Rebuilding Reds have questions going into '16

Rebuilding Reds have questions going into '16

CINCINNATI -- In the midst of a rebuilding effort that raises the potential of even more roster upheaval during the offseason, the Reds are a team with plenty of questions. Being honest, one answer the club has is a realization that it will be tough to contend for a National League Central crown against elite teams like the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates.

Following a 98-loss season in 2015, Cincinnati wants to complete its overhaul as quickly as possible and return to prominence in the NL once again. But it won't happen overnight.

"I think when you're dealing with primarily a young, inexperienced starting rotation and potentially bullpen, I can step up and say, 'Hey, listen, we're going to push the other elite teams in the division for a championship,'" Reds manager Bryan Price said during the Winter Meetings. "But realistically, you have to just show up and get better and play harder every day and see where things go."

Here are five of the biggest questions the Reds face heading into the new year:

1. Who will be the new faces in the lineup?

Third baseman Todd Frazier was traded to the White Sox on Dec. 16, and before the Reds get to the Spring Training, second baseman Brandon Phillips and right fielder Jay Bruce could be dealt as well. Someone will have to take those spots. At third base, shortstop Eugenio Suarez -- who did so well replacing an injured Zack Cozart in 2015 -- could shift over to the hot corner pending further changes. One of the players that came back in the Frazier deal, Jose Peraza, could wind up replacing Phillips. Scott Schebler, also part of that trade, could be the left-handed part of a left-field platoon with Adam Duvall. Prospect Yorman Rodriguez, who is out of options, would have to be part of the right-field conversation.

2. What will the rotation look like?

After starting rookie pitchers for the final 64 games of the season, and 110 games overall in 2015, only two of them appear to be locks for the 2016 rotation: Anthony DeSclafani and Raisel Iglesias. Homer Bailey, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, isn't expected back until May, at the earliest. That leaves three open spots to begin the season, and several more candidates. Michael Lorenzen, Jon Moscot, John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan and prospects Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson will be just some of the contenders. Some of the pitchers that don't get one of the spots could be used out of the overhauled bullpen.

Iglesias fans eight in outing

It's possible that the club will add another veteran that helps consume innings and provide the young pitchers with some guidance.

3. Can Billy Hamilton succeed as a hitter?

It was a tough 2015 at the plate for the speedy Hamilton, who batted only .226/.274/.289 in 114 games, stealing 57 bases. By May, Price had dropped Hamilton out of his usual leadoff spot and had him batting ninth most of the rest of the season. Although Hamilton was still a dynamic stolen-bases threat and defensive player, his success in the Majors will be defined by his ability to get on base in what will be his most pivotal year.

Hamilton's 50th stolen base

All of this is coming while Hamilton must rehab from right shoulder surgery after he tore a labrum trying to make a diving play late in the season. Hamilton is being instructed to keep switch-hitting and is working on his hitting the rest of the offseason in Cincinnati.

4. Healthy returns?

Bailey and Hamilton aren't the only key Reds returning from a surgery. Cozart, who tore the ACL and LCL ligaments in his right knee on June 10, will be trying to show he's back to 100 percent. Catcher Devin Mesoraco, who had the labrum in his left hip repaired in late June, will have to prove that he can catch again and hold up to the rigors of the taxing position. In early December, Cozart and Mesoraco were very pleased with their progress, and both expected to be fully ready to go by Spring Training.

5. The closer situation

With closer Aroldis Chapman traded away to the Yankees for four prospects, it's unclear who will take over the ninth-inning role in the Reds' bullpen come Opening Day.

Sheldon on Chapman deal

J.J. Hoover, Jumbo Diaz, Tony Cingrani and others could warrant a look as the closer, but they will have big shoes to fill. Chapman, who will turn 28 on Feb. 28, had a 2.17 career ERA and 146 saves in 164 chances with 546 strikeouts in 319 innings during his six seasons in Cincinnati. He was an All-Star each of the past four seasons.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.