The Cuban Missile Crisis


The 2012 NL Central Champion Cincinnati Reds (now that the mourning period is over, that’s starting to sound good again) have plenty of offseason decisions to make. While the team clearly has a very solid nucleus, the 2012 edition of the Redlegs were obviously not World Series capable. In my opinion, each team that wins the World Series has that “it” factor. This year “it” was Pablo Sandoval, who absolutely crushed the ball on his way to a World Series MVP. The Tigers have Justin Verlander AND Miguel Cabrera. The Yankees probably have a little too much “it” for their own good. On the flip side, the Cardinals clutch abilities as a team qualify as the “it” factor for them.

So, Reds fans, what is our “it” factor? A lot of you might say Joey Votto, and a lot of you would be wrong. While we all love Joey, there’s no denying that he’s not eating up a lot of time in the national media. I dislike ESPN as much as the next guy, but the mother ship certainly has a way of stirring up drama in certain cities, rallying them and truly creating a home field advantage. Joey has the stats – man, does he have the stats – but he’s lacking that intangible “it” factor.

September 30, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) delivers a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Cincinnati Reds won 4-3. (Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)

Well then, is it Brandon “Dat Dude” Phillips? He’s certainly had his fair share of screen time on Sports Center, and the oohs and ahhs coming from the stands after one of his signature glove flashings aren’t ignorable. And although BP has a ton of “it” in him, there’s just not enough to win a World Series.

The Reds roster is full of big talent players, and almost all of them aren’t known outside of the broadcasting range of the Reds Radio Network. When outsiders think of the reds, they think Votto, Phillips, Bruce. The baseball guys out there know about Cueto, Latos, Rolen and Ludwick, but beyond that, is there a true bonafide purveyor of “it”?

The answer is yes, and he was stuck in the back of the bullpen all year.

Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban Missle, is the best chance this team has at creating an “it” factor. Every time that man steps to the mound, it’s like nothing I’ve seen before. His speed is what catches the eye of the big media types, and until this past season, that was all he really was good for. He wasn’t accurate enough to be a reliable bullpen option in the majors, but man, he was exciting to watch.

Enter Spring Training 2012. Chapman, seemingly, was rotation or bust. In 4 starts (17 innings), he had a 2.12 ERA, 18Ks and 2 walks. His K/9 is obviously lower than what he ended up producing from the closing role during the regular season, and in my opinion was the clear cut number 5 starter.

And then came the injuries. Oh, the injuries.

Many of us thought the season was over. We hadn’t seen a good pitching performance from the good guys over the span of an entire season in a long time. The bats were there, as they always have been, but it would take a miracle for our pitching staff to transform over night.

And that’s exactly what it did. We all know the story. 5 starters were healthy the entire season, the bullpen was the best in baseball, and Aroldis Chapman was a virtual lock to close out games for us. The bats weren’t always there, but when they were, the Reds were pretty much unbeatable.

So why fix what isn’t broken? The biggest problem I have with the situation is my hatred for the one inning closer. Strategically it doesn’t make any sense. What if we decided that we were going to put Johnny Cueto in the closer role? He’s our best pitcher. Why not? Because we would rather have Johnny, one of the leagues best pitchers, in the game for 7 innings, rather than just three outs.  The situation should be no different with Chapman. He proved this season that he has the stuff to be one of baseball’s best pitchers. So why don’t we let him throw more pitches?

It’d be different if he couldn’t pitch more than 4 innings, as is the assumption for most closers. But he can, and he has extensively throughout his career. He was a starter in Cuba. He was a starter in Louisville. He was signed as a starting pitcher, and that’s what he should be. Chapman is even on the record stating that he would rather be starting games than finishing them. It’s what he’s most comfortable with. Something about a more comfortable Aroldis Chapman scares me, and will be even more terrifying to opposing players and managers.

There are plenty of options to replace Chapman as closer. A closer’s role is to get three people out in one inning. Many of the names in our bullpen can do that already, and have in the past. Sean Marshall didn’t pan out, and I don’t believe he’s the answer. If we take a chance on Ryan Madson or Jonathan Broxton, I think both of those guys are more than capable. Remember, Nick Masset and Bill Bray will presumably be back next season, meaning one of them (Masset) will be more than capable of teaming up with Marshall to create another dominant set-up group. Even if we don’t sign Madson or Broxton to deals, I think JJ Hoover has the stuff it takes to be a closer. It’s a glorified position based entirely on if your starting pitcher can limit the number of runs allowed. Remember, it takes a good starting pitching performance to even get a chance to see your closer in a game.

Trying him out is seemingly foolproof. Mike Leake, who’s spot would presumably be taken in this scenario, was a more than capable 5th man this past season. There are also plenty of names in the system who can come up if the Missile is a misfire. If the experiment were to end badly, we could plug Chapman back into the closer spot and adjust accordingly with plenty of big-league capable players. The reward of potentially finding a third ace in the rotation for a couple of yeaars is much larger than the risk of potentially losing a few games in a long season.

If and when Aroldis Chapman starts a game, he will bring people to their feet. The domination that was usually reserved for the 9th inning for three outs in close ball games will be unleashed every 5th game for multiple innings. The “it” factor will have its chance to shine, and I believe this team can ride it to a World Series Championshp.