What’s another year without another ‘will he or won’t he’ saga involving Aroldis Chapman‘s role with the Cincinnati Reds?
In fact, the team apparently enjoyed the story so much that the issue has now legitimately come up twice within a calendar year. That was perhaps unavoidable, however, given that the team’s then-pitching coach and new manager Bryan Price was a major driving force in the Reds giving the reliever-to-starter thing a try with their prized closer in Spring Training this past season.
Still, circumstances have changed since, and while there were some legitimately good reasons for Cincinnati to engage in the ultimately abandoned experiment, there’s little no reason for an encore.
That they abandoned the Chapman-as-starter path at the behest of both former manager Dusty Baker and pitcher himself is just one sign that going down the same path might not yield the desirable results. With one more year of the lefty having thrown a standard reliever’s share of innings (63.2 in 2013), going through the routine of a conversion to starter in the spring of 2014 could be even more of a jarring change than it was in 2013.
Besides, it’s not as if the innings he threw weren’t dominant either. Setting down batters by strike three at an astounding 15.83 K/9, Chapman’s career-high mitigated a significant regression in the walks department (4.10 BB/9 vs. 2.89 in 2012), and his elite .164 BAA managed to help him to an excellent 2.54 ERA despite a significant bump in homers (0.99 HR/9 vs. 0.50 in 2012).
These numbers still make him an elite reliever in the league, and while the same numbers extrapolated to a starter’s workload would give the team more value, it’s likely that his effectiveness will be diminished without the ability to throw the high heat at will and having to face lineups multiple times.
And at this point, would the Reds truly benefit if Chapman ends up being an average (or slightly above average) pitcher?
Even with Bronson Arroyo likely leaving town via agency, the team would still have an excellent quintet in Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and rookie sensation Tony Cingrani. Barring another injury-plagued season for Cueto, who does Cincinnati remove from the rotation to make room for Chapman? Given his control issues, there’s just no real reason that he’ll be so much better than any of those five starters over a full year.
On the other hand, if the Reds were to take the Cuban mission out of the closer’s role, the in-house options to replace him become a murky subject. Yes, Sam LeCure and Manny Parra both pitched well especially in the second half, both posting double-digit K/9s in that span. However, LeCure’s 9.74 full-season K/9 is a far cry from Chapman’s 15.83, and the soft-tosser doesn’t have the prototypical ‘closer stuff’.
As for Parra? Well, he was largely terrible prior to the 2013 season, so it’s not like he’s a major vote of confidence either.
In short, with a ready-made starting five to compete, there’s simply not a lot of motivation for the Reds to retread old storylines going into next season. Doing so would only serve as a distraction to all parties involved in a season where the expectations for the team are no lower, and the risks just do not outweigh the rewards at this point.