COMMENTARY | The Cincinnati Reds are in a transitional period. That's an odd thing to say about a team that was in the one-game playoff for the NL wild-card spot, but fans should be happy about it.
The ballclub has experienced success in recent years, yet it's all come in the regular season and the playoffs have been a disappointment.
Within the last couple decades, Cincinnati teams have seemed content with just scooting by, but that may be changing with the Reds. The Redlegs' front office is focused on contending and making the necessary changes to do so, even if it means potentially moving a fan-favorite like Brandon Phillips, as has been rumored.
This mindset is why Dusty Baker is no longer the manager, and why Bryan Price was chosen to replace him. Price is known as a players' coach, and his expertise is pitching. This suits the Reds well.
The hire strongly reminds me of the move the Boston Red Sox made before last season. Boston hired its former pitching coach John Farrell, who is known as a players' guy, and the strategy worked out pretty well for them.
If Price handles the roster as I envision him doing, he could easily claim the 2014 National League Manager of the Year Award.
The biggest decision that Price has to make revolves around Aroldis Chapman, the Reds' flame-throwing pitcher who was pegged as a closer by Baker.
If Price decides to get creative with Chapman, as opposed to strictly pitching him for one inning every few games, the Reds could blossom and meet their vast potential.
Here's my logic behind that happening: Why have the Reds been so concerned with the closer role for Chapman? His save conversion rate was just 88.4% last season, which is right around the league average. That's good, but it doesn't compute with his immense talent level. Baker got so caught up in his reputation of ruining arms that he became way too conservative with Chapman.
Using him strictly for one inning is a waste of Chapman's talent. It even seemed as if Chapman got too comfortable at points last season when he was called upon with a lead. I believe that he would thrive in a larger role, and that his substantial ego would propel him to more success.
Now, I'm not saying that he should be inserted into the starting rotation, although it shouldn't necessarily be ruled out. But, his most efficient role doesn't appear to be as a starter.
The best role that the Reds could use Chapman in would be as a middle-inning game-changer, or "X-Factor," to use a terrible sports cliche. It's pretty uncommon in MLB, but Chapman is uncommonly talented.
His role should be as a dynamic, middle-relief type of pitcher with the capability to come in, dominate, and finish out a game. If Chapman were to enter around the sixth, seventh, or eighth inning, he could greatly alter the result of a game. No matter the situation, whether Cincinnati was ahead or behind, he would have the ability to secure the win or inspire a comeback with a lights-out performance.
The way Baker used Chapman was like having a great slice of pizza, only to throw it in the trash after a few delicious bites.
He's too valuable and explosive to simply throw him for one inning every few games, and I think Price realizes that. If Chapman was available to go put out the fire on a bad Leake start in the sixth, or even to solidify a Latos win in the seventh, who would be opposed to that?
That role is similar to how Baker used Sean Marshall when he was healthy, except Marshall doesn't have the stuff to go the distance and finish a game. Putting Chapman in that spot would free up Marshall to close a game every now and then, or even work his way into a closer role.
Closing was originally the intended role for Marshall when he was signed by the Reds in 2012 because of an injury to Ryan Madson. Baker gave up on him after he blew a few opportunities early, but I think Marshall's still capable of doing it.
The Reds' restrained use of Chapman makes no sense for the future of the team. To use another corny analogy, it would be like the Heat using LeBron as a sixth man for mainly defensive purposes because he excels at it.
This leaves the Reds with a starting rotation of Johnny Cueto (R), Matt Latos (R), Homer Bailey (R), Mike Leake (R), and Tony Cingrani (L), assuming Bronson Arroyo is gone.
That's a respectable one through five, and Bailey had the worst winning percentage (11-12) and worst ERA of the group (3.49) last year. Those facts are actually encouraging as Bailey seemed closer than he's ever been to putting it all together last year. If he can become reliable, the Reds' starting rotation will be sitting pretty.
The lack of lefties in the starting rotation would also benefit from Chapman, a lefty, coming in as a middle-reliever. Honestly, making The Cuban Missile a full-time starter just seems a bit overzealous. During the past two seasons, he's been shutdown for various weeks at a time with fatigue issues. To me, that makes starting him extremely risky.
Those concerned with the starting rotation, specifically Cingrani, should relax. The 24-year-old lefty had a 2.92 ERA in 18 starts last year. So as long as the Reds' bats can stay awake, the pitching situation should be good, barring any injuries.
That's how I would handle the pitching staff if I were Bryan Price. Dealing with the rest of the bullpen (Sam LeCure, Logan Ondrusek, and Co.) could be done similarly to how Baker did the job.
As of now, the roster largely remains the same as it was at the end of last year, but with Billy Hamilton starting in center field in place of Shin-Soo Choo and with a (presumably) healthy Ryan Ludwick in left field. Additionally, one has to think Joey Votto will have a better season.
And that's all assuming Brandon Phillips stays on the team, which seems like a giant question mark right now. Cincinnati is quite obviously trying to part ways with him, and if the Reds do pull the trigger, I trust the front office's decision.
The Reds have been competitive, but they needed a change, and luckily owner Bob Castellini and GM Walt Jocketty were courageous enough to make it happen. And they might not be done yet.
In Cincinnati, competent leadership is so rare that it almost frightens fans. But my gut tells me that the Reds' faithful will see just how scary-good Cincinnati will be come late October.
Alex Marcheschi is a senior at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He hails from the Westside of Cincinnati and thinks 4,192 is more than just a number.
- Sports & Recreation
- Cincinnati Reds
- Dusty Baker
- Bryan Price