The Cincinnati Reds struggled on offense for much of the 2012 Major League Baseball season, so ownership should consider going after Kevin Youkilis and other free agents in the offseason.
It will be a big surprise if the team goes after a high-profile free agent. Fans should not expect a big splash this winter, but that does not mean the team can't make improvements.
Going into the offseason the team needed to address two issues: left field/leadoff and the bench. Not only were they looking to fill those holes, but a left-handed bat was one of the key areas to add. The bench went through several left-handed bats before settling on Xavier Paul. While it would be ideal to get a left-handed bat, getting a good player is the most important part.
This list includes players who are versatile, fit the left-handed need or would help improve the offense in general. A few former Reds make this list (and no, not Josh Hamilton), and they have proven they can play at Great American Ball Park.
Cincinnati is set with pitching, so it will be crucial for the team to add to its offense.
Ryan Ludwick is the key to this offseason. If he re-signs with the team, the bench will be the only hole to fill. If he leaves in free agency, the team will have more money to spend to bring in players. So for this article, let's just assume he is not back in Cincinnati next season.
What other free agents join Youkilis on this list?
*All stats are from ESPN.com
Reds fans know how bad the leadoff spot was last season, so there's no need to bring up the numbers.
One of the names linked to Cincinnati at the trade deadline was Shane Victorino. His average dropped to .255 last season, so he may not be worth the contract he will probably get.
He is a great defensive player, but the Reds already have the best defensive outfield in the majors. The team needs to go after offensive players this offseason.
Victorino hit 11 home runs last season and would add speed to this lineup. Center fielder Drew Stubbs is the only legitimate threat to steal bases, and Victorino would be a welcomed addition on the base paths. After all, Victorino finished with 39 steals compared to only 30 for Stubbs.
The former NL All-Star has been on winning clubs for most of his career and knows what it takes to win.
The switch-hitting outfielder would take over the leadoff spot until prospect Billy Hamilton reaches the major leagues, but his price tag might be out of Cincinnati's range.
Injuries have kept Austin Kearns from having a great career, but the outfielder could help Cincinnati in 2013,
The former first-round pick played for the Reds from 2002 to 2006 and showed some promise. Unfortunately he could not stay healthy and was traded midseason in one of the worst trades by the Reds in recent years. Cincinnati was in the hunt at the time and none of the players they acquired did much for the franchise, including Bill Bray.
Last season with the Miami Marlins, Kearns was hitting above .300 into June until injuries caught up to him. He hit .325 coming off the bench last season.
Stubbs (.186) and Chris Heisey (.262) both struggled against right-handed pitching last season. Kearns hit .340 against right-handers, which could set up a platoon role.
His four home runs last season don't jump out, but he was playing in a big ballpark. Great American Ball Park would bring back some of his power.
The 32-year-old no longer has great power or the ability for a high average, but he has usually been able to get on base. His .366 on-base percentage would have put behind only Joey Votto on Cincinnati's roster. He owns a .351 OBP for his career, and the Reds need to get on base more.
Kearns can play left field, right field or even some first base if needed. He has a solid arm and could probably play some center field.
The Reds could get him for cheap and fill a void on the bench. His ability to get on base is what the team needs, and his ability to come off the bench to hit makes him a valuable asset to a contender.
The reunion continues.
Jeff Keppinger played a utility role for the Cincinnati Reds from 2007 to 2008 and was also traded in a questionable trade. The team decided to trade him to the Houston Astros for Drew Sutton despite Keppinger's ability to hit.
The utility man hit .325 with an OBP of .367 for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012. He has even added some power since leaving the Reds, where he only hit eight home runs in two seasons.
In both seasons with Cincinnati, he hit over .300 with runners in scoring position. The Reds are looking to improve the leadoff spot and the No. 2 hole, with the latter being a better spot for Keppinger.
Now if he signed with the Reds, he would not be a starter. Todd Frazier will get the third base job unless the team makes a big splash, so Keppinger would be back to a utility role.
After last season, the Reds learned it was good to have a utility player. Votto, Phillips, Cozart and Rolen all missed time last season, which gave Frazier time to prove himself. Keppinger has the ability to play solid defense anywhere in the infield, so this would make a lot of sense for Cincinnati.
Keppinger is likely looking to start somewhere, and Cincinnati does not have a spot for him. That being said, teams need to be prepared for injuries. Keppinger would give the Reds a good backup plan at any infield position in the event of an injury.
A year or two ago, Kevin Youkilis to the Reds was not a crazy thought. Now it might be so realistic.
With third baseman Scott Rolen likely retiring and Frazier being handed the job (via Aaron Gleeman Hardballtalk.com), Youkilis is no longer needed in Cincinnati.
The 33-year-old created excitement in Cincinnati after he told Joe McDonald of ESPN Boston that Cincinnati was the place he would want to be if he ever left Boston. The third baseman grew up in Cincinnati, which could help the Reds get him for a discounted price.
His average has declined in each of the past two seasons, but Great American Ball Park is a great place for a hitter to turn around a career. Ryan Ludwick did it last season.
Despite a low average, Youkilis hit 19 home runs with Boston and Chicago. He is good for at least 15 homers a season, and that number would likely go up in Cincinnati.
A three-time All-Star and former Gold Glove winner, Youkilis has been on winning teams. He can push this team to reach its potential and get past the first round of the playoffs next season.
If the Reds choose to let Ludwick walk, that creates an interesting situation. Frazier could move out to left field in order to make room for Youkilis. With the money the team could spend on Ludwick and closer Ryan Madson, the team would have plenty of money to give to the third baseman.
Another cheap option in the outfield would be Scott Podsednik.
The left-handed hitter has been above the .300 mark for the past few seasons and can hit at the top of the order. Cincinnati needs someone to get on base for Votto and Jay Bruce, and Podsednik's ability to get hits is what the team is looking for in a free agent.
He does not have the power some of the other free agents have, but that's not what this team is looking for.
The former All-Star can still play baseball despite being 36. He stole 35 bases in his last full season in the major leagues in 2010.
Podsednik has the ability to play center field or left field, so he gives the Reds flexibility. It is unclear who is going to be the center fielder and who is going to be the left fielder in Cincinnati in 2013.
He has jumped around the league over the last five years, but there's still something left in the tank.
Although Victorino is a popular choice, Podsednik may be a more valuable pick. He still has the ability to hit .300 and at a low price. Victorino could be a multi-year situation, but Podsednik would be a good one-year deal while Billy Hamilton learns how to play center field.