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Short-handed? Reds evaluating key position

Cincinnati may be in market for utility player to back up shortstop Cozart

CINCINNATI -- The Reds have yet to make a transaction that adds an impact player to their roster, but they have made free-agent signings that brought in complementary players. They addressed the utility spot, backup catcher and left-handed reliever.

Still missing is someone who could back up Zack Cozart at shortstop.

January is often bargain season for the winter free-agent market, and Cincinnati could very well shop for a utility player who plays shortstop and is willing to take a Minor League deal.

This market isn't thick with options, however. Free-agent players include Ramon Santiago, Alexi Casilla, Elliot Johnson, John McDonald and three former Reds -- Paul Janish, Alex Gonzalez and Cesar Izturis. Another free agent, Jamey Carroll, signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals on Thursday. The Reds never pursued Carroll, though.

If there aren't enough satisfying options, could Cincinnati simply pick "none of the above?"

Former manager Dusty Baker long believed there was value in having a true shortstop on the bench, just in case. In each of the last three seasons, those players were Izturis (2013), Wilson Valdez (2012) and Edgar Renteria (2011).

The combined offensive result for the three backup shortstops was a .228 batting average with a .275 on-base percentage over 236 games.

Defensively, Renteria committed 13 errors in 86 games at shortstop, while Valdez and Izturis made one error each.

On the current 40-man roster, there are no "true" backup shortstops who could make up the bench. Utility player Skip Schumaker, signed in November, has never played shortstop in the Majors but can play second base. Backup third baseman Jack Hannahan has logged nine career games at shortstop. On the list of non-roster invites to Spring Training, Kris Negron was a shortstop in the Minors. Recent Minor League signing Argenis Diaz has 15 big league games logged at shortstop but none since 2010 with the Pirates.

Reds All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips was once a shortstop early in his career but last played there in 2007 -- for one inning. Third baseman Todd Frazier is a former Minor League shortstop but has logged only parts of two big league games at the position. Prospect Billy Hamilton was drafted and developed as a shortstop in the Minors before being moved to center field after the 2012 season.

The Reds currently do not have shortstop prospects in the pipeline who are close to being Major League-ready.

New manager Bryan Price may not feel an absolute need to lock up a valuable 25-man roster spot for a utility infielder who can play shortstop. As the regular shortstop, Cozart played 151 games in 2013 and 138 games in 2012. There's a good chance a backup shortstop, especially one who doesn't hit well, wouldn't add enough value to get a spot ahead of a better overall hitter.

But with this thin depth, what happens if Cozart must come out of a game? What if he is injured and must go on the disabled list? What if a game is lost because of an error committed by a replacement shortstop lacking experience at the position?

In the first half of the 2008 season alone, the Reds needed five different shortstops -- Gonzalez, Jeff Keppinger, Jerry Hairston Jr., Jolbert Cabrera and Janish -- as injuries piled up.

Those risks vs. rewards will more than likely be weighed by the Reds' front office before and during Spring Training, which is right around the corner.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
Read More: Cincinnati Reds, Brandon Phillips, Jack Hannahan, Zack Cozart, Billy Hamilton, Argenis Diaz, Todd Frazier, Skip Schumaker