In the last week, there’s been a multitude of predictions of Chapman’s April destination. Obviously the Reds have been giving him a shot at making the rotation in Cincinnati – but, if he doesn’t, where does he go? And with the bullpen looking shakier, maybe we need him in the bullpen afterall?
That’s what Tim Kurkjian thinks, stating emphatically that Chapman would start in the bullpen in his column on Tuesday. Fay came back with some Dusty quotes that made it seem like things were more up in the air, and Rob Neyer over at baseball nation has contributed his own opinion – that Chapman is destined for the rotation. Interspersed with this was increasingly bad Madson news, as today brought word that our supposed closer is heading back to Cincinnati to get checked out by the team doctors. Any bad Madson news is probably a stronger argument for Chapman heading to the Cincinnati bullpen, as Marshall will probably be drafted in for the closer spot, leaving open a “general lefty” spot in the pen.
As a stopgap measure, I have to say I’m not totally opposed to this. I know I’ve argued for Chapman to go to Louisville to learn how to start, and I still want that this year. However, at this point, it will be nearly impossible for Madson to be ready and with the major league club on opening day. We’re in it to win it this year, so that means we want the best possible club in Cincinnati that we can get. With Marshall closing, and Bray’s status still up in the air, Chapman’s presence as a threatening lefty in late innings is important. Of course, this has a consequence for future years, as Chapman won’t reach his full potential, in my opinion, without given a chance to learn how to start. But it’s important to remember that Chapman’s starting will most likely be fairly limited this season. In 2011, Chapman pitched only 63 innings between MLB and AAA, and even in 2010, pitched just 118 innings total, including 13 starts in Louisville. While this probably isn’t a case of the 20 additional innings rule, I would still be a little tentative to have Chapman pitch 150 innings in Louisville.
I think it makes a lot of sense, on balance of present and future needs, to have Chapman start in the Cincinnati bullpen, move back to Lousiville to make 15 or so starts when Madson is ready, and then consider bringing Chapman back to relieve for the Reds as we head, hopefully, to a pennant race and maybe the playoffs. Honestly, this seems pretty good, and actually possible (unlike most of my wishes, like “TODD FRAZIER FOR LYFE”). In any case, we’ll probably get a better read on the Reds intention as the fifth starter competition closes up. Chapman actually hasn’t appeared in a spring training game for awhile, but is scheduled to start one of the split squad games tomorrow. If he doesn’t go four or five innings, I think I would start to assume that he won’t be a starter on opening day.