Like most of you, I'm not quite mentally prepared to turn the page from what was the 2013 Cincinnati Reds season to what will be the 2014 version. Not yet, at least.
I do think I'm ready to at least begin to ask the questions the Reds will have to ask of themselves in the coming weeks, though, ones that must be definitively answered in order for this franchise to continue moving forward. I'm pretty sure I've listed these in order of least important to most important in terms of how they impact the upcoming season, not the far future, but whatever.
Homer Bailey is entering his last year of team control. Do they look to sign him long term?
Homer has been on the front pages of Red Reporter since its infancy, and rightfully so. He first graced our presence due to his emergence as a legitimate pitching prospect, which at the time was something Reds fans hadn't seen in over a decade, he stayed there as he struggled to live up to expectations, and he's remained there as he developed into a solid front-end starting pitcher.
Now, he'll be here because of the kind of contract it will take to keep him around. It's not a perfect comparison, but Anibal Sanchez had a similar level of career production when he was inked to a 5 year, $88 million contract by the Detroit Tigers, and the Reds will likely have to pony up a similar amount to have Homer around.
There's something to be said for players raising their level of performance in contract years (see: Brandon Phillips, Adrian Beltre, etc.), so perhaps there would be some benefit to letting Homer do what he does before lobbing millions at him, but that also runs the risk of letting him see free agency and the negotiating power (read: $$$$) of pitching starved franchises.
Do the Reds offer Shin-Soo Choo a multi-year contract or merely a qualifying offer?
To be blunt, I don't think there's a chance in hell the Reds sign Choo this offseason.
I don't think they'll pony up enough money to satisfy Scott Boras, and I think they're smart enough to realize that even if they had the money to spend, it would likely end up being a bad contract before it was finished. It's a bummer, but it's reality, and we'll all miss the fantastic production we witnessed in Choo's one season in Cincinnati.
The Reds will undoubtedly extend him a qualifying offer (which should be roughly for a year contract at $13 or so million), he'll decline it, and the Reds will get a supplemental 1st round draft pick for seeing him sign elsewhere. When Walt Jocketty writes his memoir, he'll likely mention this additional draft pick possibility as a huge reason he made the trade for Choo in the first place, and it's likely always been a part of the plan for the future.
Do the Reds offer Bronson Arroyo a multi-year contract? Do they extend him a qualifying offer?
Bronson Arroyo is also set to be a free agent, and while his contract status is similar to Choo, his age renders his market a bit more skewed. Bronson will be 37 years old before he throws a pitch in a major league game on his new contract, and while his durability and, for the most part, effectiveness has been about as cut and dry as any pitcher of recent memory, there's still a bit of a question as to how much he can ask for on the open market.
On the surface, it seems that extending him the qualifying offer, wishing he signs elsewhere, and getting a comp pick in return sounds like the easy and best strategy, but I'm not sure it'll be that simple. Other pitchers in his age range with track records of success like Hiroki Kuroda, Bartolo Colon, and Andy Pettitte have settled for one year deals recently, and Ryan Dempster likely only got the 2nd year of his deal guaranteed because he wasn't tied to draft pick compensation.
The Reds could very well roll the dice and offer him the one year, $13ish million contract, but Bronson may well accept that as the best contract on the table...and then the Reds have an even bigger payroll issue than last offseason; either that, or they let him walk for nothing to test the market and likely see him sign elsewhere.
Tricky, this "being a GM" thing.
If the Reds don't bring back Arroyo, how do they address starting pitching depth?
Letting Arroyo walk would leave a pitching rotation of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Tony Cingrani, which is excellent yet paper thin. In this scenario, the Reds would hope to keep Greg Reynolds around in AAA as insurance while hoping Daniel Corcino can rebound in his second season in Louisville to provide some depth in case of inevitable injuries.
The Reds could also explore the free agent bargain bin this offseason in hopes they find, oh, I don't know, the next Francisco Liriano. Guys like that are scooped up every offseason, normally don't work out, and are offloaded...but occasionally, they pan out, and they're cheap. If there's any silver lining to the rash of minor dings and dents the Reds' rotation ran into that helped curtail the 2013 season, it's that Walt saw it and will hopefully do his best to provide more insurance for next season.
Will the Reds actually sign a decent bench bat?
No. They won't. They never do, and Jack Hannahan is already signed for next season. Expect another rendition of Orcesgarson Rentbrerisdez to hit one-something as a backup SS.
Will the Reds give Billy Hamilton the starting CF job, or send him to AAA in April?
This, more than any other question, will be the one that truly defines the Reds' offseason. Will they go with the young, unproven prospect and roll him out at the top of the lineup 700 times despite his medioce, at best, 2013 in the minors? That's a pretty steep concession to make on a team that features a few aging, expensive cogs and a thirst for larger playoff success, but there won't be many cheap alternatives if they choose to give Hamilton more time to marinate in the minors.
Going with a combination of Chris Heisey and Derrick Robinson in CF out of the gate would be pretty damn deflating given how the 2013 season ended, but aside from Choo and Curtis Granderson there just aren't many available options out there, much less realistic ones, that would make an upgrade. If Billy is set for a bus trip to Louisville for a few months, Walt's going to have to be damn creative.
Will Dusty Baker be back, and will Cincinnati support him?
God, I don't know, but it's what will dominate any discussion among Reds fans for the foreseeable future. Dusty's on the last year of his contract in 2014 for $3.5 million, and it's always an awkward position to be a lame duck manager who hasn't been given the "support" of a deal beyond the existing season.
Considering how in demand Bryan Price is for a promotion that could lead him elsewhere, this decision takes on an additional level of importance. There will likely be no status-quo move of bringing them both back on extensions, and given how many people expect a move, this will be the primary variable in the early offseason.