Whenever the discussion turns to Aroldis Chapman, I think of that scene from The Godfather, where an aging Hyman Roth celebrates his birthday in Havana by handing out pieces of his Cuban empire.  Lately, it seems the Reds front office, Dusty Baker, the media and the fans, all seem to be carving up different parts of Chapman’s career like so many pieces of birthday cake.

Baker clearly relishes having Mr. 106 as his closer.  An old-school advocate of the role of the closer in baseball, Chapman in the ninth gives Dusty a comfort level no other manager in the major league currently enjoys.  It’s safe to say that the Reds’ trainer’s budget isn’t quite as tight as it was a year ago, now that he no longer needs a case of Tums at the ready next to Baker, as he did each time Francisco Cordero came into the game.

But savvy Reds fans know the closer is perhaps the most overrated role in the game, overvalued more than Ben Affleck, Nickelback, and Tim Tebow combined.  It’s no surprise anymore that baseball games were being closed out successfully with virtually the same regularity for decades before the role was even invented.  Many who have fallen for the myth of the closer invoke the great Mariano Rivera to bolster their argument.  Yet, as Steve Mancuso so eloquently noted several days ago, the NY Yankees had years of dominance where they closed out games at the same astonishing rate before anyone ever heard of The Sandman, back when ordinary folks thought a closer was just a lock down aluminum siding salesman in a shiny suit.

But a closer Chapman remains for the time being.  The obvious question now is… for how long?  Perhaps a more urgent question should be:  “What does this mean for the Reds going forward this year?”

This Year
Now that Chapman is ensconced in the closer’s role, he’s no longer available for those high leverage moments in the game that often come in the 7th and 8th innings.  And frankly, if the Reds were smart, that’s where he’d be.  His unhittable fastball and Are You Kidding Me slider are perfect for those moments when there are runners in scoring position and the game is on the line.  Instead, we will see him more and more as we did last night:  protecting a one, two or three run lead with nobody on base—a role that any number of Reds relievers could occupy.

We’re already seeing a regression of his development, as Chapman relies more and more on his fastball and less on his slider, not to mention the shelving of the development of his changeup, which he will eventually need to make the transition to starting pitcher.

If the Reds feel compelled to keep the Cuban Missile in the bullpen for the rest of the year, they could mitigate the damage by using him the way Goose Gossage was once used, when relievers were referred to as “firemen.”  It wasn’t unusual for Gossage to come in when a starter got into trouble and finish the game.  In fact, in his first year as a closer, Goose recorded 10 outs on 17 occasions.  Bringing Chapman into the game in the 7th or 8th inning would not only leverage his value, it would allow him to keep developing the pitches he will eventually need, as well as stretch him out and keep the team’s options open should something unexpected happen to the starting rotation.  The chances that the Reds do something that forward thinking?  Almost non-existent, I fear.

As injury riddled as the bullpen has been this year, the starting rotation has been just as healthy.  With Chapman out of the equation, what do the Reds do if someone gets hurt or becomes grossly ineffective?  The jury is still out on Mat Latos and Mike Leake.  Who is going to join Johnny Cueto as a dominant pitcher in the post-season?  Does anyone believe the Reds can go deep into the playoffs with only Cueto as a feared presence on the mound?  For that matter, does anyone believe the Reds can remain upright in the NL Central with Brett Tomko or Jeff Francis pitching every 5th day?  Aroldis Chapman was the insurance policy for the starting rotation coming out of spring training.   Now that option is all but gone.  You wonder if someone like J.J. Hoover could be groomed to start if need be.

If the Reds have a plan for such a contingency, they aren’t saying.

Next Year
The naysayers insist Chapman should never be a starter.  They say his frightening velocity makes him too prone to injury.   They say he’s a two-pitch hurler who will be exposed in multiple turns through a lineup.  Some scouts say he’s a thrower, not a pitcher.

However, the more you see of Chapman, the more you see a pitcher perfectly suited for the starting rotation.  His outrageous 50 Ks and 9 walks suggest his control issues are a thing of the past.  And even if they aren’t, control problems can better be addressed in between starts than they can be when one is in the bullpen, according to Bryan Price.  He’s beginning to show an ability to hold runners on.  Maybe most important, he shows a smooth arm action to go with a a lanky, athletic frame.  He shows none of the arm violence you would expect of a man who can throw a ball over 100 miles an hour.  His plus slider leaves major league hitters shaking their heads as they head back to the dugout, looking like jilted lovers taking one last long look at what they’ve missed.  And for those looking for precedence, Randy Johnson began his career with nothing more than a fastball and slider and was every bit as wild.

Many of Chapman’s teammates see a future No. 1 starting pitcher.  Both Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto see the future of the Reds rotation, as recently written by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal when the Reds were in New York:

Phillips compares the 6-foot-4, 196-pound Chapman to Rays lefty David Price. First baseman Joey Votto also references Price, then adds, “Best-case scenario, he’s a left-handed (Justin) Verlander. Probably not — he doesn’t have the repertoire Verlander has. But I’m just talking about the ability to throw hard deep into the game. Which I think is who he could be — a Randy Johnson type who is still throwing 99 in the seventh, eighth and ninth.”

And yet, no decision about Chapman’s role with the Reds can be complete without considering the marketing aspect.  Consider the NBA’s NY Knicks.  Although Carmelo Anthony and Jeremy Lin are like oil and water when they are together on the floor, there is no chance the Knicks part ways with the young Lin.  He sells too many tickets and t-shirts.  In the same way, the Reds may decide that Chapman’s worth at the box office may be greater by dangling a tantalizing taste on any given night, than the revenue generated by a predictable start every 5 days.

Paul Daugherty at the Cincinnati Enquirer insists this is the team’s “all in” year.  I don’t see it.  The contracts handed out to Cueto, Bruce and Marshall suggested otherwise, even before the blockbuster Votto extension.  If the Reds were going for broke this year, they would be bending over backwards to get Chapman into the rotation.  Instead, an old, shopworn baseball mentality prevails with Chapman. It looks as if the front office is committed to taking the safe route.  Let him exploit his once-in-a-generation fastball for 6-9 outs a week, eliminate all doubt in the 9th and pocket the change.  But, Aroldis Chapman is not just a one-of-a-kind pitcher.  He’s a four-of-a-kind pitcher.  Having this guy is like drawing four kings in poker.  You don’t show your hand by raising everybody out of the game on the first pass, grabbing some small, tangible winnings.  You start him, you make everyone else go all in… and rake in the biggest pot of the night.  It’s time for the Reds to jettison their tired baseball mentality and go big.  Really go all in and prepare the man with the golden gun to be a factor in October and beyond.  To be the next Justin Verlander, if that’s who he is.  Or the first Aroldis Chapman.

“What I am saying is that we have now what we have always needed.  And there’s no limit to where we can go from here.”

— Hyman Roth to Michael Corleone

Is there anybody who can make Walt Jocketty an offer he can’t refuse?