After coming off a season where Cincinnati enjoyed one of the lowest ERA’s in baseball it’s easy to forget that before the season started they were counting on a lot of appearances from veteran Nick Masset. An injury to the right-hander’s shoulder kept him out of MLB action all year and now he’s preparing for the final season of his contract.
Masset had been a workhorse out of the Cincinnati pen since coming over from the Ken Griffey, Jr. deal before the trading deadline in 2008. In the previous three plus seasons he’d kept a 3.07 ERA for the Reds across 241 appearances. Injuries to him, Ryan Madson, and Bill Bray influenced them to keep Aroldis Chapman in the pen despite sending him to the hill to start four spring training games. Sans those three this season they achieved the lowest reliever ERA in MLB.
Masset has at times been ineffective only to follow that up with extended streaks of dominance. He had a 2.37 ERA in 2009 only to start off the next year with a double digit April ERA. He kept a low-two earnie over his last seventy appearances to end the season around mid-three. In 2011 he started slowly again before he got below three around mid-July. It really was a roller coaster year because after that he was hit heavily in his next seventeen appearances and then got stingy and allowed only one run in his last eleven to finish at 3.71. He made an attempt to return in 2012 but he got knocked around in six AAA games before a surgery on September 7 shut down him down.
The new plan is to have the 30 year-old Masset resume throwing next month in hopes of being ready by opening day. If he’s successful the first question is where will the Reds find room for him? Since they’re paying him three mill there’s motivation to find someplace. Right now it appears that the bullpen is plenty deep without him.
The first deal the Reds made this offseason was to retain the services of Jonathan Broxton over the next three seasons which will free Chapman from closer duties as they proceed again to move him to the rotation. Sean Marshall put together an excellent year after he was returned to his familiar role as a lefty set-up man. Jose Arredondo put up a sub-three ERA and Sam LeCure’s wasn’t much higher as he earned more “non-mop-up” innings. Logan Ondrusek was dominant the first six weeks of the season and finished with a mid-three earnie despite a poor finish and a late-season trip to Louisville. Even long man Alfredo Simon surprised with a mid-two after the Reds selected him off of waivers from Baltimore. That makes six arms for the pen and the active roster only has room for seven.
There has been some rumors they’re going after another lefty for the final spot. Bray was effective in that role in 2011 but injuries limited him to fourteen appearances last season and he’s now headed back to Washington after the Nats signed him as a free agent. When he was unavailable his spot was taken by righty J.J. Hoover who split the season between putting up a flat two ERA in 28 appearances for the Reds and a being a dominant closer at AAA Louisville. Another pitcher looking for a spot will be Mike Leake if Chapman’s conversion is successful.
Leake’s had virtually no minor league experience since cracking the rotation fresh out of Arizona St. so his fourth professional season would be an odd time to start. He’s an adequate, affordable, and still around after the Reds’ offseason trade activity so they probably want him available in case they need a sixth pitcher to take some starts. Outside of a one double-header they did not need one at all in 2012, but it’s unlikely they will have that luxury for two consecutive seasons.
Big league baseball can be a fickle game for many of its players. At one time Nick Massett was probably considered a future closer for the Reds after Francisco Cordero. Now they’ve signed a veteran to a $21M contract to take over for the dominant Chapman. Meanwhile Masset appears to be on the outside looking in while everyone waits to see if he will regain past form. If he’s able to return to do that he’s got the stuff that would force him into a spot in anyone’s pen. If not the Reds might be making plans to put the $3.4M he will earn in 2013 to a different use in future budgets.