They’re doing the Hokey Pokey down by the river at 100 Joe Nuxhall Way. Again. Another offseason. Another episode of “Will He or Won’t He.”
Yes, sports fans, we’re talking about Aroldis Chapman, a character so enigmatic that I’m convinced that if David Lynch knew his story, he’d almost certainly want to make a movie about the mysterious dude who may live faster than he both drives and pitches. If the Cuban Missile had been pitching in New York through all this Sturm und Drang, there would definitely have been a Broadway musical made by now. The Closer: Turn off the Dark would have made millions for Great White Way investors.
Mr. 106 has mesmerized the higher ups to the point where they don’t know whether they are coming or going. He wants to start. Then he doesn’t. The front office preps him in Spring Training for the rotation, then banishes him to the pen. The next Spring they ratchet up the expectations again for a move to the rotation, only to cave as the manager takes his case to the media for several excruciating and head-scratching weeks. So, here we are once again, fresh off more messages that new manager Bryan Price will finally get his way, only to be told—by Price himself of all people—that he’s changed his mind:
“I like what Aroldis has done for our club, I think he has settled into a role and I believe there are certain aspects as to who he is as a pitcher that after another year in the bullpen seem to suggest that he’s best suited for the bullpen. I think organizationally, until we can go front-and-center and say, ‘this is what we’re going to do,’ there’s going to be that little bit of question mark.”
“I prefer the question mark to go away, myself,” he said. “I would. I’d be the first one to say that I liked him as a starter this time last year, I was on record as saying we’d get more value out of him, but the one thing that’s changed for me personally is one more year with Aroldis, a chance to further evaluate him mentally and physically on where his strengths are best suited and my feeling is he’s comfortable doing what he’s doing. I think that’s where he’ll be best suited over the course of his career.”
Enough. Can we now dispense with the Cuban Two Step? Now that we know that the Reds—who frankly don’t have all that much rotation depth—have decided not to supplement the rotation by getting Aroldis ready to provide 100 innings or so of insurance when a starter inevitably does go down, can we finally just admit this 12 step Cuban program has hit the skids now that Chapman has declared his future plans? I mean, the clock is ticking away as we speak, yes? The price of poker in Orlando has gone up. The chips at the trade table have to come from somewhere. So one must ask …
Can we just trade Aroldis Chapman already?
The Reds insist payroll is tight. At Redsfest, Walt Jocketty pointedly told fans any significant moves were unlikely to come via free agency and would have to come through the trade route. The one valuable commodity tucked away in the Reds’ coffers is Pitching. It’s only by surrendering some of that valuable fireballing gelt can Cincinnati return home with the help this team needs. If Bronson Arroyo turns out to be last year’s Kyle Lohse and cannot find a suitor (despite the early interest today at the Winter Meetings), the Reds might even be able to add some rotation security by securing him to a one-year deal. That might not only provide a bridge to Robert Stephenson, it might also make another pitching deal possible that might fill more holes at the major and minor league level.
Assuming you are a non-believer and recognize the Myth of the Closer, Chapman is the one pitcher of value the Reds can move who will bring the most while affecting the team’s fortunes in 2014 least. Another year closing out games—even if the front office holds good on it’s stated desire to utilize a more high-leverage Chapman—isn’t a difference maker in my opinion. The Reds simply have more pressing needs at this juncture. What Chapman can bring back is anybody’s guess. But what we do know is that much of Baseball continues to adore their closers. GMs hold them close. Managers view them as their personal security blankets. The Mariners are “all in” and could use a closer to nail down those leads Robinson Cano gives them. The Yankees might love to replace a retired legend with a ninth inning lightshow worthy of Bright Lights, Big City.
Jonathan Papelbon is the highest profile closer out there as the Winter Meetings gear up. Although the Phillies would like to move him, his contract makes that difficult. Free agents Edward Mujica and Francisco Rodriguez are out there, too, but neither inspire. Joaquin Benoit and Grant Balfour are both 36 years old. Fernando Rodney is 37 years old and widely regarded as unreliable.
The Reds can exploit one of the great inefficiencies remaining in Baseball. They can let someone else overvalue the last three outs of the game. And in doing so, they can mitigate the loss of Choo. Or they can fill the void at second base should they succeed in divesting themselves of Phillips. Perhaps even grab a coveted MLB-ready prospect to replenish the minors and stay young. Not to mention, they can let the rest of their already expensive bullpen earn their keep.
The Closer has become this revolving door. You see it each year. The Pirates lose Joel Hanrahan—then along comes Jason Grilli. Daniel Bard had the Red Sox thinking they were set for years—now it’s Koji Uehara’s turn to be the ninth inning Batman. I remember when Brian Wilson was the guy by the Bay—Sergio Romo did okay, right Reds fans?
Trade Chapman? The Reds can do this. The Chapman Experiment is over. The Reds know this.