11/29/12 10:00 AM ET
Reds in enviable position with choices on Chapman
NL Central champs will benefit whether fireballing pitcher starts or remains closer
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
The Cincinnati Reds have put themselves in a position in which they have valid pitching options, in some cases terrific pitching options.
The Reds fortified and solidified their staff this week by re-signing hard-throwing reliever Jonathan Broxton. There was no discount involved in this deal -- $21 million for three years, with a $9 million club option for 2016.
Broxton, 28, acquired in a Trade Deadline deal with the Kansas City Royals, worked very well in 2012, compiling a 2.48 ERA. With Cincinnati, he was primarily in a setup role, but when closer Aroldis Chapman had shoulder fatigue in September, Broxton took over the ninth inning and was 4-for-4 in save opportunities.
Broxton, who formerly closed for the Dodgers, has 111 career saves. He offers the Reds a closing option if they choose to move the singularly talented Chapman into the starting rotation.
The Reds are in a position that can only be envied, rather than duplicated by the competition. Chapman, with velocity unknown to other mortals, will be just 25 when the 2013 season opens. There is no wrong decision with him. This is simply a matter of the Reds finding the optimum usage for his stunning abilities.
Cincinnati had planned to go with Ryan Madson as its closer in 2012, but he was lost for the season when he required Tommy John elbow surgery. He has signed with the Angels for 2013, with a contract including a $3.5 million base salary and up to an additional $3.5 million in incentives.
Chapman took over as closer in late May and absolutely dominated. He opened the season as a setup man. He had not been a reliever before defecting from Cuba, and the club was suitably cautious with his development.
But once he took over as closer, he had stretches of being virtually untouchable. In July and August, for instance, he was 24-for-24 in save opportunities and gave up just one earned run in 28 appearances. He won Major League Baseball's Delivery Man of the Month Award in consecutive months, becoming only the second reliever to achieve that feat.
Statistically, his numbers seemed to be the kind only accomplished in video games. He had 122 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings, giving up only 35 hits, with a WHIP of 0.81.
So the question might well be asked: Why change Chapman's role when he has already demonstrated how dominant he can be as a closer?
It could be that the regular routine of being a starter might be easier on Chapman's one-of-a-kind left arm than the intense but irregular work required of a closer. Obviously, the volume of work would be much higher in the starter's role, but there is also an argument that eventually getting 200-plus innings per year out of Chapman, rather than 75, would be an obvious advantage for the Reds.
He probably wouldn't be hitting 105 mph on the radar gun as a starter, but that is not the point of the Reds' decision. The if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it argument is ever-present in a discussion of this sort, but Chapman's talent makes him an obvious candidate for starting.
The Reds have to be credited for signing Chapman in the first place, seeing what he could become, and making a $30 million-plus bet on their judgment before he had pitched to his first batter in what we consider professional baseball.
Now with Broxton on board, they have given themselves additional room to maneuver with Chapman. Reds general manager Walt Jocketty has said that the organization is considering what role would be best for Chapman and for the Reds.
Whatever decision Cincinnati makes will be made from an ideal position, one of strength. The Reds were 97-65 in 2012. They won the National League Central. Their team ERA was 3.34. The Nationals led all of baseball in this category with a 3.33 ERA. It isn't as though the Reds need to fix their pitching.
They could move forward with the status quo, keeping Chapman in the closer's role, and be completely viable again. Or they could attempt to upgrade their rotation with the inclusion of Chapman.
Either way, the Reds have put themselves in an enviable pitching position. They can decide this issue on the merits, rather than making moves in an attempt to fill a gaping hole.
This is not a problem. This is a pleasant situation with solid options attached.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.