Madson Injury Leaves Reds Scrambling

With Opening Day just 10 days away, I thought it might be worthwhile to put together a few short posts on the storylines that will likely come up again and again throughout the season.

We might as well kick this series off with the big news of the weekend. In case you missed it while living under an NCAA Tournament rock, new closer Ryan Madson needs Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his elbow and will miss the entire 2012 season.

Obviously, this is a huge blow to the Reds bullpen. Last year in Philadelphia, Madson had 32 saves with a 2.37 ERA. It was considered a major coup when the Reds were able to sign him to a relatively cheap short-term contract in January, after a deal between the Phillies and Madson’s agent, Scott Boras, broke down under strange circumstances. Now, less than two months later, the evil injury bug has rendered that brilliant move by the Reds front office utterly useless.

Taken on the whole, the Reds’ quest to find a new closer this offseason has been quite the adventure. First, the team decided to let incumbent closer Francisco Cordero leave as a free agent. Cordero was effective during his four years in Cincinnati, compiling 150 saves and a 2.96 ERA. But Cordero was wildly overpaid; his strikeout rate dropped precipitously over the past couple of seasons; and he is about to turn 37. Moving on was the right move.

Then several high-priced closers changed addresses, but the Reds were left without a seat in the game of musical chairs. Jonathan Papelbon left the Red Sox to sign with the Phillies. Heath Bell left the Padres to sign with the Marlins. The Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey to replace Papelbon. The Padres traded for Houston Street to replace Bell. It was truly a dizzying off-season for closer transactions.

At that point, in December, it looked like the Reds might have to look for a ninth-inning option internally. The likes of Billy Bray and Jose Arredondo were discussed as options. Then the Reds beefed up their bullpen by acquiring lefty set-up man Sean Marshall from the Cubs.

Then they swooped in and surprised everyone by signing Madson, who seemed like the final solution to the problem. Only he wasn’t.

Now, the Reds are scrambling yet again to find a stopper for the backend of their bullpen. Marshall is the obvious candidate. He has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the past couple of years, and the Reds have signed him to an extension. But no one in the organization was rushing to name him the new closer.

Another option might be Aroldis Chapman, despite the team’s plan to make him a starter. And even if Chapman doesn’t become the closer, he might move back to bullpen, especially if Marshall is closing and the Reds need someone to fill his lefty setup role. (Bray would be another candidate for that job.) A similar situation played out this spring with the Royals, who lost closer Joakim Soria for the season, also to Tommy John surgery. As a result, Kansas City opted to move young pitching prospect Aaron Crow, who they had been grooming for the starting rotation, back to the bullpen.

In addition to Marshall and Chapman, long-shot closing candidates for the Reds might also include Nick Masset or even Logan Ondrusek. But honestly, all we can do is guess at this point. With Opening Day just a couple of weeks away, the Reds are short on time to make a decision. Then again, they could always start the year with the unappetizing closer-by-committee.

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