Misuse of a Missile?

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As I was reading John’s post about Aroldis Chapman being shut down for the winter and not being a participant in any winter league, I had the thought that gears were being changed yet again as they pertain to the hard-throwing lefty.

You see, I’m by far a fan of the way Aroldis Chapman has been used. I’ve not been extremely vocal of that opinion here, but I have made a tweet or two about it. Some will agree or disagree with what I’m about to unveil here. You have that right and I will not squash that in any way. With the recent news of Chapman’s stoppage, I’m growing deep concern with how this has all played out over the past two years.

Chapman was given a six-year deal worth $30.25 million. He was still raw and unproven at the time of the transaction, but he was also viewed as a potential ace. Certainly you didn’t sign this kid with the intention of being in your bullpen. You know the list of “usual suspects” (Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies) would not have done such. They would have viewed him as a starter only and not placed him within their pens for any extended period.

Image courtesy of Bo Hussey

(I can hear those debate the issue of Neftali Feliz now that the Rangers have signed Joe Nathan.)

So, I turn back the clock to the 2010 season. I don’t do this to stir up memories of a season that a lot of Reds fans will forget, but to recall a decision that may forever change the landscape of the Reds pitching staff.

In an effort to bolster the bullpen for the remainder of 2010 and the prospects of a playoff run, Chapman, who was at Louisville at the time, was plucked from the starting staff and moved into the bullpen. We now know in hindsight (and for some of us, sight at the time) that certain moves made did not live up to any type of expectation (Russ Springer, Jason Isringhausen). Of course, those moves were made post-Chapman-to-pen.

But those two guys didn’t have what Chapman owned, a triple-digit fastball and an electric slider. Surely those would be valuable tools. Add the commodity of Chapman being a lefty and all appeared to be on track.

2010 left us with a bitter taste as the Reds were ran out of the postseason, but there was 2011. And yet, nothing would change. Chapman was still going to used out of the bullpen. I mean, after all, the Reds already had six guys fighting for the five starters spots. Leave Chapman in the pen. All would be okay.

It wasn’t. The starters as a group performed at a worse level than in 2010. The injury bug hit Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey during spring training. Another “bug” bit Bronson Arroyo who was coming off his best ever season. The visa squabble hit Edinson Volquez and he missed a bit of what was much needed work.

Wait. The Reds had signed Dontrelle Willis to a minor league deal. They still had Mike Leake, Travis Wood, Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney. We should still be all right.

Only Leake would prove to be vital as a starter. LeCure molded himself into a reliable and valuable member of the bullpen on his way to a very good 2011 season. The others…not so much. Maloney is now a Twin and Willis is still a free agent. Who knows what will happen to Wood. Probably among those fighting (again) for a starters nod.

Think about this for a brief minute. If Chapman would have been left in a starter’s role and performed at even a moderately decent level for 2011, the final outcome of 2011 could have been different.

Whoa, you say, then ask. “You mean if Chapman was a starter for all of 2011, he would have made that big an impact? Contenders, possibly. Impact, not to a great extent, but it would have helped in his personal development and even the future of the organization. Getting them to the playoffs, most likely not, but I hope you get the idea here. Only a certain few can have that type of impact. By now the name Justin Verlander will pop into your head. Yes, he’s a stud, an Cy Young winner and MVP. It does take time to evolve into a Verlander provided all works in the proper direction.

Here’s where I’m going with this…proper direction. If the Reds had stayed the course with Chapman, we would be looking at no less than a second full season (2012) with him as a starter. Who knows what he would have done in 2011, but I would guess (and it’s only a guess) that it would have been better than what we got from Volquez and Wood.

We also might not be hearing the chatter about the Reds needing another arm to compliment Cueto. Well, that chatter wouldn’t be as loud. The Reds could focus elsewhere with the starting staff not needing as much attention as its receiving.

Of course, if Chapman was not in the bullpen for 2011 (and he did have a good year, not great), the pen would have suffered even more than it did. That’s a valid point/argument.

And to those that want him as the closer, he’s already proven he is not for that role. He cannot work more than two consecutive days. That’s a calling a closer should and must answer. Knock Francisco Cordero all you want, but he took the ball on that third straight day if he was needed to take it even if it would have been for just one batter.

So now Chapman will be working on strength training. You may be forced to consider the following. Has the damage been done, not from just a physical aspect, from a mental one as well? If there is a physical ailment, I have no doubt the Dusty bashers will be out in full force. It cannot be tied solely to him. There are others to point fingers at, too.

The unknown, or shall I say, unsettled, spot for Chapman within the Reds pitching staff has caused a bit of disarray/ How can I say that? Ask yourself this. What if Chapman cannot transition back to being a starter? It’s a move that should have already been done. It’s a plan that never should have been diverted.

You signed this kid with the vision of being a starter, maybe even an ace. That progress was halted. Actually, completely stopped until after this past season.

I look at it as two years wasted.

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Tags: Aroldis Chapman Baseball Cincinnati Reds Dusty Baker MLB Reds Pitching Staff Starting Pitching Starting Rotation

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