It's Official: Chapman Will Close

For a team coming into spring training with little turnover in their pitching staff, Cincinnati has been the topic of a lot of questions recently regarding indecision on plans to convert closer Aroldis Chapman into the rotation. Now it appears that he will resume getting most of his action in the ninth inning and Mike Leake will return to his job at the back end.

Countdown to opening day: 9 days. Thursday Cincinnati management denied rumors that a decision had been made on the role for Aroldis Chapman in the upcoming season. One day later they confirmed suspicions and announced that he will indeed return to the bullpen to continue as closer for the Reds. For the second offseason in a row there were expectations that he would become a starter. Now unless there's a change of plans midseason he will go through the first four years in his six-year contract throwing nary one first pitch.

The situation was much different this time around. One year ago injuries devastated the bullpen preseason which increased the need to keep him there. The group proceeded to pull together for a great season and they were much deeper this time around, especially after re-signing Jonathan Broxton who came over at the trade deadline. Many felt that retaining his services was a signal that Chapman's conversion was going to proceed. Perhaps after Friday's announcement those same people are wondering what they'll do with the veteran right-hander.

He'll be run out to the mound for some important innings for sure. The Reds have committed $21 million to Broxton over the next three years and want some dividend returned. However, instead of freeing Chapman for the rotation now his return will force some other MLB-ready right-hander down to AAA, the two most likely candidates being Logan Ondrusek and/or J.J. Hoover. It's expected that Nick Masset will not return to pre-injury form any time soon and if he does he might have to wait until roster expansion to show it.

The Cincinnati rotation should again be strong in 2013 despite Chapman staying put. It did seem like a waste to have former first rounder Mike Leake spend a year in AAA since he's only made two minor league appearances in his career and none before his MLB debut directly out of Arizona St. Thus far he's become a prototypical mid-rotation pitcher. A team is in trouble if he's at the top of the rotation and good shape if he's at the bottom. He was the eighth overall selection in 2009 and had he taken a normal career patch for collegiate pitchers he'd be making his debut around now. If he started the season without a spot in the rotation a case could have been made that he missed the minors as a rookie when he could have used the experience and then send down as a veteran when he didn't need it. Even though he's prepping for his fourth MLB season he's only 25 years old which is good reason to think there is still some upside left.

Starting Chapman would have been a wild card and if he struggled in the new role that move could have weakened both the both the pen and the rotation. The worst case scenario is coming down with a season ending injury like the Rangers' Neftali Feliz last year. Now he'll be expected to again overpower hitters in the ninth inning and in addition to the Cuban southpaw, Broxton is available to work the eighth and spell him if there's a problem with overuse.

Perhaps one thing that contributed to the success of the Reds bullpen in 2012 was the amount of innings eaten by their rotation. Four of them logged over 200 innings and that quintet had the second highest innings per appearance average in the N.L. Leake was the only one of them who threw under 200 innings and he's capable of joining them. Incredibly last year's rotation provided 161 starts and it's probably a bit much to ask them to years in a row. Providing depth is a couple of the Reds top prospects, Daniel Corcino and Tony Cingrani, who will begin this season at Louisville.

It was quite a busy week for a staff with no personnel turnover. They lost an arm from the rotation and a #6 starter while gaining a dominant closer and extra set-up man. On the other hand, in the end all that really happened was Louisville gained a nice reliever and everything else remained the same. Perhaps the Reds took the safe way out to keep everyone in familiar roles. The pitchers they return combined to throw all but twelve of their innings last year and everyone should be satisfied if they come anywhere near duplicating their 2012 success. Still, it's no surprise that many Reds fans would prefer to see Chapman's stuff utilized over more innings. Now it appears like they're going to have to wait at least one more year, if it ever happens at all.


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