Chapman whiffed 122 batters in 71 2/3 innings last year, and was arguably the NL's second-best closer after Craig Kimbrel. Nonetheless, Cincy has always wanted to use him as a starter, and this offseason GM Walt Jocketty and pitching coach Bryan Price decided to make the move. It’s easy to understand why, in hopes that Chapman can make the same transition that Chris Sale did for the Chicago White Sox and give the Reds a potent top of the rotation with Johnny Cueto, Chapman and Mat Latos. However, Chapman is a much different pitcher than Sale: He doesn’t have the same command and control of the breaking ball and changeup, and there is a question how his fastball will look the second and third time through the lineup.
There is also health risk in making a decision like this, especially considering the shoulder soreness that Chapman has experienced on and off since he signed with the Reds. There is a real possibility that this decision could lead him to the disabled list, the way it did for Neftali Feliz, or he could all of a sudden lose his dominance the way Daniel Bard did when he moved to the rotation.
Manager Dusty Baker prefers to leave Chapman in the bullpen and I have a hunch he will end up back there. In the meantime, Jocketty signed Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21 million deal, but he was smart not to make any guarantees as to who would be closer, leaving the door open for Chapman's return to that role. I think it's too risky to move Chapman out of a role where he is so dominant with the team so close to the World Series.
Speaking of risk, the Reds also seem intent on moving the recently acquired Choo to center. Baker has wanted a true leadoff hitter since coming to Cincy, and now he has one. No doubt this deal will significantly help the Reds' lineup and set the table for Joey Votto and Jay Bruce; however, Choo is going to be out of his element in center.
Scouts who watch him every day wonder if he will give up all the offensive gains in the field. He moves side to side extremely well and can go back on the ball adequately. However, he doesn’t come in on the ball very well and he isn't fast enough to really run down balls deep in the gaps. It's possible the Reds will end up using Bruce in center, but he will be stretched there as well. The Reds had better hope their pitchers are striking out lots of hitters, which would make their defense less of a concern.
Rondon, 22, certainly has the stuff for the role, with a 100 mph fastball that helped him put up a 1.53 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning across three levels of the minors in 2013.
However, as manager Jim Leyland told me after the World Series, there is no guarantee that just because you have the stuff and potential that you can actually be that impact closer during your rookie season. That said, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has already anointed Rondon as the Tigers' closer for 2013 even though he has never pitched an inning in the big leagues.
The Tigers have had several opportunities this offseason to get an experienced closer. They could have traded for Joel Hanrahan or signed Rafael Soriano, who remains on the free-agent market. In fact, agent Scott Boras has tried unsuccessfully to persuade Dombrowski and owner Mike Illitch to sign Soriano; most in the industry find it puzzling that they’re not willing to do that, especially considering their willingness to spend big and that their lack of a closer was a big problem in the postseason.
If the Tigers don't want to spend big bucks for a closer, that's understandable, but they should at least go out and find someone with some experience in the role, someone like Brian Wilson, while allowing Rondon to develop with less pressure.
The Rays are telling people internally that the plan is for Myers to start the year in Triple-A, not because they don’t think the bat is ready, but because of arbitration and free-agent eligibility issues. It’s how they do business; they did it with Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Matt Moore, so this should not be a surprise. It’s what a small-market club must do to survive.
However the real problem is that with the loss of Upton, this will be an offensively challenged lineup. And with James Shields' proven production missing in the rotation, it won’t be as easy getting to the postseason this year with improvements made by the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox, not to mention the maturing of the Baltimore Orioles' nucleus. Keeping Myers in Durham to start the year will certainly help them financially down the road, but it could torpedo their playoff hopes in 2013.
The Yankees are obsessed with keeping their payroll under $189 million in 2014, and rightfully so based on luxury-tax and revenue-sharing issues. But that doesn't explain why they've let guys like Russell Martin and Nick Swisher go out and sign reasonable deals elsewhere while signing Ichiro Suzuki and Kevin Youkilis, players who are way past their primes. (Also, they still don't have a starting catcher.)
We get why the Yankees aren't spending big dollars, but instead of signing old free agents they should be making trades to get younger. Their farm system isn't great, but they have some very exciting prospects -- like outfielder Mason Williams -- at the lower levels whom they can deal. And since the Yankees lead the game in revenues, why not go to Scott Boras and offer ridiculous one-year “pillow” deals to Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse and let them go back on the market next fall after winning with the Yankees? This could be the last year of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, so don’t they deserve better than this Senior Citizen Strategy?
Branch Rickey once said that this was a young man’s game, and the Yankees are trying to prove the opposite. A dicey proposition at best.