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Reds go to Meetings looking for pitching

Pitching will be top priority at Winter Meetings

CINCINNATI -- After officially signing free-agent closer Francisco Cordero to a four-year deal with a club option for 2012 on Wednesday, the Reds contingent will head into the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday with one major need already met.

Upgrading the bullpen has been a high priority this winter and by signing Cordero, the Reds are off to a good start. They also hope to shore up the starting rotation.

"It is a hectic time at the Winter Meetings," Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said Wednesday. "To have something done like this ahead of time is helpful from a planning standpoint."

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Giving the most guaranteed money in history to a reliever, at $46 million, is certainly a high-risk venture. That is especially the case when it's to the volatile closer's spot that usually works just one-ninth of a game. But it addresses the Reds' biggest weakness of the past several seasons -- securing games in the late innings.

Last season, Cincinnati relievers posted a 23-31 record, a league-high 5.13 ERA and converted 34 of 61 saves. David Weathers had 33 of those saves during a nice season. Weathers will be shifted back to a setup role to make way for Cordero, who saved 44 of 51 games for Milwaukee as a 2007 All-Star. The bullpen will also have young right-hander Jared Burton, who enjoyed breakout success in his rookie year.

In the two-season reign of owner/CEO Bob Castellini and Krivsky, the Reds have avoided big-ticket free-agent signings in favor of filling needs via mid-level players or trades. Since taking over, Castellini has indicated he wasn't afraid to spend money and has backed it up. It's also expected that new manager Dusty Baker could help draw players to Cincinnati.

Cincinnati's 2007 Opening Day payroll was estimated at $68.9 million, and it looks to be headed north in 2008. Krivsky won't discuss specific payroll figures.

"There will be a bump in it," Krivsky said. "A lot depends on how you're playing [during the season]. Ownership has shown it will be flexible on that."

Among the larger in-house contracts, left fielder Adam Dunn will get $13 million in his option year in 2008, while second baseman Brandon Phillips can expect a huge raise in his first arbitration year. Right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. will get $12.5 million in his final guaranteed year.

Krivsky will get some payroll relief since the Reds will have free-agent departure Eric Milton's three-year, $25.5 million contract off the books, as well as the salary commitments to ex-Reds Jason LaRue and Rheal Cormier, which totaled more than $5 million.

Winter Meetings

In a weaker National League Central division, it might not take a lot of reloading for the Reds to move up from their fifth-place finish this past season.

"There's no dominant team in our division, payroll-wise," Krivsky said. "Three of the teams in the playoffs had payrolls in the middle spectrum. It's not only payroll but making good decisions. It's putting a good team together, spending money wisely and making good personnel decisions throughout the year. If you do that, you'll be in good shape. You won't see me make an excuse about payroll."

The Reds could still use a No. 3 starter to slot behind Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo and in front of Homer Bailey. The free-agent market for starters isn't considered bountiful. The top names available are Carlos Silva and ex-Red Kyle Lohse, who was traded to the Phillies in July.

During last year's Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla., the Reds made no moves until the final hours. In a coup during the Rule 5 Draft, they nabbed Josh Hamilton in a trade. In a lesser-heralded move that paid big results later, they also selected Burton.

If the Reds don't make a dip into free agency to get another pitcher, they appear willing to explore trades. Krivsky has always played it close to the vest and never telegraphs his plans. He wasn't about to set a new precedent.

"Whether it's through the free-agent market or a trade, we're looking at every avenue to improve the team," Krivsky said.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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