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Offense the priority as Reds head south for Winter

Cincinnati could add leadoff hitter, impact bat when GMs gather for Meetings

CINCINNATI -- The Reds have not been quiet with transactions lately, but some of the heavy lifting in their offseason is still ahead.

"We are still looking at any way to upgrade the club if we can," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said.

Jocketty and the Reds will continue those efforts when they arrive in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Sunday night for the 2013 Winter Meetings.

Cincinnati has rotation depth, and the bullpen seems to be in solid shape, with most of the key members returning to both groups of pitchers.

Already this offseason, the Reds added bench help in free agent Skip Schumaker (two years, $5 million) and backup catcher Brayan Pena (two years, $2.275 million), and brought back free-agent lefty reliever Manny Parra (two years, $5.5 million). Now it's time to find some more hitters.

"We're not done looking to improve our offense," Jocketty said. "It could just be a bat. It could be a leadoff hitter. Whatever we can do to improve our offense."

Here is a quick look at the Reds' situation heading into the Winter Meetings, which will be held at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort:

Club needs
Offense: As Jocketty was not shy about noting, the Reds want to improve offensively, where they had a few holes in 2013. The No. 2 spot was particularly glaring, as those hitters combined to bat .228 with a .281 on-base percentage. While Cincinnati was third in the National League in runs scored, the team felt like it lacked run producers when they were needed in tight games.

Leadoff hitter: More specific from the previous category, the Reds are again shopping for a leadoff hitter -- just like last year. The 2012 search landed Shin-Soo Choo, who is expected to move on with a lucrative free-agent contract. Choo left big shoes to fill after his one year in Cincinnati -- in which he had a .423 on-base percentage.

Who they can trade, if necessary
Brandon Phillips: Rumors were rampant about the All-Star second baseman being shopped for the previous two months. But Jocketty seemed to squelch the speculation earlier this week and called Phillips personally to tell him he wasn't trying to move him. However, Jocketty did not close the door completely.

"If there's something that came along later, then I'd have to look at it," Jocketty said. "Right now, he's part of this club and should feel that way."

Keeping that crack of possibility certainly seemed like inadvertent foreshadowing. On Friday, the Mariners reportedly agreed to a 10-year, $240 million contract with free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano. That signing has given the Yankees not only a big void at second base, but now they would have plenty of payroll room to take on a guy like Phillips.

Homer Bailey: The Reds are loathe to part with any starting pitching, especially after they expect to lose innings-eater Bronson Arroyo to free agency. Bailey could be an interesting trade chip, however. He is third-year eligible for arbitration and a year away from being a free agent himself.

Top prospects
The Reds have not been afraid to use their system to make trades in the last couple of years, but that tact has lessened the depth of top big league-ready talent. Power arms like Robert Stephenson and Nick Travieso are ranked in the Top 5 in the organization by With his bat, outfielder Jesse Winker has been moving up quickly as well.

Rule 5 Draft
The Reds' 40-man roster has one space open for the moment, but the organization has avoided making selections at the big league level for several years. Still, the scouting department will likely keep an eye on who is available.

Big contracts they might unload
This brings us back to Phillips, who has four years and $50 million remaining on his contract. While the Yankees would be a fit, there are a limited number of clubs that might be willing to take that salary hit. It's also unclear if teams had interest in Phillips or what the the Reds were seeking to get in return.

Payroll summary
Cincinnati's 2013 payroll was a franchise-record $106 million, and it's not expected to trend much farther upward in 2014. That leaves little room for big free-agent spending, and that means Jocketty will have to be creative and try to fill the team's needs via the trade route.

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

Cincinnati Reds