You can’t hide in Jungle Jims. The florescent lighting won’t allow it. I’m in aisle 4 eyeing the Dead Guy Ale when I spot him. You know you are officially a sorry little baseball geek when you can spot a bench coach wearing civilian clothes across a beer cave and a football field of party trays in a massive and decadent grocery store like J. Jim’s. I play it cool. I casually stroll over and plant myself between Bryan Price and his shopping cart. Poor man has no idea what he’s in for.
“Chapman. Aroldis Chapman,” I intone, with the same infection Daniel Craig used in the last Bond movie. He appears startled, but like the professional he is, the pitching coach of the Reds quickly regains his composure.
“Chapman. I want the truth,” I sneer.
“You can’t handle the truth,” Price shoots back.
You see, Bryan isn’t talking about the plans for the Red’s newest starting pitcher. He’s not talking to the media—he’s certainly not talking to me, standing there in my Kickin It With Cueto T-Shirt and box of cheap cigars. Nobody in the Reds’ brain trust is talking. I would have better luck getting answers out of Seth MacFarlane’s talking dog than Bryan Price.
“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.”
Therefore Nation, we are left to read the tea leaves, parse words already spoken and read between the lines.
Because Baseball is [as all sports are] a copycat game, we’re going on the assumption that the Reds won’t come up with a plan wildly different than has already been employed by other teams in similar circumstances. They won’t put him on Prince Fielder’s vegetarian diet. Like THAT’S working. They won’t bring Roger Clemens in to room with him to teach him how to “holistically” refine his game. No, they will tweak an existing plan, rather than head off into uncharted territory with their prize talent. At least, that’s my guess.
I’ve come up with four possible scenarios, all but one highly implausible. Let’s try them on for size and see if we can make any sense from what Price and the Reds have already let slip.
1. The Chris Sale ALL YOU CAN EAT Plan. We can scratch this one off our list right now. Sale threw 71 innings in 2011 as a reliever, then 192 innings last season. Price has already nixed that kind of workload:
“I think the days of hiking a pitcher’s innings number by 50 or 60 or 80 innings in today’s standards would be considered irresponsible,” Reds pitching coach Bryan Price said. “We’re going to be very conscientious of that.”
Okay. So, Sale is a big no sale. Hey, this is easy. Next.
2. The Stephen Strasburg SEASON INTERRUPTUS Plan. Baseball fans across the nation just loved this one, didn’t they? The Nationals rode their young star most of the summer, then closed him up like a beach house after Labor Day. One of the reasons the Reds are not tipping their hand regarding the big plan for Chapman is because it’s a no-win situation for them; and it’s a huge distraction. I predict this is where Aroldis’ language barrier will become an asset. The more controversial things become, the more Chapman won’t be able to understand the questions. So, the Reds have that little ace up their ace’s sleeve. In the end, I can’t see the Reds simply packing him up and putting him on the shelf. Aside from the grief they will get nationally, there are other options available. And the Reds have already burned too much daylight with their young fireballer.
3. The Dusty BAKER’S HALF DOZEN Plan (6 man rotation). Another idea with no shelf life. Not to mention that the rest of the pitching staff wants no part of this.
“For whatever reason, when you condition yourself to a five-man rotation, your body seems to respond that way,” Price said. “Day 4, you may still have some tenderness from your previous start or bullpen session, but on Day 5 your arm and body are ready to go. You don’t want to get into a situation where you ask the other four guys to compromise their routine out of respect for one guy. We’re not going to do that. Even if it’s an idea built with good intent, it would be a disaster.”
Mike Leake, thanks for playing. Here’s a home copy of the game.
4. The Kris Medlen HOKEY POKEY Plan. Medlen had one foot in the bullpen and one foot in the rotation last year. It was a wildly successful move for the Braves, who kept Medlen’s innings low before turning him loose in the rotation for 12 starts. Before last year, Medlen had no real defined role with the Braves. It was an injury to Brandon Beachy and a demotion to the bullpen for Jair Jurrjens that opened things up for the 26 year old long reliever.
In a 180 degree twist on what the Braves chose to do, I believe the Reds start Chapman coming out of Arizona. They need to find out what they have and where they are heading. As the number 5 starter, he can be skipped in the rotation early in the season as the schedule allows. Because pitchers are usually ahead of hitters, he will get a break facing the opposition early on, especially in the cold weather. He will hopefully be able to gain some early confidence. By the end of May, the Reds should have a solid idea of how he is adjusting and how the change/splitter, etc. are developing.
Again, to me, it’s hard to believe the Reds will shut down Chapman with the biggest season in years looming on the horizon. One has to believe that as he approaches whatever limit they set, whether it be based on innings or pitch counts, they will move him back to the bullpen so that he can make a contribution to the post-season and onward. Then, in 2014, if all goes as planned, they can extend him further as a starter and he can begin to climb the rungs of the rotation. This would be a nice bone to Baker, who would love to have Chapman back in the Pen in time for the playoffs.
Then again, there was this little bombshell shortly after spring training began:
“There is a pretty good understanding of what will be necessary to keep his innings at an area that we’re comfortable with, should he be a starter throughout the course of the season,” pitching coach Bryan Price told MLB.com.
If Bryan Price believes that adding 60 innings to the 71 Chapman threw last year to be irresponsible, how in the world can he start throughout the course of the season without putting undue strain on the bullpen? Could Leake figure in the planning here?
Whatever strategy the Reds come up with for transitioning Chapman, I can’t let myself stray too far from this comment by Price:
“ … our intent will be to get the most out of Aroldis without putting him in a high-risk position.”
And here is where the rubber meets the mound. How to get the MOST out of a 25 year old who is big, strong and capable of generating incredible torque with an easy motion. Many are spooked by the power and speed. They see great power coming with great risk of injury. Yet, it’s entirely possible that Chapman thrives under the increased workload, that the predictable routine and rest between starts benefits his development in a way the uncertain workload of a reliever never could.
If Price is true to his word, Chapman doesn’t come close to pitching more than 150 innings this year. But if the young Cuban thrives physically, will the Reds’ coaches and trainers be forward thinking enough to turn him loose, beyond the conservative game plan you have to believe has been scripted for him? Is the plan, whatever it may be, now upwardly fluid, based on how he reacts physically? As Baseball Prospect Report said years ago:
“[The greatest risk] is going to be how he is handled, and if the team that signs him isn’t creative and brave enough to let this pitcher’s talent and physiology determine his own results, then they will risk diminishing their own investment.”
I acknowledge some are worn out by all the Chapman talk. Not me. The Man with the Golden Arm’s development, along with the success of Jonathan Broxton as Closer, Cueto’s recovery, a guy named Mike Leake and 3 other factors I haven’t even considered, are all woven together in a tapestry that will unfurl shortly, revealing the Reds’ fate in 2013.
I can’t wait.