Choo's asking price is expected to exceed $100 million in free agency.
Is manager Dusty Baker's job on the line? Was the team's six-game losing streak to end the season reason enough to eat the remaining $4 million due on his contract and go in another direction? Will pitching coach Bryan Price leave to become the manager of the Seattle Mariners?
The biggest task is how to fix an inconsistent offense that could lose one of its most productive hitters, Shin-Soo Choo, to free agency. And even if the Reds pay up to keep him, he might not be enough to push them past the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central.
If there's not a complete roster overhaul by general manager Walt Jocketty, the Reds will need several hitters to bounce back and the pitching staff to have a healthy season if they're to compete for a playoff spot again. No. 1 starter Johnny Cueto had three separate stints on the disabled list, while setup men Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall missed a majority of the season with injuries.
Here's everything you'll need to know before Jocketty and the front office get started.
With just over $64 million in guaranteed salary owed to nine players, approximately another $24 million due to seven players eligible for arbitration and another $7 million for six or seven players who are expected to make the 25-man roster but are not yet eligible for arbitration, the Reds currently find themselves only around $11 million under last year's Opening Day total of $106,855,533, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Unless the Reds are planning on raising payroll substantially, it doesn't appear that their two key free agents, Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo, have a good chance of returning. In addition, first baseman Joey Votto's contract is extremely backloaded—the 30-year-old (pictured) is guaranteed $199 million between 2016 and 2023—which could make it difficult to do the same for another free agent like Choo, who is expected to ask for more than $100 million on a six or seven-year deal.
Attendance has been climbing over the past several seasons, however, with 31,288 tickets sold per game in 2013, so the necessary bump of $15-$20 million to fit Choo and another player acquisition or two into the payroll isn't completely out of the question.
Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo (pictured) and lefty reliever Manny Parra are the notable players eligible for free agency. Backup infielder Cesar Izturis and relievers Zach Duke and Nick Masset will join them and wouldn't be expected back on anything more than a minor league deal.
The 31-year-old Choo finished the season with an .885 OPS, 21 homers, 20 stolen bases, 107 runs and 112 walks while hitting in the leadoff spot and playing center field. That kind of production is nearly impossible to replace.
Even at age 36, Arroyo was as solid as ever with a 3.79 ERA, 1.5 BB/9 and 5.5 K/9 in 202 innings pitched. In eight seasons with the Reds, he has 105 wins and a 4.05 ERA and has averaged 211 innings per season. He has never spent a day on the disabled list.
Parra, who was signed to a one-year, $1 million deal prior to the season, had his best season with a 3.33 ERA, 2.9 BB/9 and 11.0 K/9 in 46 innings pitched. The 30-year-old came into the season with a career 5.12 ERA in 513 innings with Milwaukee from 2007-2013.
The in-house options slated to replace Choo in center field and Arroyo in the rotation, if they were to depart, are potential impact players.
Billy Hamilton (pictured), who set the minor league single-season stolen base record in 2012, went 7-for-19 with 13 stolen bases in September. He has the potential to be the first player to steal 100 bases since Vince Coleman did it for the Cardinals in 1987.
But his first full season at Triple-A can't be ignored. He had a mediocre .308 on-base percentage with 102 strikeouts. The Reds can't afford to replace Choo, one of the best in baseball at getting on base, with someone who struggles at it.
In a best-case scenario, the Reds would re-sign Choo to start the season in center field and would move him over to the corner spot in place of Ryan Ludwick only if Hamilton forced his way to the majors with a strong performance in Triple-A.
In the case of Arroyo, he's been one of, if not the most durable pitcher, in the game. It wouldn't be a surprise if he had several three-year offers on the table by mid-November. Lefty Tony Cingrani, who has been terrific in the majors (2.87 ERA, 3.7 BB/9, 10.6 K/9 in 104.2 IP), is expected to take his rotation spot.
The fact that the 24-year-old Cingrani has been getting it done without a strong array of secondary pitches is impressive. But it's also a concern if his repertoire doesn't improve as teams begin to see him for multiple times.
The rotation depth with Cingrani stepping into a full-time role is also thin, so the Reds will need to add at least one or two reliable veterans who could pitch in the Triple-A rotation and step into the big league rotation, if necessary.
While shortstop Zack Cozart and third baseman Todd Frazier finished the season well, their overall numbers were disappointing. If there's an opportunity to upgrade at either position, I'm guessing Jocketty won't hesitate, especially if he can finally add a prototypical No. 2 hitter.
Re-signing Choo is likely the team's top priority, but the Reds could move on quickly if the asking price goes beyond their range, as will be expected. Here's a look at some projected free-agent targets who could help fill their needs.
Aside from Choo, Granderson (pictured) might be the only other free agent who could fill the center field spot for at least one season. Once Billy Hamilton is ready to take over, Granderson would then shift over to left field for the remainder of his contract. He also wouldn't be as costly as Choo—a three-year, $45 million deal is likely.
Chris Young, OF
Failing to land Granderson or re-sign Choo could result in the team seeking a one-year stopgap to allow Hamilton at least a few more months in Triple-A. Coming off a poor season with the Oakland Athletics, Young would likely settle for a one-year deal in a hitter's park in order to rebuild his value. With regular playing time, he's usually a lock for 20-plus homers and 20-plus stolen bases. He'll also give the team a much better defensive center fielder than Choo, although he'd be another part of the team's on-base percentage problem as opposed to the solution.
Roberto Hernandez, SP/RP
Adding a starting pitcher who could fill an integral role in the bullpen if the team's starting five are healthy might be the best route to ensure the team has rotation depth heading into the season. The 33-year-old Hernandez had a 4.98 ERA in 24 starts for the Rays while allowing three earned runs and four hits in 8.1 innings out of the bullpen.
Phil Hughes could also fill this role, although the price tag would be much higher, and he's likely to find a better opportunity to win a rotation spot. Chris Capuano, Bruce Chen and Ted Lilly are more realistic options.
If the Reds go into the offseason with a limited payroll, it's probably more likely that they'll look to the trade market to fill their holes. It's also possible that they shake up the roster with a multi-player blockbuster deal. Here are some potential trade targets.
Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
If Ethier's strong second half (.885 OPS, 7 HR, 15 2B) wasn't a fluke and he's returned to form, he could be the 2014 version of Choo. A corner outfielder who is just good enough to play an adequate center field, the 31-year-old has a career .362 on-base percentage. He is still due $71.5 million through the 2017 season, though, which makes any deal challenging. The Dodgers could eat some of that contract, but only if they get a good return.
Cody Ross, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ross (pictured), who is guaranteed $20 million over the next two seasons, has started 349 games in center field throughout his career, making him another candidate to fill the team's need for a stopgap until Hamilton is ready before moving to a corner spot. The D'backs are looking to bring in another power bat this offseason and would likely have to move one of their current outfielders to clear a spot.
Hector Santiago, SP/RP, Chicago White Sox
Acquiring the 25-year-old lefty from the Sox could bring some healthy competition to spring training, with the odd man out between Cingrani and Santiago moving to the bullpen. Both have already had success in each role during their short careers.
Carlos Torres, SP/RP, New York Mets
For what the Reds need, a versatile pitcher like Torres could be a perfect fit. In 25 relief appearances, the 30-year-old journeyman had a 1.47 ERA with five walks and 25 strikeouts in 36.2 innings pitched. When called upon to start, he had a 4.89 ERA with 12 walks and 50 strikeouts in 49.2 innings pitched. Six of his nine starts, however, were quality starts (at least six innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed).