The Cincinnati Reds shipped out Aroldis Chapman on Monday (to someone, somewhere), in the process emptying the last remnants of respectability from a 2015 bullpen that, even with him, posted the 3rd worst FIP among all National League bullpens last year. Chapman's 1.94 mark ranked as the 5th best in all of baseball last year among the 210 pitchers who threw at least 30 innings, and while FIP isn't the end-all, be-all of pitching statistics, it's one that generally is more important in judging relievers in tight spots than it is to starters stretched over a pile of innings.
Of those 210 qualified names, Manny Parra checked in as the next best Reds reliever all the way down at 63rd, and he's now a free agent. Next came the recently non-tendered Ryan Mattheus at 106th, Burke Badenhop (who didn't have his option picked up by the Reds) at 127th, before Jumbo Diaz finally checked in at 135th - his 3.80 FIP marking the best among those still on the Reds roster heading into the 2016 season.
(It's probably worth noting that Diaz, who will be 32 years old in February, made the first Opening Day roster of his career just last year.)
So, if you want to use FIP in your search for the next Cincinnati Reds closer, you'll land at the feet of Diaz, although without a thorough ringing endorsement. In many ways, though, Diaz does profile as the kind of hurler most associated with 9th inning roles. He owns a classic intimidating frame, a fastball that can touch 100 mph, and a fastball/slider/splitter repertoire that helped lead to a 10.44 K/9 in his 60.1 IP last year, all of which fit the mold of what the Reds have historically wanted as the anchor of their most successful bullpens. On the flip side, however, he's only got 95.1 career big league innings under his belt, and he's the owner of just 1 save against 5 blown saves in his career, hardly the kind of dependability that makes him an obvious choice to climb to the top of the team's relief ladder.
If FIP isn't your thing, you'll stumble next into JJ Hoover, the Reds' first year arb-eligible workhorse who has been the primary right-handed setup man in the pen for much of the last three seasons. In those, Hoover owns a respectable 3.54 ERA in 193 IP, but a troublesome 4.1 BB/9 in that span draws into question whether bouts of control problems really make him suited for a 9th inning role. That sample also includes stretches of brilliance - he's twice put together lengthy scoreless innings streaks - sandwiched around a 2014 season that was largely awful. It's likely that two things stand in the way of a direct promotion to the closer's spot for Hoover, however. For one, he's been a healthy innings-eater, and with a youthful rotation that will struggle to go deep into games, he may be needed earlier as a bridge to get the few games in which the rebuilding Reds have a lead to the 9th inning in the first place. Second - and perhaps more important - his K/9 dropped from 10.77 to 7.27 from 2014 to 2015, and if an extreme fly-ball pitcher isn't missing bats, it's hard to think he'd be a seamless fit in the closer's role without showing his strikeout ability is back in some fashion.
Beyond Hoover and Diaz, the Reds' current roster options get murkier. Tony Cingrani will likely get a look (since it appears his starting days with the club are over), but an inability to keep his shoulder healthy and a dearth of lefty relievers on the roster may see him stuck in a more middle relief role. Both Brandon Finnegan and Michael Lorenzen have relief experience (both at the major league level and in college), but considering their still-developing statuses as potential starting pitchers (and options to burn), it's hard to envision the Reds pigeon-holing them into the back of the bullpen already.
Of course, with the money the Reds have unloaded from their payroll with the departures of Chapman, Mike Leake, Mat Latos, Marlon Byrd, and Johnny Cueto over the last calendar year, they could conceivably jump into the free agent relief market to augment their pitching. Free agent relievers with previous closing experience currently out there include the likes of John Axford, Rafael Betancourt, Jonathan Broxton, Steve Cishek, Tyler Clippard, Ernesto Frieri, Jason Motte, Joe Nathan, and Fernando Rodney, and the Reds certainly could put go get one as a one-year figurehead until they get a chance to see another year of development among the young arms on the staff. In fact, that's likely the route I think they'll take, since there's bound to be a fit among those that falls to them at a reasonable price later this off-season. That'll buy them another year to see if Cingrani can stay healthy, if Lorenzen/Finnegan show what it takes to stick as starters, or if prospect Zack Weiss - he of 25 saves at Double-A Pensacola in 2015 - can take the reigns as the next great closer in Cincinnati for the long run.
The Reds are going to lose close to 100 games in 2016, which means they've bought themselves a year to let things shake out. With the closer's role now open, they've got one more spot to do some experimenting.