've heard of, which can partly be credited to his longevity.
2) Trade Homer Bailey - It's pretty well known to the baseball masses that good starting pitching is often the mark of a successful team. You don't give it away for free and you try like hell to acquire it. However, sometimes the situation isn't always so black and white, which is precisely the case with Bailey. Aside from the fact the Reds could save themselves about $9.3 million next year by trading Bailey, the right-hander has been reluctant to discuss a contract extension, and it seems highly improbable Bailey will be back with the Reds in 2015 once he hits the free agent market at the end of next season. So, in all likelihood the club will enjoy Bailey's services for one more season before he rides off into the sunset with another franchise who can throw more money at him than Bob Castellini and Cincinnati can. Why not use Bailey now while his stock value is at its peak in order to acquire some cheaper talent? Especially considering the Reds already have a formidable rotation consisting of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Tony Cingrani. If the Reds can somehow manage to re-sign Arroyo then perhaps the idea of trading Bailey will become more alluring.
3) Extend Mat Latos - You don't trade away two top prospects (Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal), an up-and-coming reliever (Brad Boxberger), and a middle-of-the rotation hurler (Edinson Volquez) without getting something extremely valuable in exchange. That is exactly what the Reds had to do in order to net Latos from San Diego. Fortunately, the menacing right-hander has proved to be everything they hoped he would thus far. He has emerged as the bonafide workhorse and ace of one of the league's top rotations and a guy like that doesn't come cheap. Well, actually Latos has up until this point, but his elite performance and seniority will soon drive his market value well in excess of where it is now. Sure, Latos and the Reds just agreed to a two-year contract last year that will pay him $7.25 million through the end of 2014. But the Reds would be better served to invest in Latos and his power arm well beyond then, though. Considering Latos is eligible for free agency at the conclusion of the 2015 campaign, I would try valiantly to lock up the 26-year-old at least through 2018. That would require the Reds to make a modest five-year commitment to Latos. At the end of the deal, Latos would still just be 30-years-old. Given his proven track record of success (55-30, 3.35 ERA, 1.170 WHIP), in a more than reliable sample size (five seasons), the Reds can be confident that their financial vote of confidence in the competitor will be a good one.
4) Trade Sean Marshall - Marshall's trade value may be at the lowest point of his career. However, at the age of 31, coming off a season plagued by injury, for a guy who doesn't have much velocity to begin with, the future doesn't look as bright for the southpaw as it did when the Reds acquired him via trade from the Cubs and immediately extended his contract for $16.5 million through 2015. Now, Cincinnati is saddled with three left-handers in their bullpen (Aroldis Chapman, Manny Parra, Marshall), with Marshall earning $5.5 million in 2014 and $6.5 million in 2015. Quite frankly, that is an outrageous amount of money to allocate to a setup reliever for a medium market organization like the Reds. Nonetheless, it's a debt the Reds are on the hook for and it also should be one they are desperately looking to cut bait with. Last week, it was rumored that the Reds had a proposed deal in place with the Rockies involving Marshall, but that fell through amid Colorado's concerns of Marshall's health. While his health is some cause for concern, I would be more concerned with the price attached to his left arm. If Jocketty can find a trading partner willing to take on Marshall, he has to pull the trigger for the betterment of the team.
So there you have it -- four moves I believe the Reds should make this winter to put themselves in a better position financially and competitively for the future, including the 2014 campaign. You may have noticed that I said nothing about Brandon Phillips or Chapman. This is because I believe the best move the Reds can make in regards to these two is nothing at all. Of course, that doesn't mean the Reds will follow suit.
Both players will continue to be key cogs in the franchise's pursuit of winning and are too valuable to let go otherwise. Perhaps Phillips' remaining $50 million contract will one day be a burden to the Reds, and maybe he is a little too mouthy and self interested, but considering his flexibility in the batting order, his defense, and his offense, not to mention his ability to sell tickets and engage fans, it's worthwhile to keep him around. Yes, even in spite of all the off-the-field issues.
As for Chapman, he is just too talented and too cost-efficient to give away at this point. And there always remains the chance that the Reds could one day stick him in the rotation and actually see what happens. Until then, he poses quite the threat coming out of the bullpen when the game is one the line.