COMMENTARY | One of the more polarizing players for the Cincinnati Reds within their fanbase is closer Aroldis Chapman, who has validated the faith the Reds' front office and general manager Walt Jocketty placed in him when they inked Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million international free-agent contract through 2015.
While the Chapman deal itself has proven to be an even better one than the one-year rental of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo for under $4 million in 2013 (plus a couple of players who no longer fit into the Reds' plans), the use of Chapman has split Reds Country into two groups -- those who see Chapman as a starter (which the Reds have groomed him for each of the past two seasons in spring training only to revert him to closer based on team need), and those who want him to remain in the limited but important role of closer.
Chapman the Closer
As the Reds' closer for the past two years, Chapman has clearly demonstrated that he has two of the most dominant pitches in baseball -- a four-seam fastball that can top out at 105 mph and a devastating 94-mph slider.
Chapman has saved 38 games each of the past two seasons and did finish eighth in the NL Cy Young in 2012 when he posted a1.51 ERA and 0.809 WHIP to go with a strikeout rate of 15.3 Ks per nine innings. Chapman's ERA rose a point in 2013 to 2.54 and his WHIP nudged up to 1.037 but his K/9 rate also notched up to 15.8.
Now that Chapman has two years of closer experience under his belt and is all the way acclimated to the big league experience after his defection from Cuba, he should only be more dominant. New Reds manager Bryan Price has already indicated he's willing to do something that his predecessor Dusty Baker was not willing to do -- extend Chapman as a potential two-inning closer who could enter the game in the eighth to close.
That expanded closer role and the continued development of Chapman as a pitcher under the tutelage of Price (who has been his pitching coach since his arrival with the Reds) should make Chapman a legitimate Cy Young candidate in 2014 as a closer.
Chapman the Starter
Despite the obvious advantage of using a pitcher as effortlessly dominant as Chapman as the potential ace of a rotation, the Reds have had to relegate him to closer while he continues his development toward what should be a starter at some point in the future.
Chapman's reported insistence that he remain a closer may keep Chapman in the bullpen for 2014 (especially since the player signed to close instead of Chapman -- Jonathan Broxton -- had forearm surgery in 2013 that could keep him out of action for the start of the season). But the future for Chapman as a starter remains bright.
Fortunately, the Reds have more time to stretch out Chapman than originally reported. Reds beat writer John Fay believed the Chapman contract ended with a $5 million player option for 2015, which would have made Chapman a free agent after 2014. However, Fay clarified the arbitration-eligible component of Chapman's contract after he wrote the article linked above to confirm that Chapman will actually remain under club control through 2016 via the arbitration process despite the original international free-agent contract.
If Chapman were converted to starter in 2013, not only would he have the potential to be a Cy Young candidate but also a NL MVP one, if the transition were to go as well as his conversion from Cuban starting pitcher to MLB closer went.
Trade Him Now?
Trading Chapman while he's still making closer money under arbitration restrictions would be a huge mistake, especially since Broxton may miss extended time from the outset of the season. Had Chapman been able to file for free agency after the 2014, the idea of trading him before the start of the season may have made more sense if the Reds were willing to use part-time starter Tony Cingrani as closer.
Trading Chapman makes less sense while he is under club control for three more years, especially when the soon-to-be 26-year-olf fireballer is on the verge of hitting his prime years that could vault him to level of Cy Young Award winner and maybe even more.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the Reds here.
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