By Marc Lancaster
Post staff reporter

Bronson Arroyo understands the Reds' place in baseball's economic food chain, and with that knowledge comes a certain level of expectation about winter wheeling and dealing.

"You know we're not in a big enough market here where they're going to go out and sign a Barry Zito or a Miguel Tejada, someone like that," Arroyo said Thursday at a news conference to promote this weekend's Redsfest. "They're going to sign guys that are like myself when they traded for me: a little bit unknown about what you're going to get out of them."

Three such pieces already are in hand in the form of shortstop Alex Gonzalez, left-hander Mike Stanton and catcher Chad Moeller, but more action figures to be on the horizon at the winter meetings next week.

Compared with previous offseasons, the Reds have been more active early in the market, signing the above free agents and dealing Jason LaRue to Kansas City. That doesn't necessarily mean their work is done, even though it remains to be seen how much payroll flexibility they'll have moving forward.

Asked on the eve of Redsfest what his primary concerns are, manager Jerry Narron cited the fifth spot in the starting rotation and clarifying the closer situation.

It looks as if the Reds will once again enter spring training without a defined closer, even though Narron clearly would prefer a go-to guy at the end of games.

"I know the difference it was when Eddie Guardado came (in a July trade)," said Narron. "I know what a difference it made to me and what a difference it made to our players, too. I thought David Weathers did a great job for us early. He had that one stretch where he blew I think three saves in a row, and they were all tough spots - a one-run lead in all of them. A lot of guys would have done that. The difference when Eddie came in was it was a guy that had done it, wanted to be in that spot and had been successful in that spot."

For the time being, Narron said the Reds would go with the same setup they used after Guardado's season-ending elbow injury - a matchup-based pair of a left-hander and right-hander. Last season, those jobs fell to Scott Schoeneweis and Weathers, and there is still a possibility Weathers might return. Stanton would step in for Schoeneweis, but everything really is undetermined at this point.

"I'm sure Bill Bray would like to be a closer, Todd Coffey would like to be a closer - we've got some guys that would really like the opportunity to do it," said Narron. "As for right now, who's going to do it? We'll see when we get to Sarasota."

That's where the final rotation spot will be sorted out, too, barring the acquisition of another established starter to join Arroyo, Aaron Harang, Eric Milton and Kyle Lohse. Narron said Matt Belisle, a reliever the past two seasons, would be in the mix. Other in-house possibilities include Brandon Claussen, Elizardo Ramirez, Phil Dumatrait and the ultimate x-factor, Homer Bailey.

Most in the organization would prefer to start the 20-year-old Bailey in Louisville next April, but the top-rated prospect might force the Reds' hand.

"With Homer, he's going to come to spring training, he's going to get a chance to pitch some, and we'll see what happens," said Narron. "I know the smart thing to do would be probably to get him some time at Triple-A and go from there, but I think all of us will be open-minded about it. But definitely, no question, we want to do what's best for the long-term."

More generally, Narron said he hopes to continue refining the team's overall approach at the plate, moving toward more situational hitting and fundamentals.

"I think we've got to be more consistent offensively," he said. "We just can't have so many strikeouts; we've got to put the ball in play. We've got to do some things to score some runs besides hitting the ball out of the ballpark."

Even if the Reds manage to improve in that department and on defense - the primary goal of the Gonzalez signing - they figure to face a much more difficult challenge to make the playoffs next season. The Cardinals, Cubs and Astros already have splurged on talent upgrades, and it's left to the Reds to find a way to keep up.

"The money that's being thrown around is just ridiculous," said Arroyo. "I'm just hoping that our front office is making some good moves and they can put a team together that'll get us over the hump, because I do not expect the Cardinals to play as bad as they did last year. I think it's going to be a tougher division and we're going to need things to click for us, obviously, because we're not going to go out and sign guys for 15 million bucks a year. ...

"We've still got some time left, so hopefully we'll pick up a couple guys and the guys we have picked up already will hopefully come through for us."