CINCINNATI - After much speculation, the Cincinnati Reds finally decided that flamethrower Aroldis Chapman will return to the closer role for the 2013 season.
Reds manager Dusty Baker and general manager Walt Jocketty revealed their choice before a Friday Spring Training game.
"Like last year, it was a tough decision, but I think we felt what gave us the best opportunity as an organization to win this year would be to leave the rotation as is," Jocketty told Reds.com reporter Mark Sheldon. "We had four guys that pitched 200 innings. Hopefully we can do that again. We have another guy who is capable of pitching 200 innings in Leake. That's a very strong rotation."
Chapman had a 1.86 ERA in five games, including two starts, during Spring Training.
Baker told reporters the decision shouldn't come as a surprise given Chapman's performance in the role this past.
"It's not like he didn't have success," Baker said. "This guy was an All-Star."
Chapman, 25, went through last season's Spring Training preparing to be in the starting rotation, but was moved back to the bullpen due to a series of injuries early in the season.
After being named the closer May 20, he went 5-5 with a 1.51 ERA and 38 saves in 43 attempts. In his 68 total appearances and 71 2/3 innings, Chapman had 23 walks and used a 100 mph-plus fastball to notch 122 strikeouts.
"Over the course of the season when he went into the bullpen he was as dominant as ever, and I still don't really think he's touched his potential," Reds pitching coach Bryan Price said of Chapman.
The organization has pondered what to do with Chapman since he agreed to a six-year, $30.25 million contract in 2010 after defecting from Cuba.
"He's not a guy that you signed for as much as you did out of Cuba and turn him into a bullpen guy," Homer Bailey said of Chapman.
It seemed as though the Reds had made the decision to move him into the starting rotation after the 2012 season when they re-signed longtime closer Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21 million deal in November.
However, Chapman made it known that he would prefer to move back to closing.
While Jocketty made it known that players do not have the pull to tell the organization where they'll play, both he and Baker reiterated that they want their players to feel comfortable in the role they're filling.
"It certainly is a factor because he's comfortable in that role and had success in that role," Jocketty said.
Baker told reporters that Chapman will be the primary closer and Broxton will return to setup spot. Baker said Broxton will have spot opportunities to earn saves this season.
"On the days [Chapman] can't pitch, we'll have Broxton [close]," Baker said. "It's no different from last year. We're going to limit [Chapman's] consecutive days just like we did last year."
But the decision wasn't unanimous, or sound by any means.
"We know he's our best closer, could he be our best starter? We don't know," Baker continued.
And his teammates were just as torn.
"I'm glad I don't have to make that decision," Jay Bruce commented on the choice. "When you have someone who's so good at what they're doing. It's hard to justify taking him out of that spot."
"[Starting] would be different for him in terms of his mechanics," Ryan Hanigan said of Chapman. "For 100-110 pitches rather than 15 or 20, that's obviously a challenge."
One thing is true: Despite how good Chapman has been, Price says he hasn't reached what he can be.
"I think he has room to grow, I don't think we know yet if he could be one of the better closers in the game or if he could be a 200-inning shut down starter," Price said. "Wouldn't that look good in our rotation to add that to what we already have? As far as his development goes, one thing I do know: He needs to pitch. He needs to pitch more than one inning every two or three times a week and there's no doubt about it he's going to reach his potential."