There has been a lot of talk about Aroldis Chapman lately after Paul Dougherty wrote that the Reds intended to move him to the bullpen. No one else confirmed what Dougherty’s unnamed source told him and the announcement certainly hasn’t come down (Reds brass denied there was even anything to announce), so there’s still a great deal of uncertainty.
Much has been written about Chapman, but I thought it would be a good idea to toss together a summary of all the issues at play.
1. Chapman’s performance—You can place me firmly in the camp of those who believe Chapman should start (or at least undergo a genuine transition to starting), but we shouldn’t deny his value as a reliever.
Last year, in 71.2 innings, Chapman generated 3.3 WAR. Much has been made of the unchanging frequency with which teams entering the the ninth with a lead win, but that is still a lot of value from a relief pitcher. Chapman finished tied for 34th in fWAR among all pitchers. He should provide serious value no matter what the Reds do with him.
2. Mike Leake—The forgotten man in this discussion is Mike Leake, who stands to be the fifth starter if Chapman closes. Leake is probably an average pitcher who’s been a bit unlucky and plenty of teams would be thrilled to have him anywhere in the rotation. The Reds will likely hold onto him either way so he can slot into Bronson Arroyo‘s place when the latter leaves at the end of this season.
3. Expensive bullpen—Chapman officially makes only $2 million this year, but he got a hefty signing bonus and his real cost is more like $5 million per year. Sean Marshall will be paid $4.5 million this year and Jonathan Broxton, who was signed explicitly to allow Chapman to start, makes $4 million.
All three players are signed through 2015 and all will receive substantial raises over the next several years. That is a lot of money to spend on three players who are probably good for only as many innings in one year as Johnny Cueto will throw on his own. The Reds have shown a consistent willingness to overpay for relief talent.
4. Bob Castellini—Two things have been made abundantly clear this spring. Dusty Baker wants Chapman to close. Walt Jocketty wants him to start. Given that Jocketty is higher in the pecking order, it should be easy to figure out what happens. But it isn’t. The reason, I have to believe, is Reds’ owner Bob Castellini.
No Reds fans can complain about how the team has been run lately, but if the owner is going to start meddling in baseball operations, it’s only going to add to confusion about who, exactly, is running this team. What is taking place right now is a organizational power struggle between Baker and Jocketty and who wins might tell us a lot about how the team is going to be run and who is most likely to be around over the next several years.