We're a day into the free agency season, and while some posts and threads on here have dared look into the future, most seem to look solely at what we need for 2008.
I think we need - in leui of the Reds giving us one - a Four Year Plan.
Why four? There is some logic behind it, given to us by the front office. Harang and Arroyo are both ours to control til then. And a good number of our youngsters (cheap, solid players) are going to be hitting arbitration and/or free agency around then. Plus, I think it's going to take a year to show progress before we can think that we can make a multi-year run at the post-season.
So what does the team look like in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011?
I looked at contracts as well as those players making minimum and made some guesses as to when they hit arbitration. And I plugged everything I had into a chart of team positions for those years.
The attachment shows how it shakes out. Hopefully you can open it. It's a simple pdf.
Note: red means a player is under a contract. Yellow means they're arbitration eligible. Green means league minimum. And grey means the player or team has an option that year.
Feel free to take a while with the chart before reading forward. I'm going to make my observations now, but I always think it's good to draw your own before hearing others.
I know I editorialized the process when I put black boxes under closer and 4th starter in 2008. I just think while we could plug in those roles with personnel we have, we have heard enough from the front office to know that the Reds will at least LOOK to fill those holes with players outside the club.
But with that said, I found it interesting to at least see that - by all accounts - we could have both Cueto and Maloney ready for the majors in 2009. They're certainly on schedule for that. So that said, doesn't it make sense to eyeball a one-year (maybe with an option) contract for that 4th starter? And yes, it would be great if that starter was more of a 2 or 3 starter to shift everyone except Harang back. Either way, one year for that guy might be all we need. This could be had in free agency or we could trade for someone at the end of their contract. Interesting how many of those types are available.
As for a closer, I think this is the big reason to dip into the free agency pool this offseason. For one, if this club performs like last year, a solid bullpen alone could swing 10-15 games. But the truth is, the way I see it, we could probably use a closer for 2 years, allowing Burton to grow into a stud 8th inning closer (a la Lidge) before taking over the closer role in 2010. Note that's his first year eligible for arbitration. If he's getting paid as a set up man, he could be an affordable closer.
Looking ahead, I think you have to consider the Dunn issue. If the young guys do end up bopping like we think they can, does it make sense to trade Dunn at some point next season (at a peak value time) and get some pitching talent in return? Then we can go into next off-season looking for a lead-off hitter who plays outfield. With Bruce and Hamilton, we have position flexibility. That can also be a 1-2 year signing, knowing by then that Stubbs is probably ready or close.
We might need a catcher in 2009 too. So if we don't get one back for Dunn or can't sign a vet to an affordable contract, we can always pick up Ross' option. Hopefully 2008 is more like 2006, but we'll see.
We'll also need some bullpen invigoration by 2009. But what isn't had in a trade can certainly be bought, knowing that Junior, Dunn, Stanton and Castro all likely come off the books.
It's 2009 where the payroll becomes very intriguing. Look at how many players we have slotted to start who make league minimum! For that reason, I think the Reds could stand to blow their payroll wad this season to contend, knowing that we're about to get cheap. You don't want to hamstring the club for years with a bad contract - Milton, I'm talking to you - but you can do some things you probably couldn't do before.
Another note for this offseason, we have too many players on the bench. It's for that reason, I do think you have to shop Freel and Hatteberg. If Valentin in the lefty pinchhitter, do we need Hatte? I say that with heavy heart. I love him unhealthily. Same with Freel, but Hopper and Keppinger have shown the ability to be him but cheaper.
Also looking at the chart, the Reds might be wise to wrap up Phillips and Edwin through their arb years sooner than later. That's the Indians-way. There's no mystery about payroll then, and the players might give a little discount for the security.
Exciting stuff. And clearly I've written for too long. Time for you to comment. Let me know if you think I got something very wrong or if there are prospects I didn't plug into the picture during this time period. I tried to be conservative about that.