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Reds could be active Hot Stove players

CINCINNATI -- The afterglow of the Royals' first World Series title in 30 years is far from dimming, but the next stage of baseball timetable is already here -- the Hot Stove season.

In 2015, as their three National League Central rivals posted the best records in baseball, the 98-loss Reds endured their first last-place finish since 1983. There is a fresh blueprint of a small-market team for Cincinnati to emulate in none other than Kansas City, which developed its own core of young players and stuck with it to the ultimate success.

The Reds and club president Walt Jocketty have made it clear that 2016 will be a year of retooling, a process that began midway through this past season. Following recent organization meetings, the team is open to different avenues that will help it take steps forward again.

"We're trying to improve the club and get back to winning ways. We will do what we can to expedite the process," Jocketty said on Monday without delving into specifics. "We'll look at every possibility and what makes sense to improve. We don't want to make moves just to make moves, but to look toward being competitive for the long term. We may still move some guys, but it would be to improve not only for 2016, but also beyond."

In Kansas City, there were several years of at least 90 losses, and even 100-plus losses, before the team finally started contending again. As it braces for an interesting offseason, Cincinnati can only hope it doesn't take that long before it returns to prominence.

Here is a look at the Reds' situation as the Hot Stove season begins:

Free agents: LHP Sean Marshall; LHP Manny Parra; catcher Brayan Pena; OF/INF Skip Schumaker; RHP Burke Badenhop

Schumaker had a $2.5 million club option for 2016 with a $500,000 buyout while Badenhop had $4 million mutual option for 2016 with a $1.5 million buyout. Both were not exercised on Monday.

Jocketty did not rule out some of these players returning, but the club was still exploring its options. Marshall indicated before the season ended that he could be open to returning as a non-roster camp invite to try and complete his long path to coming back from two years' worth of shoulder injuries and surgeries.

Needs: While the Reds are expecting injured players like catcher Devin Mesoraco and shortstop Zack Cozart to return after missing most of the season, the lineup still needs more offensive production. Once again, left field is an open question. Pitcher Homer Bailey is due back from Tommy John surgery in May. With Bailey being the only veteran currently in the rotation, the club should pursue another experienced pitcher that can eat innings and be another leader to help the very young staff. The bullpen also needs an overhaul, especially for the middle innings.

Potential targets: Limited payroll flexibility combined with the current situation of retooling has the Reds once again unlikely to dip their toes into the pricey section of the free-agent market. Nor will they make trades that would add more burdens to the payroll. But do expect to see them pursue younger players that can be under club control -- which was their mode last winter when they acquired shortstop Eugenio Suarez and starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani in trades.

Trade assets: Since the Reds didn't tear down their roster completely at the July non-waiver Trade Deadline, they do have some veteran players that would be attractive to other clubs. At the top of the list is closer Aroldis Chapman, who can be a free agent after 2016.

Right fielder Jay Bruce, who will make $12.5 million in the final guaranteed year of his contract next season, could also be a target for a club wanting his left-handed power. Bruce also has $13 million club option for 2017, with a $1 million buyout.

Third baseman Todd Frazier can't become a free agent until 2018 but is coming off a 35-homer season and would be cost-friendly for most teams. Second baseman Brandon Phillips is a long shot, with two years and $27 million left on his contract with full no-trade rights.

Financial situation: Seven players are under contract for 2016, worth more than $79 million. The biggest annual salary belongs to Joey Votto, who will go from $14 million to $20 million next season.

Bottom line: Following a rough 2015 season, the Reds will be trying to toe a challenging line. They are looking to keep a youth movement going in the rotation while also finding a way to be more competitive next season. The question will be whether they are willing to part with other mainstay players to make the needed improvements.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.
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