Reds are banking on paying customers

NL MVP Joey Votto is one of several Reds players to sign a contract extension

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Cincinnati Reds.

2010 record: 91-71
Finish: First place, NL Central
2010 final payroll: $82.5 million
Estimated 2011 opening day payroll: $73 million

Offseason action

In the afterglow of their first playoff appearance since 1995, the Reds spent less time accumulating players than cutting checks. Contract extensions totaling more than $150 million were doled out to National League MVP Joey Votto(notes), fellow slugger Jay Bruce(notes) and pitchers Johnny Cueto(notes) and Bronson Arroyo(notes).

Votto is a pure hitter destined to produce huge numbers for many years. Yes, the deal the Reds gave him – buying out his three arbitration years for $38 million – is player-friendly. Votto will be paid more than Albert Pujols(notes), Mark Teixeira(notes), Miguel Cabrera(notes) or Justin Morneau(notes) during their arb years. And the Reds didn't delay his free agency at all. But a stress-free Votto ought to be a productive Votto.

Despite the spending frenzy, the Reds reduced their payroll. They spent 13.4 percent more in 2010 than 2009, but this season it will roll back to about $73 million, a nifty sleight of hand accomplished through deferred salary and bonuses spread over several years like frosting on a cake.

It's a bit like the federal deficit, a bit like mortgaging the grandchildren's future and a whole bunch like the sunny optimism of a franchise that has developed enough talent and made enough shrewd decisions to believe it can repeat the success of 2010 again and again. General manager Walt Jocketty admits as much, reminding everyone that winning boosts attendance, attendance boosts revenue, and additional revenue means those deferred salaries and delayed bonuses won't cripple the franchise a few years from now.

Reds brass believes attendance at the Great American Ballpark could increase from two million to nearly three million this season. That would take a lot of W's. And it's quite a load to dump on Scott Rolen's(notes) creaky back, Cueto's 5-foot-10 frame and Votto's peculiar psyche. Dusty Baker? He'll deal with it.

Roster moves were of the housekeeping variety. Veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez(notes) was re-signed. Fred Lewis(notes) was brought in as a fourth outfielder and a leadoff option. Valuable left-hander reliever Arthur Rhodes(notes) took a deal with the Texas Rangers, although the triple-digit fastballs of Aroldis Chapman(notes) ought to fill the void nicely.

The most problematic position could be shortstop, where one mid-30s Colombian will replace another. Orlando Cabrera(notes) is gone and World Series hero Edgar Renteria(notes) shook off retirement thoughts and what he felt was an insulting offer from the Giants to sign with the Reds. Renteria, 34, might be good for only 100 games or so – perhaps far fewer at shortstop – but slick-fielding Paul Janish(notes) is an acceptable starter at short as long as he bats .260 again. The revolving door shouldn't bother second baseman Brandon Phillips(notes): Renteria will be the 19th Reds shortstop he's played alongside since 2006.

Reality check

Jocketty is all in with the current roster, convinced the winning hand that resulted in a runaway NL Central title is repeatable this season and for several more to come. But is that realistic? The Reds had nine consecutive losing seasons before 2010, never finishing higher than third.

Optimism is grounded in a fertile farm system that for the first time in many years is producing major leaguers at nearly every position. Votto is homegrown. So are dynamic outfielders Bruce and Drew Stubbs(notes). Bubbling just below the big leagues are legitimate prospects at third base (Juan Francisco(notes) and Todd Frazier(notes)), shortstop (Zack Cozart(notes)), first base (Yonder Alonso(notes)) and catcher (Devin Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal).

Fewer pitching prospects populate the minors because the best homegrown prospects are already in the big leagues. Cueto, Chapman, Mike Leake(notes), Homer Bailey(notes) and Travis Wood(notes) made strong contributions in 2010 and are under team control at bargain salaries for many years. The same is true for starter Edinson Volquez(notes), who came to the Reds three years ago in the Josh Hamilton(notes) trade.

All this from a farm system that hadn't produced a decent starting pitcher since Brett Tomko(notes) in the 1990s. Last season, the Reds got 102 starts from homegrown pitchers and unveiled one of the most live arms in baseball history in Chapman. That said, it was apparent when the Reds were swept by the Philadelphia Phillies in the playoffs that they lack a true No. 1 starter. Packaging a few of those hitting prospects for one might be their next best move. The issue, though, circles back to the payroll, which will balloon soon because of the deferred money and arbitration raises.

That's where the good citizens of Cincinnati can make a difference: by filling the ballpark and opening their wallets while they are there. Walt Jocketty is counting on it.

Reds in haiku Of all the numbers
Posted by Cincy, none beat
Chapman's one-oh-five

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