Broxton Came to Reds at Trade Deadline This Year
The Cincinnati pitching staff had an excellent 2012 and tied for the lowest ERA in the NL despite playing in one of the more hitter-friendly venues. A solid starting rotation was a huge part of that and the Reds' signing of Jonathan Broxton hints that they are looking to improve it even more in 2013 by converting closer Aroldis Chapman into a starter.
Cincinnati will keep veteran reliever Johnathan Broxton in a Reds uniform by signing him to a three year deal. Broxton came to the team right before the trading deadline this season in exchange for minor league pitchers Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulburan. In 25 appearances for the Redlegs he kept an ERA under three with a K/BB ratio of 20/3 and 1.03 WHIP across 22 innings. He also recorded four saves while taking over closing duties late in the season when the Aroldis Chapman was temporarily put on the shelf to address concerns of shoulder fatigue. His overall 2012 had a 2.48 ERA over 60 games for two teams. Before coming to the Reds he saved 25 games for the Royals while blowing four. After the trade he blew two saves and lost two decisions while recording a combined 15 holds/saves/wins.
The signing fuels ongoing speculation that Chapman will be moved into the Cincinnati rotation next season. That move might have been tried before 2012 had the Reds not suffered multiple injuries to their bullpen before opening day. Closing has been somewhat of an enigma for the team over the past few seasons. They shelled out $45M over four seasons to Francisco Cordero after signing him as a free agent in 2007. He earned an All Star selection in 2009 but wasn’t as reliable the next couple of years prompting his team to let him walk after completion of the contract. The Reds thought they had a capable replacement last year with another free agent, Ryan Madson, only to pay the ex-Phillie for a year on the DL after Tommy John surgery. Once Chapman was moved into the role he became a dominant closer and received his first all-star selection.
The 28 year-old Broxton was a top¬-notch closer in his heyday with the Dodgers. Arm problems caused his ERA to balloon up over four in 2010 and he made only fourteen appearances for them the next season. Uncertainties over his health limited his marketability as a free agent before the Royals inked him to a one-year deal last year. Reds trainers must have felt confident those ailments were behind him before they committed $20 million over the next three seasons with a team option for 2016 of another $9 million with a $1 million buyout.
Meanwhile speculation on Chapman has been for an eventual move into the rotation since the Reds took a gamble and signed the Cuban refugee to a six-year deal right before his 22nd birthday three years ago. He struggled with control early as many young power pitchers do. Last year he improved command and routinely overpowered hitters with his triple digit fastball mixed with a 90 mph slider. Even though he was solid as a closer it’s not surprising that many Reds fans would prefer to see his abilities utilized over more innings. Often he has looked capable of dominating in any role.
The Reds rotation in 2012 was solid and remarkably none of the opening day quintet missed a start all season. It would be tough for any pitcher to crack that group in 2013, but then again not just any pitcher has stuff like Chapman. If the experiment is successful it could mean bad news for the rest of the NL. 26 year-old Johnny Cueto has been among the NL ERA leaders the past couple of seasons despite pitching in one of the more hitter-friendly venues. Last year’s big deal returned Mat Latos from the Padres who overcame a poor April and provided a second ace during the pennant stretch. Depending on how well he adjusts to his new role (if converted) Chapman has the potential to be another Cy Young contender.
Recent signings might be surprising to someone who has followed GM Walt Jocketty’s career. During a successful run at St. Louis he enjoyed a solid job from a couple of unlikely closers who came at a discount. Jason Isringhausen was a highly-rated prospect when he broke into the league before the Mets gave up on him as a starter. He saved his career by pitching well out of Oakland’s bullpen and earned less than $3 million in 2002, his first of seven seasons with the Cardinals. Duties were later taken over by Ryan Franklin who the Reds allowed to leave via free agency in 2006 and never made more than $3.25M in a season. Both made all-star appearances. Many believe that pitching coach Dave Duncan had a knack for helping players on their way out of the league to salvage their careers and become effective pitchers. If so, then now that he no longer has Duncan to rehabilitate a closer Jocketty has shown that he will reach into his team’s pocket for one.
Actually, the Reds will be getting Broxton’s services in 2013 right at market value for a veteran. The sixteen pitchers that led N.L. teams in saves in 2012 had salaries from $490k to $11M. The $4M that Broxton is scheduled to get next season is around both the average ($4.375M) and the median ($4.05M) of that range. Carlos Marmol at $7M (Broxton’s 2014 salary) is fourth on the list and $9M (Broxton in 2015) would have rated third behind Jonathan Paplebon and Brett Myers who led the Astros in saves despite finishing the season in the AL.
The Reds have most of the personnel from a 97-win campaign still under contract. Their goal is a championship in 2013, but since the Cincinnati market is small there is some thought that their contender status has a shelf life. If that be the case it’s clear that the front office doesn’t want to compromise it by blowing ninth inning leads. Not many expect Broxton to return to the form of his earlier years in LA. If he takes over as closer then how much of that form he can exhibit over the next few seasons will determine the effectiveness of the Reds’ investment at preventing that compromise from happening.