5 questions the Reds face this offseason

October 27th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mark Sheldon’s Reds Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CINCINNATI -- Now that the Reds enjoyed a surprising run of playoff contention in 2023, there's a clear objective before them for 2024: Not only do they need to make the postseason but also go as far as possible.

That requires president of baseball operations Nick Krall to look for ways to upgrade the roster. 

“I think we have to look at all aspects about improving the club," Krall said. 

Here are five questions facing the Reds as their offseason work begins.

1. Will Joey Votto return?

This isn't the most pressing offseason question for the club but it's the first big decision looming once the World Series concludes. 

Votto, 40, has a $20 million club option for 2024 with a $7 million buyout. Even if the Reds decline the option, that doesn't necessarily end the first baseman's tenure in Cincinnati. As a free agent, Votto would be free to negotiate with the other 29 teams. He could ultimately return to the only Major League club he's ever played for.

The questions inside this question: How would Votto fit on the roster, does he fit financially and how much playing time would he get? 

The infield is already crowded, which brings us to the next question …

2. What do the Reds do with all of their infielders?

They have Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, Jonathan India, Spencer Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Noelvi Marte, Nick Senzel and, potentially, Votto. 

Steer could play left field, as he did down the stretch. The arbitration-eligible Senzel is a non-tender candidate after his playing time diminished. 

India was involved in Trade Deadline rumors but is a leader and viewed as a key to the team chemistry. If he were moved, McLain would probably play second base, De La Cruz could be the shortstop, Marte likely would be at third base and Encarnacion-Strand and Votto could split time at first base and designated hitter. 

But not so fast. De La Cruz struggled mightily in the second half after an electric first month in the big leagues. 

"We’re going to have some discussions," Krall said. "The competition level has risen throughout the course of the season and going into this offseason.”

Krall acknowledged that Spring Training performance could factor in the fight for jobs and that starting the '24 season at Triple-A is "going to be an option for some folks.”

3. Will the Reds add starting pitching?

The Reds have six projected starters for five rotation spots but among Graham Ashcraft, Hunter Greene, Andrew Abbott, Nick Lodolo, Brandon Williamson and Connor Phillips -- none have more than two years of big league experience. Prospects like Lyon Richardson, Carson Spiers and 2023 first-round pick Rhett Lowder provide additional depth. 

Injuries, illness and general wear and tear underscored that teams can never have too much starting pitching. The Reds, which had the 28th-ranked rotation ERA in MLB, could add a veteran with a track record of innings and durability to bolster this group. Whether they add someone at the top of the staff, the middle or the back, a starter or two from this season could wind up in next year's bullpen or Triple-A.

4. Will they add an outfielder?

With the infield lacking vacancies, the Reds could look at their outfield for a way to add a bat. They have multiple lefty hitters in TJ Friedl, Jake Fraley and Will Benson and righties in Steer and Stuart Fairchild. Only Friedl and Steer demonstrated consistent success vs. both right-handed and left-handed pitching. A right-handed-hitting corner outfield could be an asset. 

5. Are bullpen upgrades needed?

As the rotation struggled to provide innings and stability, the bullpen did an admirable job before it faded down the stretch. The group finished second in the National League and sixth in MLB in innings.

Other than closer Alexis Díaz and lefty Sam Moll, much of the bullpen was compiled by relievers who were either claimed off waivers or signed to Minor League contracts over the past two offseasons. Depending on how the 2024 budget shakes out, the bullpen could be an area where the Reds might spend some money after settling the other issues.