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Reds set to rebuild around young talent

After rough campaign, club preparing to make strides in 2016

CINCINNATI -- Whether it's called a retooling effort or a rebuilding project, the name doesn't really matter all that much. The Reds became a team of transition in 2015, and that transformation will probably stretch into '16 as well.

The hope within the club is that the evolution to the next phase happens as quickly as possible.

"There's been a lot of opportunity for the younger guys," said Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco, who missed most of 2015 with a left hip injury. "Some have taken advantage of it to the point where you see these guys will be part of the future.

"I think you can kind of see another wave of talent coming in to help solidify the team and get us back to what we expect to do. We haven't done it here the last couple of years. I think we still have a lot of winning players that can go out there and compete with the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs -- which will be good teams for a while."

Rotation mainstays Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, as well as left fielder Marlon Byrd, were traded over the summer. An all-rookie rotation was given a crash course in the Majors. Could more players be on the move this winter, and more prospects on the way up?

Aroldis Chapman and Jay Bruce were hotly rumored to be on the move in July before ultimately remaining. Both players will be attractive to some clubs this winter. And a closer like Chapman is a large luxury item if the Reds don't challenge for the postseason.

Complicating matters for the Reds is the fact that seven players are under contract for 2016 worth more than $79 million combined. That does not allow for too much of a makeover.

"Ultimately, we're younger. That's good. Younger is a good thing," Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. "We have really, really stiff competition in our division. That's what we have to recognize. We can't go in with a half effort because of how good those three teams are. Three of probably the best five teams in all of baseball are in our division. These teams are really well put together, well-rounded, really dangerous. They're good, it seems, at every aspect of the game. We have to exceed them."

Here is a look at where the Reds stand heading into the offseason:

Free agents: LHP Sean Marshall; LHP Manny Parra; catcher Brayan Pena; OF/INF Skip Schumaker ($2.5 million club option for 2016 with a $500,000 buyout); RHP Burke Badenhop ($4 million mutual option for 2016 with a $1.5 million buyout)

Arbitration-eligible: LHP Chapman (third year); SS Zack Cozart (second year); RHP Sam LeCure (third year); RHP J.J. Hoover (first year); RHP Ryan Mattheus (first year)

Rotation: The future looks bright, but only Anthony DeSclafani and Raisel Iglesias appear to be locks for 2016. Homer Bailey could be the one veteran, assuming he comes back well from Tommy John surgery. Bailey is projected to be ready by early-to-mid-May. The remaining spots will be up for grabs among Michael Lorenzen, John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan, Jon Moscot and prospects like Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed, who did not reach the Majors this season. Adding another veteran that can eat innings shouldn't be out of the question.

Bullpen: If Chapman isn't moved, he and Hoover should again form the back end -- with Chapman one of the best closers in the business. The rest of the spots should be wide open, as middle relief was a weakness in 2015. Some of the young starters who don't make the rotation could also be bullpen options, especially someone with big league relieving experience like Finnegan.

Catcher: Mesoraco expects to be all the way back from hip surgery that repaired an impingement, but it will have to be proven on the field. The club needs his offensive contributions. Tucker Barnhart stepped up and formed a nice tandem with Pena. Assuming Pena departs as a free agent, Barnhart would likely backup Mesoraco. Ramon Cabrera, a first-time September callup, showed he could hit.

First base: Votto easily put his injury-filled 2014 behind him and showed during the second half that he is an elite hitter. If Votto has a full season like that, he would be a serious contender to win his second National League MVP Award. Next season is also when the really expensive portion of his 10-year contract kicks in. Votto will be making $20 million in '16, up from $14 million.

Second base: Brandon Phillips, 34, has two years and $27 million remaining on his contract, with 10-and-5 rights that give him no-trade protection. Phillips had a resurgent 2015 season at the plate and finished strong through the second half.

Shortstop: Here is where some big intrigue lies this winter. Cozart was on his way to a very nice season before it was cut short by a terrible right knee injury. Cozart had surgery on his ACL and LCL in June, but is expected to be ready for camp in February. His replacement, Eugenio Suarez, filled in so well offensively that the Reds would like to have both bats in the lineup. Cozart has a better glove, but Suarez also made some nice plays and at 23, should only get better. Suarez is open to playing a different position, and second base would make a lot of sense if Phillips surprisingly accepted a trade.

Third base: Todd Frazier has two years remaining before free agency and via his performance in the Home Run Derby -- and throughout the season -- he became a face of the franchise. But it could bring a conundrum for the team. Should it trade Frazier when his value his highest, and before he can potentially wind up in the same walk-year scenario as Cueto and Leake? Frazier's numbers certainly make him worthy of a longer-termed contract, but he will also be 30 when camp opens next year.

Outfield: Bruce called his 2015 season "embarrassing," but after a slow start, it was a big step forward from his very poor '14 campaign. Bruce let off a sigh of relief when he wasn't traded at the July 31 Deadline, but the team was certainly listening to offers. Set to turn 29 in April, Bruce is headed into the final guaranteed year of his contract and will make $12.5 million. Bruce's contract has a $13 million club option for '17 with a $1 million buyout. It still makes him an attractive bat for some teams needing offense. Billy Hamilton had a rough year of hitting in '15, and next season will be big for him to prove he can be a big league leadoff hitter. Once again, left field is an open question. Instead of a veteran free agent or trade acquisition, the Reds could look inward here. Suarez has never played the position, but it gets him in the lineup. Perhaps Yorman Rodriguez or top prospect Jesse Winker could earn the spots, as well.

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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