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In this context, for team built to win now, Chapman as closer is right move

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

PHOENIX -- Aroldis Chapman will be a closer again in 2013, and the bottom line where these Reds are concerned is this: It is the right move.

“We're a team built to win now,” general manager Walt Jocketty said flatly.

And in the Reds' opinion, their best chance to do that is with Chapman flinging 100 m.p.h. heat at the end of games, and not in the beginning.

Make no mistake, there may be a day when they regret this. Four or five years from now, after the cyclical baseball world rolls over a few more times and maybe the Reds are down on their luck and in need of starting pitching, maybe they look back to this day with regret.

But in this current context, it is the right decision.

That context being, when an organization has a legitimate chance to win, it must go for it.

If these Reds were mediocre and looking at a third- or fourth-place finish this summer, then this completely would be the wrong decision with Chapman.

But that's not the case.

As Jocketty noted, the Reds have four men in their rotation who worked at least 200 innings last summer: Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey. They have a fifth, Mike Leake, whom they think will hit 200 this summer. (He clocked in at 179 innings in 2012.)

As he also noted, the Chapman-Jonathan Broxton duo helps give the Reds a “very strong bullpen.”

There is no question that a starting pitcher who works 200 innings is more valuable than reliever who works 71 2/3 (Chapman's total in '12).

Except ...

“We wouldn't have gotten 200 out of him this year,” Jocketty said. “That was a factor, too.”

There is no question that a No. 1 starter is more valuable than a closer.

Except ...

“How do you know if he's a No. 1 or not?” Baker asked. “Hopefully, one day we'll find out.”

The Rangers tried to find out with Neftali Feliz, and he ended up blowing out his elbow and having Tommy John ligament replacement surgery.

This isn't to say that the same fate would have awaited Chapman had he become a full-time starter.

But at 25 and after two full seasons in a big-league bullpen, that is not an easy transition. Especially for a team built to win right now.

Plus, once Chapman spoke out earlier this month, unsolicited, and said he prefers to close, this was a fait accompli.

“No. 1, we don't let players tell us where they want to play,” Jocketty said. “But it certainly is a factor because he's comfortable in that role.”

There is no question that, as a closer, Chapman's influence in last season's Division Series loss to the Giants was maddeningly minimal (three appearances, two games finished, zero saves).

But ...

“Where would we have been if he was not in that role?” Baker asks of Chapman's regular-season closing duties, referring to the fact that the division-winning Reds (97-65) were 60-8 in games in which Chapman pitched in 2012. “We may not have even made it.”

Jocketty and Baker sat together in the visiting manager's office before the Reds' Cactus League game with the Dodgers here early Friday afternoon discussing the decision together in a show of organizational solidarity.

Outside, the noise caused by this decision surely will only grow more deafening.

In fact, as Chapman worked the sixth inning of the Reds' Cactus League game Friday, two men fiercely debated the start vs. close scenario as they watched him work from the third row behind home plate.

Inside, for a team in position to win a World Series now, it's all systems go.

“We're ready to get our team together,” Baker said, “and play ball.”

 
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