Friday, March 8, 2013
Turmoil brewing in Reds camp
By Jim Bowden
Has Aroldis Chapman's role this season caused a rift between Dusty Baker and the front office?
GOODYEAR, Ariz -- Dusty Baker has been here before. It’s not the first time he’s heard people say he and his general manager don’t see eye to eye on a particular issue. As manager of the Chicago Cubs, Baker was accused of playing over-the-hill veterans instead of prospects despite the wishes of the front office.
The veterans gave him the best chance to win, he’d say to the media.
Now at the helm of the Cincinnati Reds, Baker is convinced leaving flame-throwing left-hander Aroldis Chapman as his closer gives him the best chance to win. Most of the players and staff think Chapman should close, too.
However, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is convinced his team is better with Chapman starting. Pitching coach Bryan Price agrees.
Normally the manager makes the call on a player’s role. And understand, Baker will ultimately do what the organization wants. But it’s clear there’s something of a schism pertaining to Chapman’s role. Could this be the start of another Stephen Strasburg/innings limit-type controversy we witnessed last season?
If Chapman closes, the Reds’ bullpen is one of the league’s best with Jonathan Broxton, Logan Ondrusek, Sean Marshall and J.J. Hoover preceding him. Without Chapman, they all move in domino-like fashion into roles of increased responsibility. Though Broxton and Marshall both have handled the closer's and set-up roles before, taking Ondrusek and Hoover out of their comfort zones could be risky.
Should Broxton and Marshall fail in the eighth and ninth innings or Chapman fail as a starter, you can bet the decision to move an almost unhittable closer to the rotation will be second-guessed and could become a distraction for a team that has World Series aspirations.
Jocketty said Chapman's case is different than Strasburg's because Chapman is not returning from Tommy John surgery, as Strasburg did last season. He also points to C.J. Wilson and Chris Sale as examples of pitchers who went from 70 innings pitched one season to 180 the next with no ill effects. Of course, that doesn’t take into consideration the pitchers’ different deliveries, release points, ages and health risks, but you see what Jocketty’s thinking.
Price reiterated they won't start Chapman five to 10 times, then decide to put him back in the ‘pen. He either starts or closes -- not both. Jocketty says the plan also would have Chapman available to start in the postseason, should things turn out favorably for the Reds.
Jocketty says confidently the decision will be made by Opening Day, but I get the feeling the real resolution of this debate won’t be until well after. Let's hope that by Opening Day, Jocketty does the right thing and delegates the decision to Baker and let Chapman close, thus giving the Reds their best shot at winning their first World Series since 1990.
Meanwhile, the other question in Reds camp surrounds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and whether he will be adequate in center field. The resounding answer is yes, especially considering the cozy dimensions of Great American Ball Park. So far, Choo has made all of the routine plays, and although everyone realizes his range running forward will be below average, they think that the range of middle infielders Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart going backward will compensate for Choo’s limitations. Reds players and management believe that finally having a legit leadoff hitter will more than offset his defensive liabilities.
Scottsdale: San Francisco Giants camp After the Giants won the World Series in 2010, spring camp was dominated by distractions. Cameras from Showtime’s reality show “The Franchise” followed the team’s every move. The atmosphere seemed lax compared to the year before.
However, this year’s spring camp is in stark contrast with that of 2011, or even last season's, for that matter. After winning the 2012 World Series, the vibe in this camp is extremely professional, serious, focused and demonstrates why they are clearly the favorites to win the NL West.
Right now, the Giants’ leadership tandem of GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy is the best in baseball. In my opinion, the detail of their preparation and loyalty to their players is unmatched. As a result, players have responded in kind.
Pagan has been a changed player since arriving in San Francisco.
One such example is outfielder Angel Pagan, whose defensive lapses with the Cubs and New York Mets before going to the Giants were well-documented. However, with San Francisco, they have been minimal. Why? The Giants employ the best visual trainers in baseball -- Bill and Ryan Harrison. Under their direction, Pagan has worked hard to improve his visualization, depth perception and focus. You even see Pagan in between pitches doing the exercises that are taped to his visor. He is focused and intense, just like the rest of the Giants.
Winning the World Series has given the young Giants players a lot of confidence, in particular Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. Expect Crawford to win the Gold Glove at shortstop this season and Belt to have much better production at first base. Confidence and character can be difference-makers after success, and they both appear primed to have much better seasons.
Hunter Pence told me he hopes he can sign long term with the Giants and will have no problem blocking out his free-agent year and making sure it’s not a distraction. Bochy told me the only real decision they have to make is left field, where Gregor Blanco is still the front-runner to start the season. They’re letting everyone else compete, but as Bochy said, don’t put it past Sabean to make a move between now and the July 31 deadline to improve the production from the corner. Watch the Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp and Carlos Quentin rumors begin to swirl as early as May if the Giants find themselves a bat short.
Tim Lincecum remains the biggest question in Giants camp, although Bochy told me he thinks Lincecum is throwing great. He won’t be surprised if Lincecum bounces all the way back to Cy Young Award form this year.