By now, you’ve probably read or heard about Walt Jocketty’s comments yesterday regarding Aroldis Chapman’s role for the Reds in 2014. In case you haven’t, here’s what he said:
“We feel we have the depth in our rotation now that we can continue to keep him in the bullpen. That’s probably the plan going into Spring Training. We’ll have him prepare for Spring Training like he has in the past. He’ll come in and pitch a lot of innings in Spring Training, so he could go either way. In all likelihood when we get to Spring Training, we’ll make a decision. I would think he’ll continue to be our closer.”
You may not have seen Bryan Price’s comments later in the day. Here’s what he said, according to C. Trent Rosecrans:
“We’ve had some internal dialogue on that, so I don’t think it’s something I feel comfortable saying this is exactly what we’re going to do. I have my opinion on it, I know his value for us the last couple of years has been as a closer, the question is what role with our team would best serve and how long it would take to transition to a starter. He’s found him way into a comfortable position, but I do think we can utilize him some more instead of a guy that’s maybe a single-inning guy now that he’s done this for a few years. I think there’s ways we can get more value out of Aroldis, not necessarily by starting, but keeping him in the bullpen. I think there’s a bit more dialogue to have in the organization before we put a stamp on what his role is.”
My opinion on this topic is well known. The Reds should try Chapman in the rotation. He has the best arm on the team. It is being wasted in the closer role. And as a closer, Chapman has not been dominant, measured by save-conversion, he’s been roughly league average for two years. The reason he’s perceived as an elite closer are the strikeouts. They’re baseball crack.
What really puts the ‘mania’ in Chapmania are the strikeouts. That’s our real obsession, the dominant whiff. The hard truth is this: Aroldis Chapman’s ninth-inning strikeouts are baseball’s version of crack. Except it’s spelled with two (or often three) Ks. As fans, we deeply enjoy experiencing those strikeouts. Dusty Baker did, too. Those helpless swings by our (often hated) opponents make us crazy happy. You could even say we’ve started to crave them. And like every psychological dependency, this one comes at a cost. Chapman’s strikeouts have become a powerful narcotic that desensitizes us to certain realities, like his league-average save rate.
At first glance, the comments by Jocketty and Price yesterday are discouraging. Especially maddening is Price’s reference to “how long it would take to transition.” Translation: The Reds’ past mistakes will compound into the future.
Sure, one can find plenty of wiggle room in the two statements. Jocketty says “probably” and it “could go either way.” Price’s statement contains even more ambiguity. He doesn’t want to say publicly what they are going to do. He wants “more dialogue” before a final decision is made.
Allow me a spoonful of wishful thinking mixed with the powder of reading between the lines before heating.
If the Reds plans include trading a starting pitcher (Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, even Tony Cingrani) and moving Aroldis Chapman to the rotation, they certainly wouldn’t say so out loud right now. It would weaken their negotiating position and stir up controversy about which popular pitcher was going to be sent packing. Not to mention that the expected trade may never materialize. See the BP saga.
I’m not claiming that the Reds have already decided to move Chapman to the rotation (even though signing Brayan Peña could be interpreted as an indication of that), only that it is way too early in the process to expect the Reds leaders to say anything other than what they did.
Please note, neither Jocketty or Price said, “Aroldis Chapman is going to be the closer.” If they’ve reached that conclusion, why not come right out and say it?
A major addition to the Reds’ lineup could come via a splashy free agent signing, like Shin-Soo Choo. The other route is through a trade. If Brandon Phillips is off the table, or not attracting much value, the main chip the Reds have is starting pitching.
I still believe Walt Jocketty will make a big move this off-season. Something breathtaking. You don’t fire a manager who wins 90 games and then give the next guy the same team minus one of the club’s best hitters (Choo).
When that thunderbolt hits, expect it to change Jocketty and Price’s answers to the Chapman question.