By Hal McCoy

Dayton Daily News

DALLAS | There is no Eliot Ness on the 40-man Cincinnati Reds roster, no Untouchables.

General manager Dan O'Brien, not interested in trading any of his outfielders last July at the trade deadline, is now ready, willing and able to not only trade an outfielder or two, but anybody on the roster.

The price is pitching.

That's what O'Brien was looking for last December at the winter meetings in Anaheim and that's what he is looking for this year at the winter meetings that begin today in Dallas.

O'Brien was not able to land anything at the meetings last year, but used shovels, hoes and rakes to lay the groundwork for several transactions shortly after the meetings.

He traded for pitcher Ramon Ortiz. He signed pitchers Eric Milton, Kent Mercker, David Weathers and Ben Weber. He signed infielders Joe Randa and Rich Aurilia.

Only Milton, Weathers and Mercker remain and Milton, so far, is a $22.3 million bust. Randa was traded last July, Aurilia is a free agent and both Ortiz and Weber were let go.

O'Brien realizes he must do better this year so he will not place any of his players on a shelf and say, "Do not touch." That means Ken Griffey Jr. That means Sean Casey. That means Adam Dunn. That means anybody and everybody.

"We have several individuals we would prefer not to trade, but in our situation we have to keep an open mind. We need pitching and we cannot progress if we have untouchables," said O'Brien.

"Basically, we have been given permission to move forward on all fronts to improve our club," he said.

There are barriers, though.

O'Brien said the payroll will remain at the $60 million level. And there are eight important players eligible for salary arbitration, eight players due hefty raises — outfielders Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena, catchers Jason LaRue and Javier Valentin, infielders Felipe Lopez and Ryan Freel and pitcher Aaron Harang.

"We have included all our arbitration players in our payroll projection and are prepared to have them all on the ball club," O'Brien said.

That, though, would be at what the club feels each player is worth.

Players might have a higher opinion of their value and an arbitration panel could agree with them. That doesn't leave much cash for free agents, but O'Brien is nonplussed.

"We are involved in some free agent conversations, but it is a lean market and we have to be selective," he said.

O'Brien said the large contracts signed by relief pitchers Billy Wagner (Philadelphia to the New York Mets) and B.J. Ryan (Baltimore to Toronto) has a trickle down effect, pushing the cost for relief pitching to an all-time high.

So trades are more likely.

"There is a tremendous amount of interest in our position players and the our focal point on trading them would be on the pitching that would come our way," O'Brien said.

On The Most Likely To Go List, place outfielders Pena and Kearns at the top. But there could be others, if O'Brien believes Griffey or Dunn or Casey or anybody else will bring over-the-top pitching.

For example, Oakland is willing to trade Barry Zito for a power-hitting outfielder. Dunn? Kearns? Kearns and Pena?

Griffey, as a 10-and-5 player, must give his permission for a trade.

The club is talking about Cleveland free-agent pitcher Kevin Millwood, but so are richer teams and O'Brien is a bit gun shy after his marquee free agent signing last year.

Milton, was 8-15 with a 6.47 ERA (highest in club history for a starter with more than 30 starts) and gave up the most runs (141), most earned runs (134) and most home runs (40) in the National League.

"We just can't focus on alleviating our outfield surplus," O'Brien added. "There are a number of different scenarios available to us. We are looking at our best opportunities that will give us the best returns. We don't want to foreclose on any situation that might come up. We have to be flexible to improve our pitching."