Making the playoffs in three of the past four seasons has its benefits. Keeping the core of the team together throughout the last few years has allowed the Cincinnati Reds to contend, but they still need to make some adjustments to help the team advance in October this season.
Decisions made in the offseason will go a long way in determining how far this team goes this year.
A tight budget has limited what kind of moves the club could make, and it is losing a few key pieces from last season's squad. Luckily, the Reds have quality options who are ready to show what they can do over a full season in the majors.
There may be a spot left on the roster. Don't expect a big splash, because the team is looking for a complementary piece, not a star.
Here's a look at a few things that Cincinnati needs to do before spring training.
*All stats are via MLB.com.
Perhaps the biggest hole on the roster is the lack of a backup shortstop. Zack Cozart is a solid shortstop, but it's unrealistic to expect him to take the field every day. When he needs a day off, who fills in for him?
On the roster, there isn't a clear candidate.
Veteran Skip Schumaker has played second base and all of the outfield positions. He played a few games at third base in the minors, but he doesn't have any experience at shortstop.
Jack Hannahan may have the most experience at shortstop of any player on the Reds' bench. He has played a grand total of nine games at the position in his seven-year career, including seven games in 2007.
Henry Rodriguez is an interesting option. It's unclear whether or not he will even be in the majors on Opening Day, but he would give the Reds a utility man off the bench. He has played in 58 games at shortstop in his seven seasons in the minors. However, he didn't play a single game at shortstop in 2013.
Rodriguez hit .274/.319/.335 in Triple-A last season, but he has only four hits in 26 at-bats in parts of two seasons in the majors. Letting him play every day in the minors would help him grow as a hitter, but the Reds may not have any better options than the 23-year-old.
Back in December, MLB.com's Mark Sheldon reported that Reds general manager Walt Jocketty was looking for a switch-hitting utility man. Izturis fit that description, but now there are even fewer options.
Rodriguez is a switch-hitter. Free agent Ramon Santiago fits the description as well. If the Reds want a backup who is primarily a shortstop, right-hander and former Red Paul Janish could be an option. Janish isn't a great hitter, but his glove would fit nicely on the days that Cozart needs off.
Cincinnati doesn't have much money to spend, so it may be forced to look for bargains. Rodriguez is already in the system. He would be a solid choice to fill out the roster, but the Reds would still be without a strong option to back up Cozart.
In 2012, the Reds were the only team in the majors to not have a starting pitcher miss a start. They weren't as lucky last year, and their lack of minor league depth was exposed at times.
Greg Reynolds and Pedro Villarreal struggled in their spot starts. With workhorse Bronson Arroyo likely gone and Tony Cingrani likely taking over as the No. 5 starter, pitching depth now becomes an issue.
Cincinnati has to be hoping that its starters can pull off the same feat that the 2012 staff did.
This offseason has seen the Reds add several pitchers for depth.
Veteran Chien-Ming Wang is a non-roster invitee, but he is more of a name than a reliable option at this point. He hasn't made more than 25 starts in a season since 2007, which is also the last time that he posted an earned run average below 4.00 in the majors.
ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick reported this week that left-hander Jeff Francis signed a minor league deal with the Reds. Francis went 3-5 with a 6.27 ERA in 23 games, including 12 starts, with the Colorado Rockies last season. The 33-year-old was in the Reds' system back in 2012 but opted out in the middle of the season.
Holmberg has only pitched in one game in the majors, but he looks like the team's best option if something happens to a starter. Wang and Francis are both veterans, but neither has pitched well in recent seasons.
Prospect Robert Stephenson won't be ready for probably another year. He worked his way up to Double-A in 2013, but he made only four starts at that level. The right-hander has a lot of promise, but he doesn't have experience at the top levels. Unless he dazzles all year, 2014 is likely the earliest that he will reach the majors.
A team can never have too much pitching. Cincinnati still needs to add some good arms before the season gets underway. Relying on Wang and Francis is risky, so looking for cheap options for depth would be a smart idea.
Now that Shin-Soo Choo is gone, the Reds have some questions in the lineup. They have talent throughout the lineup, but figuring out where to put everyone is a tough dilemma.
The only thing we know for sure is that first baseman Joey Votto will bat third. Nothing else is set in stone.
Going into the last few spring trainings, fans knew what Dusty Baker would do with the lineup. But nobody knows how Bryan Price will construct his lineup.
Speedster Billy Hamilton is likely going to lead off this year unless he struggles mightily. From there it gets interesting. Will Brandon Phillips move back up the No. 2, or will Price keep him in the cleanup spot? Assuming Phillips moves up in the lineup, does Price bat Votto and Jay Bruce back-to-back?
It's important for players to know their roles before the season begins, especially for a guy like Phillips. He has an uncanny ability to adjust his approach better than anyone in baseball depending on where he hits. Price may have already told his players, but the public still does not know who will bat where.
Phillips has proven that he can drive in runs and protect Votto. He is expected to be healthy for the start of the season after suffering an arm injury in June, so now it's all about figuring out where to bat him. Putting him second gives the Reds a versatile hitter between Hamilton and Votto.
Bruce has also shown that he can provide Votto with protection, so unless Ryan Ludwick shows that he can get back to his 2012 form, batting left-handers back-to-back is the team's best option.
Cincinnati doesn't have a perfect lineup, so putting players in the right spots will be crucial.
Let's take a look at one possible lineup:
|1||CF Billy Hamilton||S|
|2||2B Brandon Phillips||R|
|3||1B Joey Votto||L|
|4||RF Jay Bruce||L|
|5||LF Ryan Ludwick||R|
|6||3B Todd Frazier||R|
|7||C Devin Mesoraco||R|
|8||SS Zack Cozart||R|
Until Price makes his lineup public, it's all a guessing game. The Reds have great pitching, so finding the best lineup will be the key.