"There's certainly a chance we could sign starting pitchers," Williams said on Wednesday. "Whether they'll be targeted with a Minor League deal to serve as a Triple-A starter or whether we'll go after a starting pitcher remains to be seen. We have good competition there, but it's young guys. We have a bunch of young guys for that last spot."
Some of the Reds' top prospects will certainly be contenders for the fifth spot -- including Cody Reed, Amir Garrett, Robert Stephenson and, possibly, Rookie Davis. Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen are also possibilities, if they aren't chosen for late-inning roles in the bullpen. Tim Adleman, signed to a Minor League deal last year, emerged with some nice outings during 2016 and will be in the mix, too.
"I wish I had a crystal ball. I think they'll come in ready to compete, and we hope some of those young guys are ready to step up," Williams said. "They'll certainly have opportunities to pitch in the rotation this year."
Williams did not specify which free agent might fit the Reds' needs, but there are several starting pitchers on the market likely in the lower price ranges. They include Bud Norris, Tim Lincecum, Clayton Richard, Colby Lewis and Jonathon Niese. The Reds' attempt to sign a veteran starter that could eat innings this year backfired when Alfredo Simon earned $2 million as he went 2-7 with a 9.36 ERA in 15 games. Simon is a free agent not likely to be re-signed.
Cincinnati's rotation has much to improve on in 2017. It sported a 4.79 ERA with 155 of the Major League-record 258 home runs allowed in '16. It ranked last in innings pitched and first in batters hit by a pitch while also throwing two complete games.
There is optimism that Bailey will be ready, after his comeback from Tommy John surgery later in the season was cut short to six starts because of a right biceps strain.
"He's having a full regular offseason," Williams said. "The last couple bullpens he threw in September were good."
Meanwhile, in Arizona this week, the Reds will continue to lay the groundwork for potential moves. Nothing has gotten serious.
"I'd say we're early," Williams said. "We're not far along with free agents at this point, but we've made initial contacts with a lot of the targets we're interested in. Trade talks are trade talks. We've talked to everybody. We have an idea of what people are looking for and we have an idea of interest level, but nothing has progressed."