SAN DIEGO -- It's been widely assumed that at some point this offseason, the Reds would have to move one of their four starting pitchers approaching free agency -- either to trade for or sign the left fielder they need.
Reds general manager Walt Jocketty certainly didn't dispute that assumption Monday on the first day of the Winter Meetings.
"I hope not, but we may. I'm still hoping that something works out where we don't have to," Jocketty said. "I don't think that's going to happen. We're still going to have to move some payroll in order to do anything."
Reds ace and 20-game winner Johnny Cueto will pitch in 2015 making $10 million in his option year. Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon are third-year arbitration eligible. All four pitchers will be free agents after the season if they're not signed to an extension.
Last offseason, when Homer Bailey was in the same situation, the Reds made one of their offseason priorities to target him for an extension. Bailey was signed to a six-year, $105 million contract. So far, the Reds have not decided which of the four starters they will try to extend long term.
"We have discussed it," Jocketty said. "We're going to meet with some of the agents to see if it's possible. But we haven't done that yet."
Jocketty did not say whether any of the four pitchers would be off limits in potential trade talks. Teams have contacted the Reds since the season ended with various proposals.
"I can't say anybody's untouchable in the circumstance we face," Jocketty said. "But obviously our goal is to try to retain all of them if we can, but if we can sign ... if we're able to sign one or two to long-term deals where we could structure the contracts as such where it would help us financially this year, it's something we'd have to consider."
Since arriving in San Diego, the Reds had not yet held any formal trade talks or talks with agents regarding the free agents on the market.
Jocketty would rather add a left fielder through the free-agent market than a trade. The team has been connected to free agents Nori Aoki and Michael Morse, who are still available, and had looked at signing Michael Cuddyer and Torii Hunter before they signed with other clubs.
"I think you always prefer a free agent because you're not giving up any talent in return," Jocketty said. "I don't know if that's realistic, given some of our payroll issues."
Could Cincinnati keep its starting pitchers if a free-agent signing wasn't too expensive?
"We might be able to sign one at a reasonable price if we are making progress in the other areas," Jocketty said. "It's always better to move money before you start spending it."
The Reds already have about $81 million committed to 10 players, plus the buyouts on the options for Jack Hannahan and Ryan Ludwick. Their payroll could exceed $115 million after the arbitration cases for seven players are settled.
Adding a player to a one-year or two-year deal would be the Reds' preference, with outfielder Jesse Winker and other younger players they think are about a year away.
On the trade market, Justin Upton of the Braves and Yoenis Cespedes are both one year away from potential free agency. Jocketty would not comment on his interest in them, but said he was open to dealing for a player with one year left on a contract.
One hitter was moved on Monday when the A's traded Brandon Moss to the Indians for a Minor League shortstop. Moss was someone the Reds looked at earlier in the year, but did not appear to pursue.
Dealing away young talent in the club's system is not considered likely as a way of acquiring what the Reds need.
"That's our future," Jocketty said. "That's why it's easier to sign a free agent, if we can. We like our young guys. We don't want to move them."
As for the team's other need -- improving the bullpen -- there is the belief that some of the help can be found within, especially if Sean Marshall comes back healthy from two years of shoulder issues.
"Whether he's the Marshall of old or not, he may be a different type of Marshall. We believe he will be back," Jocketty said. "[Manny] Parra should be back and 100 percent; he's making great progress. With [Sam] LeCure and [J.J.] Hoover, there's two guys we feel can be better and should be better. I think there's things that Bryan [Price] has talked with [pitching coach] Jeff Pico about, there's some things we hope to try to correct and try to make them more effective next year.
"With Jumbo [Diaz], we feel he'll have the same type of year, but we still have to try to add to that, whether it's through [a] free agent ... we believe [Raisel] Iglesias may help us in some capacity next year. We'll look at some of our other young guys."
The Winter Meetings will continue again on Tuesday, and Jocketty hoped to begin meetings with agents and clubs.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.