So, I’ve been reading multiple bits of speculation about what the Reds should/will do this offseason, and I thought it was time to weigh in with what I think the offseason plan should be.

But I don’t want to just go flailing and suggest, for instance, that the Reds should trade Drew Stubbs, Homer Bailey, and Edinson Volquez to the Mariners for Felix Hernandez. That kind of trade is crazy talk, even if the projected WARs  might balance out. No, instead, I want to take a crack at the offseason using what we know about expected payroll and player performance with the assumption that the Reds goal is to Win Now.

Before I begin, I want to note that I’m only concerned about the everyday players and the starting rotation. I just don’t buy into focusing on the bullpen until everything else is taken care of.

Let’s start by ruling out places where there’s no need to focus. The lineup is pretty much set. We might be worried about Rolen and Cozart and Left Field, but those positions are more or less spoken for. Pretending otherwise is pointless. Johnny Cueto is going to be in the rotation.

Cueto looks like a solid #2 starter to me, but don’t count on his ERA staying south of 3.00 next year. Beyond Cueto, the Reds will have Chapman for as many innings as he can manage. Then there’s the hodgepodge of Wood, Leake, Bailey, Arroyo, and Volquez.  Those five pitchers are all capable of being average to above average, but potential and performance are two different things, and some of them need to be packaged for a top line starter. Namely, James Shields.

The Rays are supposedly listening on Shields during the offseason, but it’s going to take a lot to land him. He’s been an excellent pitcher since the moment he was called up AND he’s cost-controlled at $7M, $9M, and $12M for the next three years. Plus, he’s played his entire career in the AL East, so his numbers would only get better in the NL Central.

So what’s it going to take? The Rays are going to be looking for low cost major league talent and high-potential minor league talent.

Grandal is the obvious starting point. He’s a high-end talent and blocked, at least theoretically, by Mesoraco.  You can also probably add Alonso to that as he offers a quality bat at first and bargain basement salary. Is that a sweet enough pot?

Probably not, if we’re being honest. The Rays, I’m guessing, are going to want some arms. Most of the Reds’ talent at SP is in the majors now, but I can see them sending two of our aforementioned hodgepodge. Leake has been too good to be included with Grandal and Alonso, but what about Wood and their pick of Bailey or Volquez? (I’d rather they take Volquez and wouldn’t mind sending Boxberger with him if it came to it). Steep certainly, but look at what the Reds would end up with to start the year:

C – Mesoraco/Hanigan
1B – Votto
2B – Phillips
3B – Rolen/Francisco
SS – Cozart
LF – Heisey/Sappelt
CF – Stubbs
RF – Bruce

SP1 – Shields
SP2 – Cueto
SP3 – Leake
SP4a – Chapman (he’s going to run out of innings)
SP4b/5a – Arroyo (he has to rebound some, right?)
SP5b – Bailey/Volquez/AAA guy or minor signing

Is that a perfect lineup and rotation? No, but aside from the bottom of the rotation, it doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses and could easily perform well enough to take the Central. Then you have a playoff rotation of Shields, Cueto, Leake, and (hopefully) Chapman that is going to stack up well against most other playoff teams.

I’m not in any way denying that this is a steep price to pay for Shields, but if the Reds want to win now, they are going to have to give up some prospects. The money isn’t there for free agents, and the talent at SP isn’t there in the organization.