I remember watching Yonder Alonso rumble around the Left Field corner at Wrigley, desperately trying to chase down what should've been no more than a double down the line. As Tony Campana rounded first, Alonso looked like a cat chasing a laser pointer, albeit a cat chasing a laser pointer as viewed in 1/4 time. He whiffed on fielding the ball, he ran shoulder first into the wall, and the ball rolled meagerly to the ivy covered Left Field fence. By the time Yonder recovered, Campana had rounded third base and was strolling across the plate.
In the grand scheme of things, we knew that Alonso was never really cut out to be a LF. His footspeed, his route running, and his ability to control space were all in question, and he'd never even truly mastered playing 1B, either. But Joey Votto was at 1B, Alonso was our top hitting prospect, and there had to be a way to be creative about getting his bat in the lineup. Yes, watching Yonder play LF was painful, and yes, he failed at it...but the Reds tried it. They got creative.
They didn't assume something was impossible until they saw it themselves (and they managed to get a .943 OPS out of Alonso in 98 PA that they, and the Padres, otherwise wouldn't have seen).
In the first real similar situation since, it appears (on the surface, at least) that the Reds are going to bypass being creative in favor of not fixing what isn't broken. According to venerable, esteemed journalist Paul Daugherty, the Reds will announce today that Chapman will not start the season as a starting pitcher and will return to a similar role to his 2012 one.
While I've consistently advocated that Chapman should get the chance to be a starting pitcher, I'm not at all angry that he's apparently going to be a reliever in 2013. What I have constantly lobbied for, however, is that he be given the chance. In the city that has a longer baseball history than any other, there has never been a pitcher as talented here than Aroldis Chapman, and to not find out first hand whether he can be an effective starter is crazy. It's just crazy. It's not about his future arbitration hearings, it's not about the $30 million the Reds guaranteed to pay him, and it's not about the current roster structure; it's about a 6'4" left handed pitcher who can throw a baseball 105 mph, and it's about refusing to pigeonhole him as something that's been seen before.
So, I'm frustrated. Roughly half of all of those who read this will be frustrated, too. It's a bummer that we may never find out what he could be (like, for instance, a Cy Young Award winner in a Reds uniform...something that's never happened.)
There are a few silver linings and caveats, of course. Though the Reds shelled out a 3 year, $21 million dollar contract to Jonathan Broxton this offseason, it's not as if that will cripple the budget. Based on the nature of their contracts, Broxton and Chapman will combine to make about $7.5 million total in 2013, which is significantly less than what many teams currently pay their top two relievers. Also, there's the knowledge that Chapman's spectacular 2012 season came on the heels of him spending his offseason and Spring training working out as a starter and not as a reliever; perhaps this whole spectacle was some sort of ruse to have him in the same shape as last season.
There's also the chance that this isn't anywhere close to the end of the Chapman-to-the-rotation saga. While the Reds were extremely fortunate to keep all five starting pitchers healthy in 2012, that's much more the exception than the rule. Should one of them fall prey to the injury bug this season, perhaps it's Chapman that gets the nod to step in. It wouldn't shock me to see him used early in 2013 the way he was early in 2012, often pitching 2 innings at a time, and if that's the case, transitioning him to the rotation from the bullpen mid-season (a la Kris Medlen) would have him available for late in the season and/or playoffs, perhaps (not a-la Stephen Strasburg).
One thing is for certain: the Reds are better at doing this than I am, and they're better at this than you are. Maybe they want Chapman as a starting pitcher but they realize that right now isn't the best time to shake things up. Bronson Arroyo will likely be gone after this season, and that will leave a Saturn Nuts sized hole in the rotation for 2014 with realistically only Tony Cingrani, Daniel Corcino, and Chapman as viable in-house options to fill the spot. Perhaps keeping Chapman in the bullpen on a stacked, stacked team for one more season is the prudent move and opening up competition for the 2014 rotation is a much better spot. Perhaps.
Regardless of their reasoning and explanations, the Reds are truly in a win-win situation here, and regardless of whether or not they kept Reds fans as informed as we'd have liked, they know what they're doing, and they know what they've got: the best Cincinnati Reds team of this generation with the most talented left hander in the National League. Gripe about details if you must, but that's a damn good hand to hold.