Reds weighing rotation move for Chapman
Decisions on Broxton, Madson and free-agent market part of process
CINCINNATI -- The specific makeup of the Reds' 2013 rotation and back end of the bullpen will have one rather large question mark next to it -- at least for the time being.
Much of the uncertainty will exist until the Reds figure out what to do with Aroldis Chapman.
"We haven't made a decision on Chapman as a starter or as a reliever," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "We're talking about it."
Part of what determines if Chapman starts involves how well the Reds navigate their way around the free-agent market for closers.
"It depends on if we re-sign [Jonathan] Broxton and [Ryan] Madson," Jocketty said. "Or if we get another closer."
Chapman, who will turn 25 in February, had one of the most successful seasons as a closer in Reds history during 2012. It was all the more remarkable considering the left-hander didn't move into the role until May 20.
In 68 appearances, Chapman went 5-5 with a 1.51 ERA and tied for third in the National League with 38 saves in 43 attempts. That included a franchise single-season record 27 consecutive saves from June 26-Sept. 4. He walked 23 compared to 122 strikeouts.
Over his 71 2/3 innings, Chapman had a walks-hits per inning pitched (WHIP) of .809 and an average of 15.32 strikeouts per nine innings. On nine occasions, he struck out the side. His velocity was often at or exceeded 100 mph.
One thing the numbers can't quantify entirely was the electricity and intimidation Chapman brought to the ninth inning for Cincinnati. Everyone in Great American Ball Park knew the Reds finally had a dominant closer -- not just the screaming fans on their feet in the stands, but the opposition in the batter's box.
Now the Reds must decide whether they want Chapman at their disposal once every fifth day or nearly every day. Can Chapman be as effective, or better, pitching 170-200 innings a season as a starter vs. 70-80 innings as a closer?
When the Reds stunned the baseball world by plucking a then-mysterious Cuban defector with a six-year, $30.25 million contract in January 2010, the objective was to have him start eventually. That seemed poised to come to fruition before the 2012 season when the club told Chapman to prepare his arm and body to start.
During Spring Training, when he had a 2.12 ERA in five games (four starts), Chapman easily had the best starting performances in camp. But disaster struck the bullpen in March when expected closer Madson blew out his elbow and missed the season. Setup man Nick Masset experienced a shoulder injury later in the month and would also miss the year. Lefty setup man Bill Bray sustained a groin injury and would be limited to a mere handful of innings all season.
Necessity forced the Reds to put Chapman back in the bullpen. He was used in a setup role initially with Sean Marshall closing. When Marshall lacked consistency as a closer, the switch was made to Chapman.
On one side of the coin, the Reds know what they have in Chapman as a closer. They also know they have to watch his arm closely. He missed 10 days in September with a fatigued left shoulder.
Chapman as a starter is more of an unknown. He likely wouldn't be able to sustain plus-100 mph velocity very often but it could be something in his back pocket when he needs it. Although he has a slider, he does not have the full arsenal of strong secondary pitches that a top-of-the-line starter has.
On the other hand, since closers have generally been replaceable entities over the years, it could benefit the Reds well to see if Chapman can start. If he isn't successful, he can always return to being a closer. While the Reds had a strong rotation last season, ace Johnny Cueto's oblique injury in the playoffs showed depth can always be improved.
Broxton, acquired in a July 31 trade with the Royals, saved four games in four chances when Chapman was out in September. He showed he could still be tough, posting a 2.48 ERA in 60 games for Cincinnati and Kansas City while allowing only two home runs.
Madson spent all of 2012 rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery but would like to be a closer again. He saved 32 of 34 opportunities for the Phillies in 2011.
Jocketty has been in touch with the representatives for the free agents, Broxton and Madson. There is mutual interest from both sides in having them return. Neither is expected to land giant contracts.
Other closers on the open market that could be reasonably priced include Jose Valverde, Joakim Soria, Brett Myers and Matt Capps. There are also potential in-house options the Reds could look at, like Sam LeCure, Logan Ondrusek or J.J. Hoover.
All are probably capable of producing the save totals Chapman had, but none would likely approach his level of shutdown dominance.
The Reds, namely Jocketty, have a lot to consider on this issue. It makes for being one of the intriguing mysteries of the club's offseason.