This is the most important offseason for the Cincinnati Reds in 12 years. The Reds assembled what looked to be a strong offensive nucleus in 1999 when their season ended in a one-game playoff with the New York Mets.
Sean Casey, Pokey Reese and Aaron Boone were the future of the franchise and the Reds began to build around them by trading for Ken Griffey Jr. and signing Dante Bichette.
Bichette hit .298 with 34 homers and 133 RBI the year before while Griffey hit .285 with 48 homers and 134 RBI.
Unfortunately, Bichette was gone before the end of the year and Griffey would never match his previous HR and RBI totals. The Reds had put all of their cards on the table and lost.
The franchise was ultimately set back several years and this year it's up to Walt Jocketty and the front office not to let history repeat itself.
The future of this 2011 Reds team is as bright as any team in baseball. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto and Yonder Alonso make for a rock-solid foundation to build upon.
Add in Aroldis Chapman, Drew Stubbs, Edinson Volquez, Homer Bailey, Travis Wood and Juan Francisco and you have a great young team with depth.
Now add to that Yasmani Grandal, Billy Hamilton and my personal favorite, Ronald Torreyes, and you realize that this team has a scary amount of good, young, relatively cheap talent.
That is why this offseason is so important. The Reds are in an enviable situation to every small-market team in baseball.
They even have Francisco Cordero’s bloated contract coming off the books next year and a natural replacement in Chapman ready to take his spot.
They’re in a position where they don’t need to go out and sign several All-Stars to become competitive. They just need one or two players at key positions to turn things around next season.
The following list is four players that the Reds should target during free agency this offseason to help improve the club and advance deep into the playoffs.
That’s right, 6-14 Paul Maholm. Maholm is built for Great American Ballpark. He’s the anti-Bronson Arroyo. Maholm is near the top of the league in ground-ball/fly-ball ratio, he only has 50 walks in 162.1 innings so far this year and he has a WHIP of 1.294.
He’s quietly had a very solid season and should be able to sign cheaply. He’d make a perfect No. 4 or No. 5 starter for any team, specifically one playing in ballpark that allows home runs as easily as GABP.
Lopez would be another perfect pitcher for Great American Ballpark. His ground-ball/fly-ball ratio is an astounding 1.72 and he has a respectable 1.297 WHIP.
Bill Bray and Lopez together would wreak havoc on any left-handed-heavy lineup.
The Reds need to re-sign Hernandez. He has been a constant leader behind the plate for these young Reds pitchers like Cueto, Bailey, Leake, Wood and Volquez.
Mesoraco and Grandal are the catchers of the future but in the present we need stability so these pitchers can continue to learn the game and mature.
This is the big one, the prize that every team will be chasing in 2012. The Reds are the perfect team for Reyes in many ways, but the big question is whether or not they would be willing to pay him.
Reyes could demand as much as $18-20 million a year for seven years and that’s a hefty price tag for someone with a history of injuries.
However, if healthy, Reyes and the Reds are the perfect marriage. The Mets aren’t likely to be competitive in 2012, regardless of if they re-sign Reyes.
The Mets aren’t one or two players away like Cincinnati is; the Mets are an organization overhaul away. Moving to Cincinnati would allow Reyes to play for a young, competitive team with a bright future during his prime years.
Cincinnati could shore up its glaring hole at shortstop and potentially feature a lineup consisting of Reyes, Phillips, Votto, Rolen and Bruce.
This would automatically become the most feared lineup in the National League. If the starting pitchers can mature a bit and become more consistent, then the 2012 Reds could be in for a long season. In a good way.