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David Brown

Reds might want Dusty to defect before Chapman reaches majors

David Brown
Big League Stew

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Our Jeff Passan surprised the rest of the baseball world Sunday morning by breaking the news on Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman signing with the Cincinnati Reds for five years and $30 million.

For example, the signing knocked Sports Illustrated on its keester.

At least one Reds blog, the excitedly named OMGReds, said Chapman immediately becomes Cincy's top prospect — an opinion seconded by Baseball America.

To get a 22-year-old left-hander whose fastball can reach 100 mph, the Reds outbid a number of teams, including the Athletics (so tweeted ESPN's Buster Olney), along with the Marlins, Blue Jays, Angels and others.

But before general manager Walt Jocketty gets too comfortable puffing away on those Cuban cigars in celebrating a kid who likens himself to a young Randy Johnson, the Reds' GM might want to ask himself: Do the Reds want to let manager Dusty Baker anywhere near their prize pitcher?

In recent years, Baker has managed the likes of Edinson Volquez(notes), Kerry Wood(notes), Mark Prior(notes), Russ Ortiz(notes) and Jason Schmidt(notes).

Now, just because all of them have gotten hurt on Dusty's watch doesn't mean it's Baker's fault. But plenty have blamed Baker for overworking his horses.

• There were warning signs with Volquez in 2008, before he went down in 2009, requiring Tommy John surgery this past August.

Aaron Harang(notes) has had some curious experiences with Baker in 2009 and 2008 — both of which have been subpar seasons for the big 'ol hoss.

• Pitch counts aren't everything, but young Homer Bailey(notes) has been getting a horse's workout.

• And who can forget how things have gone for Prior and Wood these past few seasons?

That just means Baker happens to be associated with hurt pitchers. He might not be at fault.

This post by David Gassko at Hardball Times is nearly four years old, but it's some of the best analysis done on how Dusty handled pitchers pre-Reds. Conclusion: He might push pitchers hard, but calling him an abuser is hyperbole.

The opinions on Chapman's future vary in that he's a bit of a project with, as NFL draftlord Mel Kiper might say, "tremendous upside potential." Chapman probably starts the season in Class AA but if he does well, he won't stay for long.

If the Reds flounder to start the '10 season, Baker also might be gone before Chapman arrives. But the NL Central is weak and Chapman's hype is large. If his and Dusty's careers end up intersecting, the situation bears close, possibly paranoid, watching.

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