The Cincinnati Reds are a few pieces away from being a legitimate contender in 2014.
The team needs to add some more depth to its bench—preferably a middle infielder—as well as to its starting pitching. In addition to that, the Reds would do well to sign a player to back up and complement Billy Hamilton in center field, as well as a player who can hit for power from the right side of the plate.
The Reds have limited financial resources, and that should be taken into account when projecting their remaining offseason moves. However, the Reds have been known to make a big splash or two since Walt Jocketty took over as general manager back in 2008.
With that said, let's take a look at four missing pieces the Reds could add in the offseason's final month-and-a-half.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Cincinnati Reds are "concerned" about their depth in the starting rotation. One player who is still squarely on the Reds' radar, and who could easily remedy those concerns, is Bronson Arroyo.
The 36-year-old righty spent the last eight years with the Reds and provided quality innings in all but one of those seasons. Between 2006 and 2013, Arroyo managed a 105-94 record with a 4.05 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP and ratios of 5.9 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 9.1 H/9 and 1.3 HR/9.
Signing Arroyo could help the Reds in a number of ways.
First, if the Reds bring in Arroyo, the team could mull over the idea of sending Tony Cingrani back to Triple-A and allowing him to work on his secondary pitches. Cingrani wowed in his rookie season with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP while averaging 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
The problem with Cingrani is the lack of secondary pitches in his arsenal.
Cingrani fiddles with a changeup and a slider, but neither of those two pitches has the level of refinement associated with a legitimate front-end starter. Baseball is a game of adjustments, and if Cingrani attempts to get by on a fastball alone again this season—he threw it 81.5 percent of the time in 2013— he'll experience some severe regression.
Arroyo could step in as the team's fifth starter, and with a healthy Johnny Cueto, the Reds would still have one of the better rotations in baseball.
Signing Arroyo to a multi-year deal would also give the Reds the ability to either trade Homer Bailey this season or allow him to work through the season and become a free agent without scrambling for a replacement following his departure.
The Reds are interested in working out a multi-year deal with Bailey, but he's shown little interest in returning to the Queen City following the 2014 season.
By dealing Bailey now, they can still get outstanding value in return, given his incredible maturation and progression over the past few seasons. By allowing him to play out the season, they run the risk of losing him to teams willing to pay far more than the Reds will for his services.
This sort of plays in with the idea of developing Cingrani's secondary pitches in Triple-A as well. Should he prove able to develop his changeup and slider, Cingrani could step in next season as a capable replacement for Bailey.
Don't forget, top prospect Robert Stephenson is likely to make the jump to the big leagues next season as well.
Reds general manager Walt Jocketty recently gave his seal of approval to Billy Hamilton as the team's everyday center fielder for the 2014 season, per John Fay of the The Enquirer.
In theory, this is a good move for the club, as it will certainly benefit from Hamilton's plus defense and ungodly speed, but there is the possibility that the 23-year-old rookie proves unready for everyday play. If this becomes a reality, then the Reds need a backup plan for the rest of the season.
Enter, Grady Sizemore.
Sizemore hasn't played since 2011, and he hasn't played 100 games in a single season since 2009. However, the three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner is on the comeback trail and could prove a worthwhile addition for the Reds, who are in desperate need of a Hamilton contingency plan.
In his prime, Sizemore was an MVP candidate and a legitimate 30-30 threat year-in and year-out. Unfortunately, injuries have hampered his ability to stay on the field and serve as a productive member of a major league lineup.
Two years away from the game should be all the rest that Sizemore needs to get his body back in gear for another go as a big leaguer. In all likelihood, if and when Sizemore does sign, it will be to a minor league deal, meaning that any team that signs him would be in a low-risk, high-reward scenario.
If Sizemore doesn't work out, then the Reds can pursue other options. If he does fit the bill, however, then the Reds would have a perfect complement to Hamilton and a high-value asset come the trade deadline.
The Reds could use one more middle infielder. The front office could fill this need through the promotion of minor league utility man Henry Rodriguez, but if they look to the free-agent market, then Elliot Johnson might be the best available option.
This year's middle infield crop features a steep drop-off in talent after the likes of Robinson Cano, Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta came off the board. Outside of Johnson, the list of players who could possibly be considered viable options is limited to Stephen Drew, Munenori Kawasaki and Cesar Izturis.
Given the lack of need for a starting shortstop, Drew is automatically eliminated as a possibility, and Izturis' first go-around with the Reds was bad enough that his return seems highly unlikely at this point.
That leaves Johnson and Kawasaki as the two remaining options. Consider the two players and their offensive contributions over the last two seasons:
Neither of those two players are going to overwhelm fans with their offensive prowess, but Johnson—a switch hitter—does offer a higher career batting average and slugging percentage over Kawasaki.
Additionally, Johnson brings with him the ability to play every position except catcher.
Johnson isn't a sexy addition by any means, but he can serve as a solid defensive replacement in late-inning situations while also working as a semi-competent bench player or spot starter.
If the Reds are serious about breaking up Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in the middle of their lineup, then Nelson Cruz is the best option left on the market.
Over the last five seasons, Cruz averaged a .272/.331/.511 slash line with 162-game averages of 35 home runs, 37 doubles, 16 steals, 106 RBI and 87 runs scored. Outside of Votto—and sometimes Bruce when he's hot—the Reds haven't had a middle-of-the-order threat like that since Ken Griffey Jr.
Cruz is a threat to go deep every time he steps to the plate, and his power would make pitchers think twice about pitching around Votto to get to him and Bruce.
There are some drawbacks to Cruz, however. First and foremost, Cruz strikes out quite a bit.
Over his nine-year career, Cruz has struck out at a 22.3 percent clip. A player hitting behind Votto is going to be relied upon heavily for his ability to drive in runs and put the ball in the seats. Cruz is capable of that, but only if he's able to keep his strikeout totals at, or preferably below, his career rate.
Two other things to consider with Cruz include his position—left field—and his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal that rocked Major League Baseball last season.
The Reds currently have Ryan Ludwick entering the last year of a two-year, $15 million contract (per Baseballprospectus.com). If the team is willing to bite that really expensive $7.5 million bullet and move Ludwick to a bench role, then Cruz can fit into the team's lineup with a three-year deal worth roughly $15 million annually.
As far as Cruz's involvement in the Biogenesis scandal is concerned, this could be viewed in one of two ways.
If you're the trusting type—and I suggest you rethink that stance in instances like this—then you may believe Cruz's story that he only turned to the shady clinic after suffering from a severe gastrointestinal infection in 2011.
If you're like most sports fans, or most people in general, then you probably don't believe that and you're concerned that the impressive stat line referenced above is the product of cheating.
Either way, Cruz may be worth taking a chance on given the Reds' window of opportunity to win a World Series.