Spring Training isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t as dramatic as it was years ago.
There was genuine competition for jobs, rotations were being established, and many times this lasted into the last week of spring training. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not to say it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t happen anymore; itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just that with long term contracts and the salary structure of the game, it is harder for the hot-shot prospect to make an impact during the spring.
The 2013 Reds are pretty well set, and they are in a good position. The Reds are the sexy, trendy pick this year, a fact not lost on Cincinnati fans who have felt ignored for the better part of two decades. The Cardinals are still a threat but MilwaukeeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pitching staff is suspect, the Pirates are still looking to finish above .500, the Cubs are still the Cubs and the Astros have been pawned off to the American League.
Expectations are running high. We all know that. Right or wrong, nothing less than a division title and a playoff run is not going to be good enough.
But even for the 2013 Reds, there are some concerns. Some non-concerns. And one question that is dominating Goodyear, Arizona, Cincinnati and Kabul, Afghanistan.
The concerns: (1) Can Todd Frazier build upon or sustain his successful 2012 rookie season? Was his September slump just that— a slump? Or is it something we will see more of in 2013?
(2) Can the wildly successful starting rotation (Cueto-Latos-Homer-Arroyo-Leake or Chapman) stay intact for another year? If injuries crop up, can the few but promising starting pitchers targeted for Triple A emerge and step up?
The non-concerns: (1) Joey. If heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s healthy, the numbers will be there. If he plays at the Joey Votto July 2010 level, the MVP numbers will be there. It was one of the best months by a Reds player since Eric Davis in May 1987 when Eric the Red was the best player in baseball.
(2) Shin-Soo ChooÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ability to play centerfield. The Reds brass will know in two weeks if he can or if he canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. More importantly, so will Marty and the Cowboy. They call it as they see it. Drew Stubbs drove Reds fans crazy with his combination of speed and inability to make contact but there was always a comfort level seeing him in centerfield. If I felt that in the stands, you can bet Reds pitchers felt that on the mound.
(3) Bronson is 36 years old. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a crafty veteran. His numbers for innings pitched and starts per season are among the best in baseball the last three years. Barring an injury, his numbers wll be consistent. (I still feel heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a strong candidate for the Reds Hall of Fame.)
The Big Question: Aroldis Chapman. What do the Reds do with this guy?
The case for starting Chapman: ChapmanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s salary demands that he starts. He has the potential to easily be a #1 or #2 starter. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s only 25 years old. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the guy you want starting Game 5 against SF. Closers convert 93% of save chances with a one-run lead in the 9th inning, say the Sabermetric Boys. When the Reds were swept by the Phillies in 2010, the Reds closer never got in a game. In 2012, the Reds lost in 5 and Aroldis, outside of a shaky save in Game 1, wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t a factor.
The case against starting Chapman: he only pitched 70 innings last year. He canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t pitch more than 150 this year. His speed will inevitably come down. No more Mr. 106. Do we want a Strasburg Redux this year in Cincinnati, when your team makes the playoffs but enters post season play without its best damn pitcher and loses in seven games to the damn Cardinals?
Reds fans seem to feel Chapman should start. Dusty seems to be hedging on this.
HereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s my take, for what itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worth.
I love a dominating closer and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what Chapman was in 2012. If itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not broke, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fix it. I loved the combination of setup guys Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall and the Cuban Missile, It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the Nasty Boys but they were close. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not giving up on Mike Leake yet, despite Game 4 against SF last year.
If Reds pitching coach Bryan Price can guarantee me Aroldis Chapman starting postseason games in 2013 -Ã¢â‚¬â€ if the Reds get that far — IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m all for it. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to call for some creative thinking or at least keeping Chapman in the bullpen to start off the season.
I thought the Nationals were nuts in shutting down Strasburg last year. But maybe thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also because the Cardinals wound up knocking them out of the playoffs, too.