On Dec. 23, 2011, the Cincinnati Reds traded for Sean Marshall, and it just didn’t make sense.
The lefty relief pitcher only had one year left on his contract, and seemed poised to eventually parlay his success into a profitable free-agent deal. Not to mention, the Reds were already flush with talented bullpen arms, including lefty specialist Bill Bray.
And, most importantly, in order to acquire Marshall, the Reds had to send starting pitcher Travis Wood and outfielder Dave Sappelt to the Cubs, both of whom were lauded Cincinnati prospects who seemed ready to take the next step. (Wood especially, as exhibited in his near-perfect game on July 10, 2010.)
It seemed like a lot to give up for a one-year bullpen stopgap, and many of us in Reds Country were left scratching our heads.
Then, on Feb. 27, Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty showed his hand.
Marshall agreed to a three-year contract extension, pledging his services through the 2015 season, and immediately the conjecture began to surge.
Because even though closer Ryan Madson was signed to a one-year deal in January, it suddenly seemed likely that the Marshall move was made with an eye on the future; a future where the Reds could enjoy the services of a shutdown reliever in 2013 and beyond for the price of a set-up man. Marshall, it seemed, was was the closer in-waiting.
Suddenly, the trade made a little more sense.
Flash-forward to Tuesday, where for about nine hours Reds fans like me sat at our desks repeatedly refreshing our Twitter accounts, waiting for Jon Heyman or Buster Olney or anyone else to announce the acquisition of Juan Pierre, Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence or a another capable bat from a team that didn’t happen to be the face-planting Phillies
Around 3:00 PM, it was reported by multiple media outlets that Jocketty had made another unexpected move for a back-end reliever, this time Jonathan Broxton of the Kansas City Royals. At the time, Broxton was 1-2 with a 2.27 ERA, and had amassed 23 saves as KC’s unquestioned closer.
Despite his good numbers (not dominant, but good) and proven track record (named an All-Star in 2009 and 2010 as a Dodger), the trade for Broxton had many Reds fans confused again.
Owners of the best bullpen ERA in all of baseball, it didn’t seem like the Reds were in need of a bullpen upgrade, especially one that required trading away an arm like Donnie Joseph, a prospect with closer-like stuff. Plus, the Reds had several other holes that needed filling.
Admittedly, the trade led me down that same path as well, at first. But it didn’t take me long to come to two very important conclusions...
First, Aroldis Chapman won’t be the Reds’ closer forever (probably). As electric as the Cuban Cannon has been, everyone from here to Peru just kind of assumes that he’ll end up in the rotation. That means we’ll need a closer, and we’ll probably need one soon.
Second, Sean Marshall was just plain mediocre in the closer’s role, after being thrust into it when Madson went under the knife in spring training.
Through almost two months of the season (and up until he lost the closer’s role on May 20), Marshall posted a 5.02 ERA and looked positively flappable on the mound.
However, back in his familiar setup role, Marshall went on to post a 0.77 ERA in June and a 1.64 ERA in July. As it turned out, Marshall’s christening as the Reds’ closer of the future may have been premature.
Now, I should make it clear that in no way should what I am about to say be considered as factual, or even a rumor of any kind. It’s purely speculation from the confines of my living room couch.
Still, I’d be SHOCKED if there weren’t more to the Broxton trade than what we’re being told (that he’s just here to be a solid eighth inning guy who can spell Chapman in the ninth, on occasion).
It’s just too out of left field to not mean more.
If the Marshall deal taught us anything, it’s that Walt’s eye is always on the future. Which is why I predict that in the next couple months, Broxton gets the Marshall treatment. That is, a contract extension aimed toward signing a top-level talent at an affordable price (he makes only $4 million this year.)
Broxton becomes the closer, Marshall is freed up to punish lefties in the eighth inning for years to come, and Logan Ondrusek, Nick Masset, and Jose Arredondo team up to take care of the rest.
All with the goal of putting Chapman in the rotation, where he immediately becomes one of the top five starters in the league and a perennial Cy Young candidate.
In the short time he’s been here, I’ve learned to trust Walt Jocketty.
Just as he did with Cardinals, he’s constantly made moves that promote and sustain success. Acquiring Scott Rolen was one. Trusting in unproven youngsters like Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier was another. Trading for Sean Marshall was a third.
For now, Jonathan Broxton becomes just another in a line of near-unhittable setup men. A cog in the dominant machine we’ve all come to adore.
But soon enough, that crew will wave goodbye to Chapman, its leader and champion, and someone new will need to emerge. Don’t be surprised if that man is Broxton; not just for next year, but for the next three.
Knowing what we do about Walt, it just makes sense.
For more from Reed Domer-Shank, visit his blog: J O U R N E Y M E N . You can also follow Reed on Twitter: @ReedDS20, or contact him directly at Reed.Domershank@gmail.com.