Three outs in an early August game shouldn't normally mean much of anything in the grand scheme, not for any baseball team in any year. You certainly wouldn't expect them to be of any real importance to a team when they came in a victory that lifted them back to being just 20 games under the .500 mark.
The Bottom of the 9th inning from yesterday's win over the St. Louis Cardinals for the Cincinnati Reds just might be different, however, since it provided just the kind of platform for making Raisel Iglesias the team's closer, something both he and manager Bryan Price spoke of immediately after the win.
"I feel really proud because I’ve waited for this moment, this is what I’ve wanted to be on the team, this is what I want to do," Iglesias said of the save according to translator Julio Morillo. "I want to be the closer. I feel proud of myself, I feel as proud as when they told me I was going to be the Opening Day starter. I feel really, really happy right now."
As C. Trent Rosecrans covered in his recap for The Enquirer, Price echoed that comfort level, noting that keeping him at the back end of the bullpen beyond just this injury shortened year is something he and the team's front office are going to seriously consider. The timing couldn't have come at a more appropriate time for such an assertion, really, as just a day before Tony Cingrani and Ross Ohlendorf - the twin 9th inning guys for now who have struggled mightily with the role since J.J. Hoover's demotion - had blown a 4 run lead and cost the team a win after a great start by rookie Cody Reed. And now a lot of you are ready to throw your computers off the roof.
It's hard to see the potential transition of Iglesias to a full-time back of the bullpen arm, a closer instead of the lock-down ace of the rotation we've seen glimpses of for two years now. You're Reds fans, and you're going to have a nearly impossible time eschewing the memory of Aroldis Chapman being pigeon-holed into the closer's role after signing a similarly lucrative deal to Iglesias' after also defecting from Cuba. Yes, it's hard to ignore the parallels, and it's easy to have preemptive FOMO based on the many 'what could have been' questions you asked routinely during Chapman's tenure with the Reds.
The two scenarios have quite different backdrops, however, and the details are worth bringing back to the front of your brain.
Back in 2010, Chapman burst onto the scene with an August 31st call-up in his rookie season, as the 22 year old had spent the bulk of the year in AAA doing a mixture of starting and relieving after a good bit of time off following his high profile defection from the Cuban National Team and stint, at times, in Andorra. He electrified from the bullpen, pitched in the team's first stint in the playoffs in 15 years, and broke camp with the big league squad in 2011 as the team's primary setup man in front of closer Francisco Cordero. He spun 12 consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run to begin the season before losing all command and being sent back to Louisville, but he returned to the Reds in late June to finish the year with a 3.60 ERA in 54 big league appearances.
Though he'd obviously been used exclusively as a reliever at the MLB level through his first two years with the Reds, they still had hopes that he could be an electric starting pitcher, and that's exactly what they intended for him to be as they prepped for the 2012 season. As Cactus League play began that year, that's exactly what happened, as he followed a rust-dusting 2.0 IP from the bullpen in his debut with four consecutive games started, including a sparkling 5 inning gem against the San Diego Padres that the Red Reporter contingent was in the crowd watching.
That start came on March 24th, the very same day in which the Reds discovered that the man they'd signed for $8.5 million guaranteed to replace Cordero as closer - Ryan Madson - had destroyed his UCL and was set to miss the entire 2012 season.
Before we get to how the current Reds would be impacted by Iglesias moving to the closer's role, it's worth a quick deep breath and perspective check. With a week to go before the 2012 season began, the team lost their new closer. They'd lost their old closer months before thanks to him reaching free agency. Despite the fact that Chapman had dazzled with a 2.12 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and more strikeouts (18) than innings pitched (17) that spring, he also was the pitcher from the previous two years of bullpen with the most dominant stuff from the role next in line of "importance" to the closer, the 8th inning man. And though the 2011 season had not gone nearly as the team had hoped after the great breakout of 2010, the team had just traded serious prospect assets to acquire Mat Latos and was primed to win games by the bushel in the upcoming season.
The 2017 Reds don't appear to be on the verge of replicating what the 2012 Reds were primed to be, and that's just one way in which Iglesias' situation is vastly different than that of Chapman's at that time. Another serious difference is that the injury that prompted Chapman's move to the closer role wasn't his own, unlike the shoulder issues that have drawn into question Iglesias' ability to hold up as a starting pitcher for the long haul. And, of course there's the most obvious difference: though Chapman started exactly zero of the 324 games in which he appeared for Cincinnati, we've actually seen Raisel start 21 brilliant games for the Reds over the last two seasons.
We've also seen Raisel's usage require him to be shut down no fewer than three times due to shoulder fatigue, something that the Reds are weighing with precision when it comes to charting his future course with the team. With upwards of $20 million still guaranteed on his contract - with the potential for more should he opt for arbitration instead of the already listed salaries - the Reds aren't just managing him as if he's the usual pre-arb player, they're forced to manage him like he's got the third most guaranteed money due to him of any player on the current roster. If they feel that what he's shown as a reliever - the 27.2 IP and 0.65 ERA have been devastatingly beautiful - can satisfactorily account for the money he's owed while decidedly limiting the chances his shoulder fails him again, it's a decision they just might have to make. In Price's own words, it seems like one they're inching closer to making already.
Though he's undoubtedly shown the highest ceiling of the current crop of potential Reds starters, the other half of this equation is that there are ample arms who can also fill those roles. Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey look poised to anchor the top of the rotation, and the army of Brandon Finnegan, Dan Straily, Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, and others seem fit to fill in the rest. It's that glut that allowed the easy decision to move Tony Cingrani and Michael Lorenzen from starting roles to bullpen cogs, and it's the same one that will allow them to make the decision on Iglesias with kid gloves, too.
The only real caveat left, I suppose, is what a team that's going to flirt with 100 losses this year and doesn't exactly have the rosiest outlook for 2017 really needs with a dedicated closer, much less one with that much money still owed to him. It's the somewhat the same premise for why they traded Chapman when they did in that regard. Perhaps, though, putting together a bullpen that looks that rock-solid at the back is the first step in the front office's belief that winning games really could become the reality sooner than later, and that prepping all parties involved for a run in 2018 is exactly what should happen for the next 1.5 years regardless of record.
The Reds were one of the few, if not only team that like Iglesias as a starter when he was signed out of Cuba back in 2013. Though a move to the closer's role would suggest that original vision was more pie in the sky than reality, it doesn't mean the signing was a complete failure if he continues to be one of the most dominant relievers in all of baseball. It would be backing into a bit of fortune, sure, but no fortune is a bad fortune in Major League Baseball.