One of the more striking additions to the roster came in the trade of young starter Travis Wood, outfielder Dave Sappelt and a minor league infielder Ronald Torreyes to the Chicago Cubs in return for setup man Sean Marshall.
Cincinnati had already signed Madson to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2013. Madson replaced previous closer Francisco Cordero for just over half the salary Cordero commanded in 2011, due to some expert play by Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty.
This season Marshall will serve as part of an excellent late inning duo with Madson. With Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman potentially moving to the starting rotation Marshall will have lone control of the setup job.
After 2012, Cincinnati will ostensibly seek a new closer if they cannot re-sign Madson to an affordable deal. Chapman could remain an option assuming his conversion to starter falls through.
With news that Cincinnati is nearing an extension with Marshall and should have a deal completed prior to the beginning of spring training games, the question arises of whether the club is signing Marshall to be a long-term setup man or possibly as the team's closer after the 2012 season.
Marshall burst onto the scene in 2006 with Chicago, and over the next two seasons he started 43 games with mixed results. After 2007, Marshall moved into a long relief-type role with a spot start here and there, posting 16 starts in 89 appearances between 2008 and 2009.
In the 2010 season, Marshall found his niche as a major league pitcher with a move to the back-end of the bullpen. Between 2010 and 2011 Marshall posted consecutive ERAs below 3.00 with 169 strikeouts in just over 150 innings.
Over these two seasons Marshall accumulated six saves and 56 holds. He walked only 42 batters in these two seasons, making for an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio.
As a reliever, Marshall has put up impressive WHIP numbers in consecutive seasons to go along with excellent opponents' batting averages. Additionally Marshall's ground-ball percentages were 52.2 and 57.5 over the past two seasons respectively, which bodes well for a pitcher in homer-happy Great American Ballpark.
He has a repertoire that includes both a curveball and slider, which allows for success against both right-handed and left-handed hitters. In 2011, left-handed hitters only batted .202 against Marshall while right-handed hitters fared better at a respectable .243.
In 2010, Marshall held lefties to an amazing .192 clip while righties fared little better at .216. Over his career the splits are larger, yet since converting to a reliever Marshall has dominated hitters on both sides of the plate.
Over the past two seasons, Marshall has accumulated a 5.0 WAR to accompany respectable strikeout, walk, home run and ground-ball rates—all the marks of a top-notch reliever. If Marshall can duplicate these statistics in 2012, the 30-year-old lefty could throw himself into the conversation for closer.
With speculation that Madson's mutual option for 2013 may not be picked up by Cincinnati, a hole at closer could open up once again following the 2012 season. Marshall has the stuff to make an impression as a closer at the major league level, and this upcoming season he just may have the chance to show Cincinnati that he deserves the job for future seasons.