Three Key Questions for Cincinnati Reds At Baseball Winter Meetings

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Sep 11, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (47) throws against the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth inning at Great American Ball Park. The Reds won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Baseball Winter Meetings begin in San Diego today, and, even though there has already been a lot of player movement this off-season, we can expect plenty of trade talk and free agent rumors this week.  For the Cincinnati Reds and general manager Walt Jocketty, this is the time for them to finally come out of their autumn slumber and start making whatever moves they’re going to make in order to shape the 2015 team.  In particular, the Reds need to address these three issues before the Winter Meetings wrap up on Wednesday.

Will the Reds Rebuild or Patch Up Their Holes?

This is the main question facing the Reds this off-season, as the team could easily go either way.  With four starting pitchers set to hit free agency after 2015, Cincinnati is at a crossroads with their pitching and, consequently, with their entire structure.  Jocketty can either hope that last year’s injuries are mostly behind them, clutch tight to his best pitchers and make moves to improve the offense, or he can open up the candy store and make everyone available on the trade market.

With the 2015 All-Star Game coming to Great American Ball Park, and with owner Bob Castellini’s desire to win, it’s hard to see Jocketty blowing up the team this winter. What that likely means is adding a bat or two and testing out the market for their starters.

How Much Are Their Starting Pitchers Worth?

These days, it seems that solid starting pitchers are as abundant as Christmas blowups on suburban lawns, so the Reds’ rotation riches are not worth as much as they would have been, say, five years ago.  But in Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon, Jocketty has enough variety to satisfy just about any team seeking rotation help.

Leake has a solid history of performance and durability to offer.  Leake brings more “stuff” and maybe some untapped potential.  Simon, a breakout starter last year, would likely carry a smaller price tag than his rotation-mates.

And Cueto, well, he is a bona fide ace who had the bad fortune of being born to the same generation of pitchers as Clayton Kershaw.

There is still a decent chance that the Reds will trade at least one of these guys this winter, and maybe even this week. There has been plenty of talk about a deal with Boston that would bring Yoenis Cespedes to the Riverfront for either Leake or Latos, but there are probably other teams who wouldn’t mind adding one of those arms. And if, on the off chance that someone throws a treasure trove his way in pursuit of Cueto, Jocketty may have to revisit the notion of rebuilding.

Who Will Play Left Field?

Now that the Reds have jettisoned Ryan Ludwick and traded Chris Heisey, they have no choice but to make SOME kind of decision about left field, because they will be forced to run a player out there everyday just like every other MLB team.  To fill this hole, Jocketty has four basic options:

  • Hand the job to Jesse Winker  (manager Bryan Price would presumably have some input here, too)
  • Trade for or sign a long-term solution – Melky Cabrera, maybe David Peralta
  • Bring in a rental to bridge the gap to Winker – Cespedes, Justin Upton
  • Cull some spare parts from the non-tendered list or through a minor deal with another team

The Reds don’t appear to be ready for Winker to take over, and it’s still hard to buy that they would spring for the big bucks it will take to land Cabrera or his ilk.   In addition to a hole in left field, the Reds also need some extra pop in their lineup, so scraping for bargains seems unappealing, too.

That leaves the one-year rental option, which would fit right in with the notion that Cincinnati will hold off on the rebuild for another year and try to compete in 2015.  It would not be much of a shock at all if the Reds come out of the Winter Meetings with Cespedes as their left fielder heading into the New Year.

Not all of these issues will be fully resolved by the middle of the week, but we should have a much clearer picture of where the team is headed by then.  Whichever way it goes, these figure to be an interesting few days.