01/01/2006 10:00 AM ET
Changes could be in store in Cincy
New ownership group, position shifts expected for '06 Reds
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com

No doubt, the 2006 season could be a pivotal one for the direction of the Reds.

A new ownership group, led by Cincinnati businessman Robert Castellini, is likely to be in place at some point during the upcoming season. That could mean sweeping changes for a ballclub that has endured five consecutive losing seasons.

But we don't know who will be affected, and we don't know when.

Chief operating officer John Allen, general manager Dan O'Brien and manager Jerry Narron do not have contracts beyond 2006 will need to show they can succeed and work under the new ownership this season in order to secure extensions.

O'Brien has been active this winter attempting to overhaul a rotation that was the worst in the National League in 2005. With the league's best run producers and bats to spare, he began seeking more balance at the Winter Meetings.

Out went first baseman Sean Casey in a trade. In came lefty pitcher Dave Williams from the Pirates in exchange. The same week, infielder Tony Womack was acquired from the Yankees for two Minor Leaguers.

Expect O'Brien to explore the thin free agent market in the coming weeks to land another front-line starter. If not, more trades could be coming.

Otherwise, optimism would be difficult to come by for the pitching staff. Last year's big free agent addition, lefty Eric Milton, suffered through the worst season of his career (8-15, 6.47 ERA) and allowed 40 home runs. Paul Wilson will be coming off shoulder surgery that ended his 2005 season in June. Aaron Harang was a bright spot with a team leading 11 wins and 19 quality starts while pitching 211 2/3 innings.

Season in Preview

A lot can change by Opening Day, but as 2005 becomes 2006, this is who is projected to take the field for the Reds:
2B Ryan Freel
SS Felipe Lopez
CF Ken Griffey Jr.
1B Adam Dunn
RF Austin Kearns
LF Wily Mo Pena
3B Edwin Encarnacion
C Jason LaRue
SP Aaron Harang
SP Eric Milton
SP Paul Wilson
SP Brandon Claussen
SP Dave Williams
CL Todd Coffey

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In the bullpen, veterans David Weathers and Kent Mercker will be back and are expected to be dependable. The club is still seeking a closer and to shore up other parts of the relief staff.

With the exception of Casey, most of Cincinnati's high-octane offense will be returning. Adam Dunn is shifting from left field to first base. That will give Wily Mo Pena (left field) and Austin Kearns (right field) their first opportunity to play every day in the Majors. Ken Griffey Jr. will seek to build on his comeback 2005 season.

Unlike last spring, Felipe Lopez will be an incumbent shortstop and trying to duplicate his breakout -- and All-Star -- 2005 season.

But no matter how good the offense is again, the Reds will only go as far as their pitching staff takes them.

Offseason report card: On a scale of one to 10 -- with 10 being the best -- let's give the Reds a four, because it's still early. The club is still trying to make moves to improve.

Arrivals: LHP Williams, 2B/OF Womack (trades), LHP Chris Hammond (free agent)

Departures: 1B Casey

The road ahead: It's all about pitching. Before reporting to Spring Training in Sarasota, the Reds need to continue their efforts to upgrade the staff and score a top-end starter and experienced closer.