[This post was written by Joe Atkinson, guest columnist from earlier in the season. Thanks, Joe! — spm]

I’m throwing in the towel on 2014.

There are two schools of thought right now as to how the Reds should face the future: as a team that still has a chance to win this year, or as a team that does not. In order to talk about how our favorite team should proceed from this moment, the first thing I must make clear is that I fall in the latter camp.

I do not say this lightly, and I would love to be proven wrong. I’m also not going to point fingers at Bryan Price, Walt Jocketty, or Bob Castellini; whatever faults they had in putting together this year’s team, they aren’t the primary reason this season has been a disappointment. In the end, I believe we will all simply remember the 2014 season as the year that the Baseball Gods looked down upon our Cincinnati Reds and said: “No.”

So where do we go from here? How do the Reds recover from the 2014 debacle to field a championship-caliber team in 2015?

1. Heal

The one person I don’t want to see don a Reds’ uniform again this year? Joey Votto.

I’m a huge Votto supporter; he’s one of my favorite Reds, and one of only three my 5-year-old son can name (Jay Bruce, Devin Mesoraco). But I don’t know that I’ve seen a fully healthy Votto since the first half of 2012, and if rest is what that knee needs to heal, then rest it.

In fact, while I reserve the right to change my mind if the Reds go on an unexpected winning binge, I don’t want to see anyone rushed back this year. Don’t bring Homer Bailey back until you’re sure he’s 100%. After his performance Sunday, give Aroldis Chapman a look and make sure he really belongs on the field.

And while they’re sitting down, let’s see what else we have. What do David Holmberg, Carlos Contreras, or Dylan Axelrod look like with more than spot starts? How about giving Donald Lutz, or Neftali Soto, a legitimate look at first base? I don’t see either being a long-term option, but how do I really know? Most of their Major League experience involved picking splinters; let’s see what they can do with some actual playing time. Maybe they’ll be the next coming of Chris Heisey and fold; maybe they’ll be the next Devin Mesoraco and flourish with regular time on the field.

Whichever way it goes, it’d be good to know before we do anything in the offseason, right?

2. Find a Left Fielder

This one sort of goes without saying.

I know there are those out there who want to see an improvement at shortstop, too. Count me off that list; give me a full season of Votto and Bruce at full strength, another year of maturation for Todd Frazier and (especially) Mesoraco, and a legitimate left fielder, and I’ll be just fine with an eight-hole hitter whose glove tops any other shortstop in the game (yeah, I said it).

But one of the keys to making that work is a legitimate left fielder. This year, four players have taken at-bats while playing left for our Reds; of the three, Ryan Ludwick has been far-and-away the best. He is the only one with an average above .240 (he’s at .260), an OBP above .300 (.322), and WRC+ above 76 (he’s at 103).

The Reds need better production out of that position. Expecting Ludwick to improve in his 37-year-old season hardly seems realistic, so we need an upgrade from outside. Whether it’s by trade (and I’d put Chapman on the block this year – Point #3 aside, we need to get more than 3-4 innings a week out of someone that talented, or we need to trade him) or a free agent signing, upgrading here is a must.

3. Shore Up the Bench and Bullpen 

Bullpens are a crapshoot; what looks great one year falls apart the next (see Hoover, J.J.). As such, I’m not smart enough to make suggestions to Walt Jocketty as to how to fix this. But here’s what I do know: Someone who is smarter than me needs to. STAT.

As for the bench: This is an annual gripe. And it’s gotten better; there are even a couple of guys on this year’s bench who I’d like to see around next year. Guys like Kristopher Negron, Brayan Pena, and Chris Heisey all would be excellent role players on the 2015 Reds. Ryan Ludwick would be a nice bat to have, as long as he’s coming off the bench. And if Lutz or Soto proves …

You know what? Let me rephrase that:

3. Shore Up the Bullpen. And Make Sure the Bench Players Remain Just That