Mulling Cincy's closer options

March, 24, 2012
3/24/12
7:29
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The Cincinnati Reds suffered a major blow Saturday when it was discovered that new closer Ryan Madson has a torn ligament in his pitching elbow.

Madson will undergo Tommy John surgery, and his season is over.
Madson
Madson, of course, was a surprise offseason signing for the new-look Redlegs after a brilliant 2011 campaign (32 saves, 1.7 WAR [FanGraphs]) for Philadelphia. After acquiring Madson (for one year and $8.5 million) and trading for Sean Marshall, GM Walt Jocketty had good reason to be comfortable with the state of his bullpen. Now, questions abound.

The first question: Who replaces Madson? The obvious choice is Marshall, a shut-down lefty who has been one of the best relievers in baseball (with a 5.0 WAR over the past two years, he has arguably been much more valuable than Madson). Cincinnati just inked Marshall to a three-year, $16.5 million contract extension, but the Reds weren't quick to name him the closer in the wake of the Madson news. Jocketty would only say that Marshall would be "a candidate" for the job.

The next best candidate? Aroldis Chapman.

The Reds finally began grooming Chapman as a starting pitcher this season, and things have been going swimmingly thus far. This spring, Chapman's control has been good, and his velocity remains excellent.

Though he has one minor league option remaining, the big lefty has been making a strong case to be in Cincinnati's rotation.

But not so fast: The worst-kept secret in the Queen City is that Dusty Baker wants Chapman in his bullpen, having openly refused to endorse Jocketty's plan to make Chapman a starter. Baker may get his wish. No one who felt the electricity that surged through Great American Ball Park every time Chapman entered a game during his rookie season would be surprised to see him named the closer, despite an inconsistent 2011 campaign. The more likely scenario, however, is that Chapman would be the primary setup man.

That, of course, would be an exceptionally shortsighted move by the Reds. Having Chapman in the rotation helps to maximize the value of his enormous contract; over the first two years of that contract, Chapman has pitched a total of 63.1 innings. Did the Reds really pay Chapman more than $30 million to be a setup guy?

The only other option is likely Nick Masset, who had seemed to be the closer-in-waiting until he suffered through an up-and-down 2011 season. If the Reds are not comfortable with Marshall as closer, and if Jocketty is determined not to stunt Chapman's development as a starting pitcher, Masset is certainly a capable, if not ideal, alternative.

Whatever Cincinnati's brain trust decides, the loss of Madson makes the bullpen -- which had been one of the club's strengths -- significantly weaker. Cincinnati remains one of the top contenders in the NL Central, but things just got more difficult.

Chad Dotson writes for Redleg Nation

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