This beating of head upon wall trying to obtain a:

1) #1 or #2 starter that is
2) Young, and that is
3) Cost controlled, that is
4) 3+ years away from FA...

is apparently quite a tall order. Understandably so.

Looking at the acquisition of a few TRUE aces over the last few years, they were had for, generally, a top 50, a top 100, a high upside guy, at least one great arm, usually 2.

If you could have one of:

Cliff Lee
Roy Halladay
Johan Santana

These players are true, true forces of gravity. The division will take notice upon their arrival.

Wouldn't that be preferable to Gio, Jurrens & Shields in 2012?

Well, I encourage you to observe what those players cost their receiving teams. The problem for the Reds is that their prospect arms are not in the top 50. In almost any deal for an ace, the dealing team MUST get a true pitching prospect (unless their filthy rich in arms and need bats - Rays!?!?!). Would you be happy with less than a top 50 pitching prospect for Cueto? No.

That said, I think the Reds can get what they need, for 2012 at least, for what they'd be willing to do without in the short term (Alonso, Grandal, etc, etc, you know the players). No, it's not a long term thing, but signing that player to an extension may be possible as well.

To me, Matt Cain is a guy that I'd like to target, but it seems SF would love to keep him.

Other #1/#2 2013 FA's

Matt Cain (28)
John Danks (28)
Ryan Dempster (36)
Gavin Floyd (30) - $9.5MM club option
Zack Greinke (28)
Cole Hamels (29)
Dan Haren (32) - $15.5MM club option with a $3.5MM buyout
Tim Hudson (37) - $9MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Jake Peavy (31) - $22MM club option with a $4MM buyout
Ervin Santana (30) - $13MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Carlos Zambrano (32) - $19.25MM player option depending on Zambrano's Cy Young voting placement

OK, I watered it down a bit. But to me, this crop would be easier to begin prying from their teams. Payroll is a huge consideration, but paying more in prospects would lead to cash coming our way. For example, I wonder if we could get Zambrano for, like, Frazier and Corcino, with them kicking in 10 million just to be rid of the headache. I know all the trouble Z brings, but he knows Dusty yada yada and my point is only to show that an upgrade to the rotation is actually much easier in this buy low effort. Walt is a buy low guy. Edmonds, Carpenter, Macgwire. Peavy is another fit.

If Walt is loathe to spend his prospect chips, then he needs to lower his sights and take on other forms of risk. The market is the market.