The canary in the coal mine died yesterday, March 22, 2013. Time of death: 12:41pm EST. Cause of death yet unknown. Dusty Baker has been taken in for questioning.
Whenever I walk around New York City during the work week, I’ll occasionally see an interesting sight—a large inflatable rat, fifteen or more feet in height, sitting on its haunches, kept aloft by a noisy generator. When union workers feel they’ve been disenfranchised by an employer, or a business has otherwise behaved in a way that’s deemed not in the public interest, out comes the Rat, perched on the sidewalk in front of the offending business to let the army of morning passersby know that unfair practices are taking place inside.
Show of hands: how many of you would like to see the Rat toiling away outside Great American Ballpark today?
It feels like the circus is over now. Dusty Baker circled the stage, honking his horn, pulling focus at every opportunity. It’s hard not to believe that ringmaster Castellini made the final call here. Baker was his hire, after all, months before a special assistant to the owner was named. The national media will now write a few articles about how the Reds made the right move. A few savvy baseball journalists will shake their heads in disagreement. And then everyone will move on, the circus setting up in another town, probably back in Boston or the Bronx. You couldn’t blame Walt Jocketty if he felt as if he’s been left with a shovel to clean up after the elephants.
We here in the audience won’t let the carefully scripted words fool us. The joint Walt & Dusty appearance yesterday was all colorful bunting, meant to hide the discord that is playing out somewhere backstage. Jocketty didn’t invest considerable resources, first in Madson, then in Marshall & Broxton, only to change direction because of agendas or a case of cold feet. He didn’t change course because of Mike Leake’s brilliant Spring or Chapman’s recent quotes. Lest we forget, just last Spring the young Cuban said the following in a USA Today piece:
“I’ve always been a starter since I began playing,” said the 6-4 Chapman, now a muscular 210 pounds after initially joining the club at 193. “I signed as a starter and they later moved me to the bullpen. But I’ve always wanted to be a starter and now plan to take advantage of my opportunity.”
But that was a year ago. Impressionable young men change their minds. Yet, even as recently as a few weeks ago, Chapman said the following to the AP:
“I will prepare the same way I did last year,” Chapman said, with trainer Tomas Vera translating. “I would like to start a season and throw as many innings as I can, but that’s up to the team. When I was in Cuba, I threw 150 innings. I will prepare myself to throw as many innings as they want me to throw.”
I can’t read these quotes without having Steve Mancuso “flashbulb memories” of my own, back to when I heard of Chapman’s arrest on I-71 in Grove City, again when the woman in the Pittsburgh hotel room became news, and once more while reading of the turmoil left behind in Cuba in the wake of his defection. Chapman is young, immature and maybe a bit naive. Almost certainly malleable.
Perhaps that’s the reason the Reds changed course. They looked at Chapman’s mental and emotional makeup and decided it was too risky to impose yet another big sea change on a young man who has already undergone an ocean of changes in his short 25 years.
If that’s the case, they should trade him. Another year of watching him spit sunflower seeds in the dugout, as he quietly awaits his two-run save opportunity does not further the Reds’ short or long-term goals. He’ll be far easier to trade than Broxton. He’ll bring more in return. It’s hard not to believe there aren’t a few eager suitors in-waiting, whether they are forward thinking organizations who would love the opportunity to try to realize Chapman’s potential—or teams who are true believers in the Myth of the Closer and would love to get their hands on the next Rivera. The Mets traded R.A. Dickey and enriched their future. Dickey is no Aroldis Chapman. He’s a 37 year-old journeyman pitcher who had a dream season he’s unlikely to come close to repeating. Still, this was enough to bring GM Sandy Alderson both a stud catching and a top pitching prospect from a Blue Jay organization that sees a window of opportunity in an AL East where Boston is retooling and the Yankees are officially old and crippled. You gotta believe the Reds could command much more for A.C. than Alderson did for R.A., should they wait until say, late July, when pennant-hungry teams will swoon for the one-inning 25 year old wonder like schoolgirls after that Justin Bieber kid.
But, trading the Missile would be a bold move, and if we’ve learned anything from yesterday, it’s that the Reds still tend to eschew bold moves at critical moments. Now, we’re left to consider the wave that’s coming after yesterday’s quake.
The pressure is now on young Leake. Should he get off to a slow start or worse, regress this season, the front office will be second-guessed on a daily basis. Chapman goes back to being a one or two pitch guy, his development stunted. Both will be narratives that will run the length of the season, especially if another starter goes down with injury and Team Jocketty is left to scramble, and, heaven forbid, reverse course once more and open the door to throwing Chapman into the rotation. The Reds could minimize the fiasco by using Chapman in an unconventional way, using him in high-leverage situations in the 7th and 8th, where he could pitch 120 or so valuable innings and make a real contribution to the 2013 campaign.
No, none of that will happen. Out-of-the-box thinking does not ride shotgun with Dusty Baker. Everyone involved in this latest decision is already smarting from a self-inflicted wound. It’s unlikely we will ever see him throw a single pitch as a starter in a Reds uniform.
“I think if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned it’s better to keep that stuff to ourselves. You just set the table for a little too much speculation.”
Sorry, Bryan. Dusty had other ideas. The buffet line is now out the door and down Mehring Way.
A career in the rotation was left stranded at first base. Instead of taking a big lead and putting pressure on the Nationals and the rest of the NL, the Reds chose to take a short conservative lead, eventually retreating to first base, leaving the entire enterprise stranded. End of inning. Game over for the Aroldis Chapman Project.
Postscript: Although the above may appear controversial in tone, it’s important to remember that everyone here at Redleg Nation takes great pride in the franchise, the owner and everyone connected with the organization. No one should ever forget the commitment of the owner, GM and manager to bring a champion to the Queen City. We certainly don’t. But we would be remiss if we didn’t speak up when decisions are made that some believe are not in furtherance of that goal. This is one of those times.
Comment honestly and responsibly.