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Speed dating the hot stove.
The Reds have Dusty Baker under contract for another two years. Maybe you like this, maybe you don't. Maybe you're ambivalent, partially due to the still paralyzing numbness of Game Five.
But the Reds haven't closed up shop for the winter.
Immediately after the World Series, which will end no later than November 1st (when the Giants defeat the Tigers), all eligible players become free agents. For the Reds, that means Scott Rolen, Miguel Cairo, Dioner Navarro and Jonathan Broxton. The team then gets six days to negotiate with them exclusively.
Guys with options
Teams also generally have 3 days after the World Series to decide on contract options, so no later than November 4th, the Reds will have to make a decision on the mutual options for Ryans Madson and Ludwick.
The new twist this off-season is "qualifying offers." Instead of the free agent types, arbitration offers and draft pick hoarding of the past, teams will now decide whether or not to offer their free agents a one-year deal based on an average of the top 125 player salaries from the previous season (estimated between $12-13M for this off-season). They still can't find a fun way to do this.
Unless I'm seriously undervaluing Ryan Ludwick, the Reds don't really have any free agents that are going to fall into this category. Broxton, for one, is ineligible because he didn't start the year with the team. But it's worth it to know about for players they might consider signing.
Players who decline will become less attractive to teams in the bottom 2/3 of next year's draft, as those teams will lose their first round pick for signing one of these "qualies," but the Top 10 picks will be exempt. The Reds don't gain a pick if they lose a free agent who declines a qualifying deal as they would have under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement.
They'll have 5 days after the World Series to make these offers and their free agents would have 7 days to accept.
So the Reds' big decisions in the week after the World Series really fall into two categories. Here's how I see it going:
Regular ol' free agents:
Rolen has played 17 seasons of a Hall of Fame-caliber career. He'll be 38 next season and has hinted at retiring. But he might wait to see how he feels next spring. He might even be tempted to do the Chipper Jones victory lap. Though he's not the edge of any major milestones - expect, I guess, 50 SB? - he can't be thrilled with what might have been the last series of his career.
Even if he could stay healthy enough, his bat may have slowed to the point where he can no longer be considered a starting 3B. I don't think he's in minor league deal territory yet, but he might not be interested in accepting a diminished role.
What should happen: The Reds offer him a one-year deal to fill Miguel Cairo's old spot, with the understanding that Frazier is the starter. Like Cairo, Rolen could also serve as 1B back-up. If he chooses to retire, he doesn't lose his entire salary and has an open door to transition into some role in the organization.
What could happen: If Rolen doesn't retire, I think the Reds will try to save face somehow other than just booting him out. But I think he'll retire.
Sorta tipped my hand already. Cairo was a dependable and productive utility guy in '10 and '11. He's genuinely fun to watch because he doesn't ever seem to take playing baseball for granted. But he'll be 39 next season and had a sub-.500 OPS this season.
What should happen: The Reds and Cairo part on good terms.
What could happen: The Reds sign Cairo to a minor-league deal.
Anything could happen here, but Broxton will be looking for multi-year closer money after the season he's had. The Reds have no reason to give that to him, especially if Chapman stays in the bullpen.
What should happen: Reds keep the door open and see if Broxton's market drops over the offseason.
What could happen: Reds cut ties with Madson, Bray and Broxton - counting on Chapman, Masset and Marshall to anchor the bullpen
They can't stash Navarro at AAA on a minor league deal after the season he's had. Someone is likely to give him guaranteed money at least to be a major league back-up. So unless they want to keeping holding back Mesoraco, they have to let Navarro go.
Potential free agents, 'cept they got options
Ryan Madson ($11M mutual option, $2.5M buy-out)
It's impossible to say what kind of pitcher Madson will be in 2013, but successful Tommy John recovery has become more rule than exception. A number of pitchers had good seasons in 2012, just one year out from surgery. There are some cautionary tales too, like Joe Nathan's first season back - tolerable, but not "closer stuff" - and Francisco Liriano - a change-up thrower like Madson who has struggled after surgery.
To my mind, Madson has the highest upside of anyone the Reds could put in their pen aside from Aroldis Chapman. Signing him would give them a lot more flexibility to move guys between the 'pen and rotation - Chapman and possibly Leake, or even Hoover. I'd expect there's some goodwill from Madson to help get a deal done: the Reds will end up paying $8.5M dollars while assisting in his rehab over the last year.
To boot, the Reds also have far more intel on Madson than any run of the mill free agent.
What should happen: The Reds decline the option, but work out a two-year incentive-laden contract with a similar mutual option situation in year two
What could happen: The Reds let Madson walk because Chapman is the closer
Ryan Ludwick ($5M mutual option, $500K buyout)
Ludwick has more than earned the right to return. But not at any cost. Given Frazier's positional flexibility, there are a number of free agents or trade targets at 3B and LF to consider. And you can't bank on the assumption that Ludwick has simply become his "old self" by getting out of PetCo. He'll turn 35 next July and this was his best season since 2008.
His production was good this year on the road too, meaning he's either successfully changed an approach that could get him through his mid/late 30s - or GABP isn't going to save him from a potentially major regression coming soon.
Still, he might be the best option the Reds can afford in LF.
What should happen: The Reds exercise Ludwick's option. If he declines, which he almost certainly would, they offer him a two year contract with a nice buyout in year three.
What could happen: The Reds overpay for Ludwick, offering him at least three guaranteed years.