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Cactus League Week 3: Of Maddogs and Ligaments

Reeling from the Madson injury, AC may need to switch over to Direct Current to give the Reds the jolt they need.
Reeling from the Madson injury, AC may need to switch over to Direct Current to give the Reds the jolt they need.

Cuts today: RHP Andrew Brackman, OF Denis Phipps, and INF Chris Valaika were optioned to AAA Louisville. RHP Carlos Fisher, LHP Ron Mahay, LHP Clayton Tanner, RHP Kanekoa Texeira, LHP Clay Zavada were reassigned to minor league camp. The roster stands at 33.

Ryan Madson's elbow injury, which will sideline him for the season following Tommy John surgery, is an ugly little pile of worst case scenarios. For the Reds, it means they'll get nothing for signing Madson to a steal of a one-year deal. The Counterfactual Closer had yet even to throw a pitch in a spring training game. I can't imagine how frustrating, maybe even scary, it must be for Madson.

Despite Jim Bowden's efforts (he deleted the tweet) to blame this on due dilligence failure (when have the Reds ever had too few MRIs?) it's just one of those curve balls the Reds have to take on the chin. MRIs are capable of detecting ligament tears, but most UCL tears sustained by pitchers are from gradual fraying of the tendon. Even if the Reds had done an MRI (I'm not sure if they did or not), it would have been highly subjective guesswork by a radiologist. All of that is probably beside the point, since it's reported to be a very recent tear.

Madson does have an $11M mutual option for 2013. He may consider reaching for that safety valve - which was previously just a thin veneer over a $2.5M buyout. Whether the Reds would or not is another thing, but if they find themselves in an improved financial situation after 2012, it's not out of the question. The team would get their bullpen of Madson and Marshall, one year deferred and for a season (2013) in which it was originally a good bet both would be gone.

There are a few other silver linings. Once again, Sean Marshall. It's not been announced that he's the closer. But who else would you rather put there? Lefty or not, he was arguably the best reliever in the bullpen before Madson was injured. As our friend andromache astutely points out over a C-ing Reds, there's plenty of precedent for dominating lefty closers.

Marshall pitches better against lefties - but not by a ton - and has been dominating over the last two seasons against most any kind of hitter. He faced lefties 2/3 of the time in 2011 as a Cub, which is only around 5% less than the mix you'd expect, given the number of left-handed hitters in the league. There's every reason to think, especially pitching in the same division, that Marshall's skills will translate to being a closer. The main concern is an absurdly low HR-to-fly-ball rate that will have to creep up at least a little at GABP. Or really anywhere that math is used.

What else from the bright side? Perusing the list of MLB injuries, the Reds have made out OK in comparison. Madson is a doozy, but if Bray can be ready for Opening Day, they'll have gotten through spring with only one injury to a player on the projected Opening Day roster. This is a stretch for the positive, but there's a lot of stretching in spring. If I had my way, it would be all stretching and very little else.

There's no denying that Madson's injury makes the Reds worse in 2012. But by how much? The Reds' biggest problem right now is depth. Say you're on-board with sticking Chapman back in the bullpen. A compelling argument could be made that the bullpen is just as good with Marshall closing and Chapman setting up than it would have been with Madson closing and Chapman in Louisville.

Chapman, who is projected as a reliever in most systems, has his worst projected ERA 0.70 above Madson's best. Over 60 IP that's a little less than 5 run difference. This is very crude, back-of-envelop math that ignores leverage, but I think we're talking no worse than a half-win swing.

It would be a bigger drop-off to add a pitcher like Josh Judy (who's already been cut anyway), especially because everyone else moves up the chain rather than slotting them in Marshall's set-up role. So there's something to recommend using Chapman. Using Jeff Francis in Marshall's role, or even as the long-man, would be another way to go. He's held LHB to a .711 OPS lifetime. Francis doesn't need polish, so he could arguably still be spot-starter option from the bullpen.

The more important issue, beyond optimizing the bullpen, is keeping depth. The opportunity cost of using Chapman in the bullpen is much-needed starter depth. Assuming Francis makes good on his promise to go to AAA or ends up in the bullpen, there's a vast expanse of uncharted, here-be-Dragons territory after him. With as good as Chapman has looked, I'd much rather see him prepping to join the rotation.

Updated Projected Opening Day Roster

As far as position battles go, maybe my heart's not in this week to go in-depth. They have to carry Francisco unless they trade him. And I think, but don't know, that they're leaning toward Chapman rejoining the bullpen. They still have a decision to make on Chapman-Bailey-Francis.

Player Position 40 Man?
Spring IP/AB
Johnny Cueto SP Y 14.0 LOCK
Mat Latos SP Y 14.0
Bronson Arroyo
SP Y 13.0 LOCK
Mike Leake
SP Y 11.0 LOCK
Homer Bailey
SP Y 14.2 LOCK
Sean Marshall
Aroldis Chapman
RP Y 12.0 likely
Nick Masset
Billy Bray
RP Y - likely
Jose Arredondo
Logan Ondrusek RP Y 7.1 LOCK
Sam LeCure RP Y 9.2 likely
Joey Votto 1B Y 31 LOCK
Brandon Phillips 2B Y 38 LOCK
Zach Cozart SS Y 38 LOCK
Scott Rolen 3B Y 30 LOCK
Miguel Cairo IF Y 29 LOCK
Juan Francisco 1B/3B Y 36
Wilson Valdez
Jay Bruce RF Y 34 LOCK
Drew Stubbs CF Y 32 LOCK
Ryan Ludwick OF Y 36 LOCK
Chris Heisey OF Y 38 likely
Ryan Hanigan C Y 30 LOCK
Devin Mesoraco C Y 28 LOCK