1. I’d move Aroldis Chapman to the starting rotation and send Mike Leake to AAA. Chapman will eventually be a starting pitcher (right?) and now seems like the appropriate time to make the move.
While Chapman has been very valuable in the pen, he has more unique value in the starting rotation. Logan Ondrusek, Jose Arredondo and even JJ Hoover show that it’s possible to find strong set-up pitchers. Chapman has been brilliant in the pen, but the step down there would be relatively small. If Bill Bray and Nick Masset (remember him?) could come back healthy, that would help. But I wouldn’t wait.
Chapman has conquered his control problems by dropping his mph. That transition would have been necessary to be a successful starter anyhow. And he hasn’t seemed to lose any K/9 effectiveness. Compare the relatively small drop-off in the bullpen from moving Chapman to the rather large gain in the starting rotation. Chapman did very well as a starter in Spring Training.
2. I’d end the policy of assigning the catchers to specific pitchers. Dusty Baker has now settled in to a rigid system of using Ryan Hanigan with Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo, while having Devin Mesoraco catch Mike Leake and Homer Bailey. I’d move to a strict alternating pattern, with the exception of leaving Hanigan with Arroyo. Whether Mesoraco should be catching more is a separate issue. This change would keep their number of games the same as now – Hanigan 60%, Mesoraco 40%.
Hanigan is undisputedly better at calling games and working with pitchers. That’s understandable given his experience. He seems to give the pitchers confidence and encouragement. All five starting pitchers need this, not just the top tier. Arguably the top tier needs it least of all. Hanigan did not catch Cueto much in past years. Having Hanigan catch every pitcher would evenly distribute his positive qualities among them. It might also generate an interesting dynamic with Devin Mesoraco since the latter could watch Hanigan call every starter, including the ones that Mesoraco would be calling next.
This move would also help Mesoraco learn all of the starting pitchers. Eventually he is going to be our everyday catcher, that seems obvious. Whether that transition takes place this year, next year, or the year after. At some point, he is going to be Mat Latos’ catcher, Johnny Cueto’s catcher etc. He should learn how to work with them now. Having Hanigan around is a valuable resource for this process. So have the transition take place while Hanigan is around and healthy.
3 & 4. I’d commit to Chris Heisey in LF and Todd Frazier at 3B. I’d give them each a month of solid playing time to see if they can become major league position players. They are each old enough (Heisey, 27; Frazier 26) that the organization needs to be making long-term decisions on them. They have each shown enough potential, Heisey last year, Frazier last September and this Spring Training, that they merit a shot. Playing them off and on isn’t giving them a fair test. This isn’t for their benefit, this trial is essential to see if the Reds have long-term answers at LF and 3B. We’ll never know the way the Reds are using them now.
I don’t want to beat a dead horse on Scott Rolen (37) and Ryan Ludwick (33). Their numbers — and not just this year — speak for themselves. I wouldn’t release them.They could provide solid, experienced depth on the bench and as pinch hitters.
5. I’d move Jay Bruce to the cleanup spot. This has less to do with the deficiency of Brandon Phillips than it does with the emerging wondrousness that is Jay Bruce. The lefty-after-lefty concern is trivial compared to the compelling advantages of giving Bruce more at bats and giving Joey Votto more protection from walks. I also think Phillips is a better hitter when he’s not trying to pull the ball all the time and I can see where batting fourth would tempt him into doing that.
I wouldn’t rush Phillips back to the top of the lineup, though. I’d give Zack Cozart the chance to see if he can lead off and also see if Drew Stubbs continues to thrive batting ahead of Votto. If yes on both of those, I’d leave Phillips below Bruce or 6th. If either Cozart or Stubbs regresses, I’d move Phillips into their spot.