The Cincinnati Reds have one of the most interesting questions in all of Major League Baseball this offseason: What should the team do with phenom Aroldis Chapman?
It has been debated since the left-hander signed with the Reds before the 2010 season, but the team has yet to settle on a role for the pitcher.
There is no question that Chapman is the most exciting pitcher in baseball. His fastball-slider combination is nearly unhittable, and he has finally learned how to control his fastball. As long as he occasionally mixes in the slider, he will keep hitters guessing.
After becoming the closer in May, he saved 38 games for the team despite missing part of September with a tired arm. He was the most dominant pitcher in the game for most of the season out of the bullpen.
Cincinnati is yet again flirting with the idea of making Chapman a starter. Halfway through his contract, the phenom may need to adjust to a new role in 2013.
Moving to the starting rotation will force Chapman to slow down his fastball in order to stay in games, which will make his pitches more hittable. Also, a move to the rotation will most likely end up with Chapman having a Stephen Strasburg-like dilemma. Would the team limit his innings or let him pitch all season?
If there is an innings limit on Chapman, that leaves one or two seasons of losing him as a starter for a full season. The team would basically be developing him as a starter and helping whatever team signs him at the end of his contract.
Cincinnati may look to acquire pitchers in order to keep Chapman in his current role.
In no way am I saying these pitchers will be linked to the Reds. However, these pitchers are a few of the affordable options to help keep Chapman as the closer.
With all of the free agent pitchers or teams looking to trade starters, who should the Reds look at acquiring to ensure Chapman remains the closer?
This sounds crazy, but bringing in Edwin Jackson could be an option. Scott Rolen, Ryan Madson and Ryan Ludwick are all off the books right now. With the money saved from those players, the Reds could try to get Jackson to sign another one-year deal.
The right-hander went 10-11 for the Washington Nationals last season, and his earned run average was just above 4.00 while pitching 189.2 innings in 2012.
Jackson has turned into a workhorse. Since 2008, he has thrown at least 183 innings in every season and has put together a respectable ERA during that time. During that time, he also pitched in the postseason and won a ring.
He has a tendency to give up home runs, which would be a problem at Great American Ball Park. The 29-year-old has given up at least 20 homers in all, but one season since 2008. For what he will probably ask for, the Reds will need to be cautious of his history with home runs.
Although it will a costly acquisition, Jackson is a pitcher who could fit in Cincinnati's budget. His pitching would help lead the team back into the postseason for the third time in four seasons.
The Reds are unlikely to spend a lot on a pitcher this winter, so Jackson is likely out of the mix. If they want to keep Chapman as a closer and let Jonathan Broxton walk, the team could spend some cash to bring in Jackson.
Immediate reaction from Reds fans: Not a chance.
Aaron Harang spent over seven seasons with Cincinnati before being let go after the 2010 season. He was a workhorse in his prime and won 16 games in back-to-back seasons. However, he fell apart starting in 2008.
He pitched his way out of Cincinnati and needed a change of scenery. The right-hander went home to San Diego to resurrect his career. He went 14-7 with a 3.64 ERA while pitching for the San Diego Padres in 2011, and he posted a 3.61 ERA last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
One can argue that the big stadiums out west helped him turn his career around, but Harang has returned to form.
The big concern with Harang last season was walks. He always had great control while pitching for the Reds, but he walked 85 batters in 179.2 innings last season. Although it did not hurt him in the big stadiums, Great American Ball Park is not as forgiving.
Ken Gurnick of MLB.com suggests that the Dodgers will explore the idea of trading Harang. He is due $7 million in 2013, but the Reds would likely try to get the Dodgers to send some cash in a trade.
Harang knows (or knew) how to pitch in Cincinnati, and he earned five Opening Day starts with the team. His veteran presence would be welcomed in the clubhouse. He would be an affordable option for the Reds, and the team would not have to give up any big-time prospects in a deal.
This is a man who once pitched at least 200 innings in five consecutive seasons. He even has a no-hitter to his credit.
The right-hander used to be a strikeout pitcher, but he has failed to pitch in a full season since 2009. He has been demoted to the bullpen a couple of time in recent seasons, and he is coming off of a tumultuous season with the Miami Marlins.
Who knows what salary he is looking for. Teams will be unwilling to give him much because of his past incidents. He has been known to get into with teammates in the past, which would ruin a great clubhouse in Cincinnati.
With 24 home runs, his bat could help his case to make a National League rotation. He has hit at least one home run in 10 straight seasons, and Great American Ball Park would help him continue to produce on offense.
Zambrano has never had trouble keeping the ball in the stadium on the mound. He was always able to eat innings, get strikeouts and stay away from home runs. He is past his prime, but he would not be much of a risk at a low cost to be the No. 5 starter.
The 31-year-old is running out of chances, and teams are growing tired of waiting for him to turn it around. His 132-91 record and 3.66 career ERA speaks for itself, and he is looking to get his career back on track.
Carlos Zambrano has a no-hitter, but Dallas Braden has a perfect game.
Of the pitchers on this list, Braden is the cheapest option. He is a free agent and is dealing with shoulder injuries. He does not have the track record that the other pitchers on this list have, but he has plenty of time to have a good career.
Braden has only pitched in three games in two years, so his durability is an issue. It will allow the Reds to give him an affordable contract.
The 29-year-old is not a power pitcher, which could be trouble at Great American Ball Park. Cincinnati's best three pitchers rely on fastballs, and the other two pitchers have had their fair share of struggles at time.
Since Dontrelle Willis and Travis Wood were on the team in 2011, the Reds have not had a left-handed starter. Willis did not start the year with the team, and Wood did not end the season in the rotation. Braden is a left-handed pitcher, so he is an attractive option for Cincinnati.
This is the most logical option if the team is looking to keep its payroll down next season. He may have to settle for a minor-league deal and work his way onto a team.
Braden showed potential while pitching for the Oakland A's, and he deserves an opportunity to compete for a spot on a major league team.
According to MLB.com, the Cincinnati Reds had the fifth-best starting rotation in all of baseball in terms of earned run average.The starters posted a 3.64 ERA in 2012, which is incredible because of where they play of half their games.
The starters trailed only the Philadelphia Phillies in innings pitched. Every starter made at least 30 starts, and not a single pitcher missed a start. Had it not been for a doubleheader, the starters would have pitched all 162 games.
Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey all threw over 200 innings, won at least 12 games and posted earned run averages below 3.75 last season. Oh, Bailey also threw a no-hitter during a dominant stretch to end the season.
As the No. 5 starter, Mike Leake held his own. His 8-9 record was not too bad, but his 4.58 ERA was too high. A year after leading this team in wins, the former first-round pick took a small step back in 2012.
Everybody in the rotation except Arroyo is 26 or younger. Arroyo is the only pitcher not signed beyond next season, so whose spot would Aroldis Chapman take?
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
When Arroyo's contract expires after next season, left-hander Tony Cingrani should be ready to take his spot in the rotation. The prospect reached the majors in September, and he looked impressive for being a 23-year-old.
Prospect Daniel Corcino is not far behind Cingrani, so the Reds are loaded with young arms.
Chapman is right where he needs to be in the closer's role. Cincinnati should forget about making him a starter and try to re-sign Broxton to keep the major league's best bullpen together.
Money is an issue, so don't expect the Reds to spend a lot of money on a starting pitcher this offseason.
The Reds can save money and prospects by being conservative. Cincinnati can choose to keep Leake in the rotation or give a prospect a shot at pitching in the big leagues next season.