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5 questions Reds must address for 2021

@m_sheldon
December 31, 2020

CINCINNATI -- As a relatively quiet offseason rolls into January, there are still plenty of questions facing Cincinnati as it prepares for Spring Training in 2021. Here are five that will need to be answered.

CINCINNATI -- As a relatively quiet offseason rolls into January, there are still plenty of questions facing Cincinnati as it prepares for Spring Training in 2021. Here are five that will need to be answered.

What direction is the club headed?
Last winter, the Reds spent $166 million on five free agents and clearly stated their intention to contend. So far this offseason, closer Raisel Iglesias was traded to the Angels to save money and key players like reliever Archie Bradley and catcher Curt Casali were non-tendered.

General manager Nick Krall, who took over as the head of baseball operations after team president Dick Williams stepped down, said that the intention of the Iglesias trade was to “reallocate resources and to be used on different things.”

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Is Cincinnati still looking to contend in the National League Central after it reached the postseason in 2020? Or will the club be taking a step backward and regrouping?

For his part, manager David Bell remained bullish about the Reds.

“There have been a few changes, but the core remains the same,” Bell said.

What will the rotation look like?
Trevor Bauer is likely gone as a free agent and the most coveted pitcher on the open market. Free agent Anthony DeSclafani signed a one-year contract with the Giants. There have been rumors that the Reds have listened to trade offers for Sonny Gray, who has two years and over $20 million left on his contract. What the Reds do with Gray will likely answer the first question about the club’s intentions for 2021.

Assuming Gray remains, the rotation is still formidable. Cincinnati would have Gray, Luis Castillo, Wade Miley, Tyler Mahle and either Michael Lorenzen or Tejay Antone.

Will the Reds add a shortstop?
There are enough shortstops on the free-agent market for the Reds to take a run at signing someone. Andrelton Simmons, Marcus Semien and Didi Gregorius highlight the group. The sub-question to this question is whether Krall wants a shortstop for multiple years or someone shorter term who can transition to prospect José Garcia, who skipped some levels and debuted in the Majors last season.

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“Having that experience last season really leads me to believe that he's really close,” Bell said of Garcia. “Would it be good to get him more time in the Minors? Maybe. That might be the case. I think he's a lot closer than maybe it appeared last season.”

Can Joey Votto deliver a big season again?
After nearly winning a second NL MVP in 2017, the longtime Reds first baseman has endured three consecutive subpar seasons. In late August, he appeared to hit rock bottom with a four-strikeout game that left him batting .191 and Bell benched Votto for three games.

Votto used the time off to watch other hitters and made his own adjustments. Instead of trying so hard to control the strike zone, he became less selective and stood taller in the batter’s box. As a result, Votto hit the ball harder and he batted .258 with a .941 OPS and eight home runs over his final 29 games.

“For me to a hit a ball hard and far, I’m going to make some mistakes,” Votto told Sirius-XM radio on Dec. 18. “I didn’t feel quitting was an option. I adjusted. Because I was at a rock-bottom place. I felt like I need to take a major, major leap and need to let go of something I’ve been holding on to. I started taking more chances at the plate, trying to hit the ball harder and hit the ball farther.

“Most importantly, I really started having fun again. I looked forward to my at-bats. When I struck out a few times in a row or had an ugly swing, I wasn’t so bent out of shape because I knew there was going to be a good pitch and a good swing coming up, and if I combined those two, something hard would come off my bat.”

Who will be the closer?
Iglesias and his $9.125 million salary for 2021 is off the books. The logical replacement would have been Bradley, but he’s gone, too. If the Reds don’t look outside the organization for a cheaper closer, they have some internal candidates. Left-hander Amir Garrett already made it clear he wanted the job. Bell and Krall both acknowledged Garrett could do the job and also thought that Lorenzen and Antone would be candidates to close if they weren’t added to the rotation.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.