Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
While the Atlanta Braves were emptying out their wallets for outfielder B.J. Upton, the Cincinnati Reds swooped in and grabbed closer Jonathan Broxton.
At first glance, it would appear that Upton is the bigger free agent signing. After all, he got a five-year deal worth $75.25 million, while Broxton's pact is only for three years at $21 million.
But if you examine it a bit closer you'll find that Broxton's contract is actually a much bigger deal. That's because it forces left-hander Aroldis Chapman, arguably the most dominant closer in the sport a season ago, into the Reds' starting rotation.
Reds general manager Walt Jocketty told Chapman as soon as the season was over to prepare like a starter, so apparently this was Cincinnati's plan all along.
In theory, moving Chapman into the rotation makes plenty of sense. Chapman's bat-breaking 100 mph fastball made hitters look silly last season so it seems like a no-brainer to have him pitch seven innings a night instead of just one. Pitching 200 innings for a season instead of 70 would also give the Reds a lot more bang for their buck (remember, Chapman is entering the fourth year of a six-year, $30.25 million contract). At age 24, this is probably the perfect time to convert Chapman into a starter and begin grooming him for his future role as the team ace.
Unfortunately for the Reds, it's not that simple. Throwing 100 pitches a night after averaging only 16.85 per game for your entire big league career is quite an adjustment. Several pitchers have made the switch from reliever to starter over the past few seasons, but very few have been able to enjoy long-term success.
Take Boston's Daniel Bard for example. After trading for closer Andrew Bailey in the offseason, the Red Sox thought Bard could be better utilized as a member of the starting rotation. The experiment lasted just 10 starts before Bard (4-6 with a 5.30 ERA as a starter) was sent down to Triple-A.
Bard returned to the big leagues later in the season, but it was clear he wasn't pitching with the same confidence as before. He struggled to an 18.69 ERA the rest of the way in six relief appearances. Now, one wonders if Bard will even make the team in 2013.
Neftali Feliz, a top-tier closer for Texas earlier in his career, actually pitched fairly well after the Rangers converted him to a starter at the beginning of the 2012 season. He boasted a 3-1 record and a 3.02 ERA in his first seven starts.
But that's when things began to go downhill. Feliz, not used to such a heavy workload, blew out his throwing elbow in May and before long he was on the operating table getting Tommy John surgery. The Rangers don't expect him to be back until late in the 2013 season.
Most pitchers who make the leap from the bullpen to the rotation experience at least some level of fatigue. Even Chris Sale, the most successful reliever turned starter we've seen over the past few years, tired late in the 2012 season.
After dominating opposing batters for a 10-2 record and a 2.19 ERA during the first half, the White Sox left-hander became much more hittable after the All- Star break. He finished the second half with a 7-6 record and a 4.03 ERA. Hitters collected a .274 average against him in the second half compared to .198 before the break.
This transition could be particularly challenging for Chapman given his durability issues in the past. Though Chapman was able to make 68 appearances out of the Cincinnati bullpen in 2012, he witnessed a sharp drop in his velocity late in the season and had to take a two-week break in September to give his arm a rest. That shouldn't give the Reds a whole lot of confidence heading into Chapman's first season as a major league starting pitcher.
Believe it or not, this won't be Chapman's first go-round as a starter. Chapman began Spring Training as a starter in 2012 before an injury to reliever Ryan Madson sent him back to the bullpen. He was also used as a starter in the minor leagues, but was eventually moved to the bullpen again because he was having control issues. In 14 starts in the minors, Chapman was 5-5 with 79 strikeouts and 43 walks in 68 2/3 innings of work. His ERA over that span was 3.93.
If Chapman wasn't good enough to hold down a spot in a Triple-A starting rotation, what makes the Reds think he'll do any better in the major leagues?
Chapman's greatest strength is his velocity. As a closer, he can come in for one inning and let it all hang out. As a starter, Chapman would have to pace himself and wouldn't be able to throw nearly as hard.
What's the point of having a 100 mph fastball if you're not allowed to use it? As Justin Timberlake famously said in Aaron Sorkin's "The Social Network," that's like throwing the greatest party on campus and saying it has to be over by 11.
I say this all the time in my articles because it's true: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The Reds were fourth in the majors in ERA last season and only three teams recorded more quality starts. Their starting rotation is already good. They don't need this.
And is Broxton really the solution? We already know Chapman is an elite closer (38 saves, 1.51 ERA). The jury is still out on Broxton. Before his surprisingly effective 2012 season (27 saves, career-best 2.48 ERA) Broxton was a disaster pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers (4.32 ERA with eight blown saves between 2010-11) and was lucky to have a spot on a big league roster.
As a closer, Chapman was one of the game's best. As a starter, he's far from a sure thing. Tread carefully, fantasy owners.