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Reds looking for closer, leadoff man at Meetings

Cincinnati doesn't plan on signing any big-name free agents
CINCINNATI -- The annual Winter Meetings have often brought a bonanza of big free-agent deals that have eye-popping nine-figure contracts.

For proof, look no further than last year, when superstar Albert Pujols signed a blockbuster with the Angels and Jose Reyes moved to the Marlins. It's the ultimate deep end of the free-agent pool and water that the Reds won't be treading upon arrival to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville next week.

"No sir," said Reds general manager Walt Jocketty when asked if he was expecting to spend a lot of money for big free agents.

The Reds' biggest offensive need is for a leadoff hitter. And if they're not willing to spend significant cash, that likely means there is no shot at the likes of Michael Bourn or Angel Pagan. With top prospect and future leadoff hitter Billy Hamilton about a year away, it doesn't make sense to make such a big commitment to a free agent.

Another possible need is for a closer, as the club would like to finally make good on its long-term goal of getting Aroldis Chapman into its rotation. To that end, the Reds have been aiming to re-sign free agents Jonathan Broxton and Ryan Madson.

Jocketty may not be willing to spend, but he's willing to wheel and deal with other clubs.

"We'll probably still be in discussions on some trades," Jocketty said. "Hopefully, we'll have our free-agent situations resolved with the pitching. We want to fill our two needs with closer and the leadoff hitter."

Winter Meetings activity involving the Reds has been in short supply since Jocketty became GM. The last major trade to go down was December 2008, when catcher Ramon Hernandez was acquired from the Orioles for Ryan Freel, Justin Turner and Brandon Waring. No significant free-agent deals have been inked by the Reds in the past five Winter Meetings.

But trade discussions do not have expiration dates upon the Meetings' conclusion. Last year, the Reds made two big trades a couple of weeks after everyone dispersed from Dallas.

On Dec. 17, 2011, the Reds landed No. 2 starting pitcher Mat Latos in exchange for Yonder Alonso, Edinson Volquez, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger.

Six days later, lefty reliever Sean Marshall was acquired from the Cubs for lefty starter Travis Wood, outfielder Dave Sappelt and infielder Ronald Torreyes.

Both trades involved discussions that were held during the Winter Meetings.

And Jocketty benefited from avoiding the free-agent market in December. By mid-January, the Reds snagged some bargains. One was very successful in left fielder Ryan Ludwick, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract. The other backfired as Madson blew out his elbow in Spring Training after he had a one-year, $8.5 million deal.

The Reds are trying to retain Ludwick but likely won't go beyond a two-year deal and aren't looking to spend big.

After winning 97 games and the National League Central title in 2012, the Reds fell short of expectations by being eliminated by the Giants in the NL Division Series. That means improvement will be necessary, but there aren't many holes to fill.

Especially with Chapman's possible addition, the rotation is largely set with Johnny Cueto, Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and, perhaps, Mike Leake. The infield is covered with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier. Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs are expected back in the outfield, and Ryan Hanigan will be behind the plate with Devin Mesoraco seeking to improve as the backup.

While Jocketty does not discuss specific payroll issues, the Reds could see their payroll jump from the roughly $87 million figure last season to the low $90 million range. That's largely due to contractual raises for the likes of Votto. There are also seven players, including Latos and Bailey, who are arbitration eligible.

Jocketty didn't expect the Reds to be the only team to seek improvements via trade over free agency.

"You'll see more trades this year than before," Jocketty said. "There is more certainty in trades because the contracts are already done and you just have to honor them. That's preferred instead of chasing free agents. Those prices are pretty high."

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