As in most any recent Reds' offseason, it seems unlikely that the team will make a big splash on the free agent market - say, re-signing Shin-soo Choo or shelling out for Cuban middle infielder Alex Guerrero (something Walt Jocketty just threw cold water on).
But there's nothing to stop us from pretending they can.
Jocketty has stayed away from big free external free agent signings in his time here, preferring to find bargains like Ludwick and Madson in 2012 - and sometimes overvaluing certain skillsets (like Broxton and Taveras). He's never gone whole hog on a true free agent though.
Earlier this week, I reasoned that the Reds had about $10M in payroll space to work with if they increase payroll by 10% and hang on to pretty much everyone. However, if they had another $10, that might be enough cash to put pretty much anyone within reach. What could they do with that kind of space?
They'd first have to decide on Choo and Arroyo. I would guess that kind of money might allow them to extend qualifying offers to both without fear that Arroyo would take the deal and basically nuke the rest of their offseason plans. Arroyo would give the Reds either the flexibility to trade a pitcher or a compensation pick.
Meanwhile, bringing Choo back might actually be the best move for a cash-rich, hypothetical organization - assuming his ask isn't completely insane. For the Reds, he's probably a little more signable than Ellsbury and makes a lot more sense as a player to be bumped to LF if Hamilton claims center. The best alternatives are probably a stop-gap trade for CoCo Crisp, Colby Rasmus or Brett Gardner.
If Hamilton hits at AAA and Ludwick doesn't bounce back, you could also phase Billy in and move Choo over at some point in 2014. Outfield solved.
Front-loading the Choo contract might make him a $10M man in 2014. The rest of the cash could then go plugging other holes. Why not give a deal to Alex Guerrero? Not only is the money not mine, it's also fake. Guerrero might start out at $5 per year, before arbitration. You'd probably want a guy to shore up the bullpen. Sign Brian Wilson for fun.
After that, it's probably time for a trade. I'd prefer to keep as much pitching around as possible, but if Arroyo came back and Guerrero signed, it would give the Reds a ton of flexibility.
There are several deals that we should imagine happening, but I don't like to imagine that the Reds' have to give up players. Especially pitchers. Let's just imagine there's a three team deal and Brandon Phillips and Mike Leake are involved and Jurickson Profar materializes. Obviously, with little surplus value in BP's contract, I have to dream harder on this one. While I'm at it, the Reds get a marginal AAA pitching prospect guy in the deal.
I've thought about the idea of trading BP since the end of the season. While I don't think it's going to happen - nor is a down year the best time to trade a player with a big contract - it's within the realm of possibility. Castellini probably doesn't have the warmest feelings for him right now. And the team needs to jealously guard its pitching surplus - especially with Arroyo leaving and Stephenson not quite ready. Chapman is basically the 6th starter as soon as Arroyo is out the door.
Anyway, a little magical thinking gets you this:
LF Ludwick, then Choo
CF Choo, then Hamilton
Next up in this series: reality sets in.