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12/05/07 8:20 PM ET

Reds eye pitching after small moves

Coats traded, Cantu released on Day 3 of Winter Meetings

NASHVILLE, Tenn. --- Finally, the Reds made the transaction wire at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday -- twice in fact. However, neither move made much of a ripple.

On Day 3, Cincinnati traded reserve outfielder Buck Coats, who had already been designated for assignment last week. A more surprising move was the release of backup first baseman Jorge Cantu.

Meanwhile, the main need for a starting pitcher remained just that.

"It's going," Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said of his day. "I met with some agents and talked with a few clubs today. We're looking at any way we can."

The Reds have been interested in Cubs starter Mark Prior, but such a move carries lots of question marks. Prior is coming off shoulder surgery and has pitched just 36 times in the Majors in the past three seasons, and not at all in 2007. An optimistic return to the mound wasn't expected until May.

The right-handed Prior, who made $3.575 million last season is eligible for arbitration one last time before he can be a free agent after 2008. The Cubs have until Dec. 12 to tender an offer to the former first-round Draft pick and probably would be hesitant in dealing him to a division rival like the Reds.

The Padres, Rangers and Phillies are also believed to be pursuing Prior, a San Diego native.

Media reports have continued to have Cincinnati interested in trading for the Orioles' ace Erik Bedard. Baltimore is believed to be asking all interested teams for top-end Major League-ready prospects in return.

Reports have also connected the Reds with veteran free agent starters Jon Lieber and Glendon Rusch. Lieber missed the last half of the 2007 season with a foot injury while Rusch missed all of last year after suffering a blood clot in his lung in 2006.

The Reds have yet to enter into any talks with free agent Brett Tomko, who is interested in returning to the team he pitched for from 1997-99.

Krivsky would not divulge which pitchers the Reds are targeting, but said they were both top tier and second-tier names. Some of the second-tier names could get Minor League contracts with a non-roster invite to big league camp.

"We're looking at the possibility of that," Krivsky said. "We're looking at creating some competition, whether it comes from older veteran guys coming off an injury, let's say, versus someone in a trade. We need to create some more competition and bring in guys that give Dusty [Baker] more alternatives to pick for the rotation and bullpen."

Baker, the new Reds skipper, gave an indication during a media session Wednesday morning that the Reds might have pursued Dontrelle Willis. The left-hander, along with third baseman Miguel Cabrera, was traded from the Marlins to the Tigers in a blockbuster deal late on Tuesday.

Winter Meetings

"My wife grew up with Dontrelle's aunt," Baker said after being asked his reaction to the trade. "I was like, man, we could have rode to Spring Training together."

Baker has been impressed with all the activity taking place in the Reds' hotel suite -- and elsewhere -- this week.

"We're trying. We're trying every day," he said. "This is probably the most activity that I've seen at a Winter Meetings in a long time. Usually people are posturing here to make deals. This is the first time that I can remember in a long time that I've seen people posturing, and then completing the deal."

One agent said that trade talks league-wide have hindered action on the free agent front since teams are trying to avoid paying open market prices. The feeling was free-agent signings could pick up next week if all trade avenues are exhausted. Only two free-agent signings have happened at the meetings, with Jose Guillen reportedly going to the Royals and David Riske to the Brewers.

More on Cantu: Krivsky called the unexpected release of Cantu a "baseball decision" and nothing more. The Reds have lefty hitters Joey Votto and Scott Hatteberg, but Krivsky said the club could turn to utility man Jeff Keppinger as a right-handed option at that spot.

"We wanted to get down to 39 [players on the roster] to participate in the Rule 5 Draft [Thursday]," Krivsky said of the Cantu move. "We just felt like the situation we were in, he was the guy to come off."

Acquired in July from the Rays, Cantu batted .298 with one home run and nine RBIs in 27 games. Although arbitration eligible, he was expected to return next season.

Camp invites: The Reds announced on Wednesday night that eight players have been invited to Spring Training as non-roster players.

As expected two top prospects, outfielder Jay Bruce and starting pitcher Johnny Cueto will be in camp. Pitcher Tom Shearn, who posted a 3-0 record as a 30-year-old rookie late last season, will also be there. Also invited are pitchers Matt Maloney, Jon Adkins and Justin Lehr and catchers Alvin Colina and Chris Kroski.

Rule 5 Thursday: The Reds could be active during the Rule 5 Draft on the last day of the Winter Meetings. Cincinnati picks seventh and Krivsky indicated there were "three or four names" that the team was looking at.

In last year's Rule 5 Draft, the Reds pulled off a coup by getting Josh Hamilton and Jared Burton, and both became big parts of the team last season. That's a rarity with Rule 5 selections. Exposed players taken for a $50,000 fee have to stay on big league rosters the entire season or be offered back to their former teams at half price.

"We were very fortunate last year with Burton and Hamilton," Krivsky said. "It ends up being a $25,000 gamble basically. You spend $50,000 and get $25,000 back if they don't make it. We spend a lot of time on the Rule 5 Draft, as I'm sure most clubs do."

Not interested: Former Reds manager Jerry Narron recently turned down an offer from the Cubs organization to be a Minor League instructor. Narron, who was dismissed by Cincinnati on July 1, is still being paid by his former team through 2008. He's apparently not actively pursuing a baseball job so he can use the year off to spend more time with his children.

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