News is floating around on Twitter that the Cincinnati Reds are heavily interested in former Philadelphia Phillies closer Ryan Madson. The move would make sense on the surface, as the Reds are looking for a closer after the declining former closer Francisco Cordero’s 2012 option (who the Reds signed to a four year, $46 million deal after the 2007 season).
But when you dig a little deeper, maybe the Madson move doesn’t make sense. While the Reds are currently without a big ticket, capital C closer, they have a couple of options on the team currently that could function in that role just as well as your typical eight figure man. The team brought Sean Marshall in from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for starter Travis Wood (and a couple of minor leaguers). Marshall functioned as the Cubs’ top setup man for the past couple of seasons after a failed run as a starter, accruing 5.0 fWAR over the last two seasons while striking out 169 batters in 150 1/3 innings. He’ll be a free agent after the season, and will more than likely draw a multi-year offer from a team, either as a setup man or a closer. With as good as he’s been over the last two seasons, he’d be an ideal internal option at closer or as the top setup man for Madson.
Then, there’s the “interesting” option. The Reds are paying former Cuban refugee Aroldis Chapman $2 million (plus signing bonus money!) in 2012 to function as a setup man. With a triple digit fastball and a disgusting slider, Chapman seems ideal for the closer’s role long-term, but some scouts see Chapman as a good starter too. The Reds have their rotation pretty well set for 2012 with a pair of pre-arbitration players (Mike Leake, Mat Latos), a player entering his first year of arbitration (Homer Bailey), a young budding star signed to an affordable deal (Johnny Cueto), and the veteran with an albatross contract that would be amnestied in an instant if the opportunity presented itself (Bronson Arroyo). A rotation spot doesn’t appear to be in the cards for Chapman in 2012 or 2013 unless the Reds are able to move another young arm. So why not let Chapman take a turn as the closer?
While Chapman’s stuff is electric, his control just isn’t there yet. He struck out 12.78 batters per nine innings in 2011 (or 71 in 50 innings), and his fastball averaged (emphasis on *averaged*) 98 miles per hour. Those are the good notes. The bad? Well, he walked 41 hitters in those 50 innings, for a rate of 7.38 per nine innings. That’s absolutely terrible. While most closers feature iffy control, the only closers within two walks per nine innings of Chapman’s walk rate were Kevin Gregg of the Orioles and Carlos Marmol of the Cubs.
Marmol actually might be a good comparison for Chapman based just on walks and strikeouts. In 459 career innings, he’s struck out 599 hitters, and walked 300, for a strikeout rate of 11.74 and a walk rate of 5.88. Marmol’s stuff is nowhere near as good as Chapman’s, as his career best fastball velocity is just 94.1 miles per hour. Chapman also gets groundballs at a much higher rate than Marmol (33.9% career for Marmol, 52.7% last year for Chapman). So maybe the pitfalls that have befallen the Cubs closer won’t trap Chapman, but he might not be ready for a more advanced role until his control becomes a little more refined.
No matter what the Reds end up doing, they’re going to have a solid bullpen. If the back end of the game looks like Chapman-Marshall-Madson, that’s pretty fearsome. But it feels like that the Reds could be doing a lot more with their money instead of handing out four years to yet another closer, when they’ve got a guy who appears to be locked into the bullpen for the next two years that they’re paying a ton of money, that could be an absolute force late game. If the Reds decide to give Madson $10 million a year for the next four years, how are they going to tell him that he’s not the closer in two years once Chapman refines his game? By the same token, how in the hell are the Reds going to justify paying a setup man in Chapman a minimum of $5 million a year (which he’ll likely earn in arbitration after his initial contract expires)?
This Reds team is built to win now, with Joey Votto becoming a free agent after the 2013 season. They’re probably going to go all-in and sign Madson or another free agent option, and worry about just what the hell is going to happen with their pitching after 2013.