The rigors of spring training have officially caught up with Reds manager Dusty Baker, who labored through a scratchy voice to discuss baseball’s hottest topic Friday.
Turns out, he didn’t have to say much.
With General Manager Walt Jocketty by his side, Baker announced the starting rotation, and it didn’t include the name Aroldis Chapman.
“You figure it out,” Baker said, implying that Chapman will return to his role as the team’s closer.
Johnny Cueto was named the Opening Day starter, followed by Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake. And that means what many considered the league’s best bullpen again will be equipped with the likes of Chapman, Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall.
The move ends weeks of speculation, which Jocketty said falsely pitted him and Baker as adversaries on the topic.
“You guys have made a big deal out of this. And it’s been exaggerated to the point where you guys think there’s a big in-house battle. There is not a big in-house battle,” Jocketty said. “We approached this spring exactly the same as last year with Chapman, that he was going to be either a starter or a closer.”
The move also keeps the team’s rotation intact, one that was among the upper third of the National League last season with a 3.64 earned-run average. It also allows the Reds to use Leake, who started Friday’s game against the Dodgers, in the role of starter. Leake signed a one-year deal earlier this spring for just over $3 million, avoiding arbitration.
“We felt that’s what gave us the best opportunity as an organization to win this year was to leave the rotation as is,” Jocketty said. “That’s a very strong rotation. Leake’s had a good spring. We think he’s pitched really good.”
Baker said Chapman was one of the reasons last year’s team won 97 games en route to the National League Central Division title. He broke club records for save conversions, saves in most consecutive appearances, most appearances to start the season before yielding an earned run, and consecutive appearances of at least an inning without allowing a hit.
“He had a chance to be our best starter, and a chance to be our best closer, our best reliever,” Baker said. “What did Chapman account for, 60 percent of our wins, with holds, wins, and saves?”
Earlier this spring, Chapman said he preferred to close games, mentioning the adrenaline that comes with late situations. Jocketty said that did come into play.
“We don’t let players decide where they want to play,” Jocketty said. “But I think it certainly is a factor because he was comfortable in that role and had success.”
The move pushes Broxton back into the role of setup man, although the veteran has said during camp that he doesn’t mind being used wherever needed. Broxton signed a three-year, $21 million deal in the off-season.
“It was important that we sign him back, to give us the bullpen flexibility heading into the spring,” Jocketty said of Broxton.
Baker added that Broxton will be making considerable money for a set-up man, but it’s also an important piece of the bullpen.
“That shows you the importance of that job,” Baker said. (Chapman’s) the closer, then on days when he can’t pitch we have Broxton. It’s no different than last year.”
As for those longing to see Chapman as an elite starter, Baker said it’s still possible. But with a team that’s loaded for a postseason run, the questions loom too large and the benefits might not outweigh the potential liabilities.
“How do you know if he’s a No. 1 or not? I’m serious, hopefully someday we’ll find out,” Baker said. “But we’re ready to get our team together and play ball.”