Baker talks Chapman, youth at Meetings

Baker talks Chapman, youth at Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Even three months removed from the season, the questions about Aroldis Chapman continue to be peppered in Reds manager Dusty Baker's direction.

As Baker held court with reporters Monday during his scheduled media session at the annual Winter Meetings, he fielded more questions about Chapman than any other topic.

By most indications, the Reds are inclined to keep the 22-year-old Cuban in the late-inning reliever role he had when he debuted in the Majors.

"I mean, right now, we have got six other starters. So at this point, probably," Baker said. "That's why we kind of put him there in the first place."

While regularly eclipsing 100 mph, and once reaching 105 mph, the left-handed Chapman went 2-2 with a 2.03 ERA in 15 games. He allowed eight hits and five walks with 19 strikeouts over 13 1/3 innings.

The long-term plan is for Chapman to be a starting pitcher. That's why he was signed for $30.25 million over six years, the top bid for the free agent last January.

"He has No. 1 starter stuff. But he has, like I said, No. 1 bullpen stuff, too," Baker said to laughter.

"We have seen guys go back and forth, but we wanted to keep him hopefully in one area versus, you know, back and forth. Because with a guy throwing that hard, I mean, is he more valuable to us every fifth day or, you know, every other day so to speak? Plus a lot of that had to do with the fact that we are deep in starters now. Either way, he's a tough situation. Because it was like when I had Billy Swift. He could be our best reliever and our best starter at the same time. So you've got to choose one or the other."

Before bidding him farewell for the offseason, Baker did not tell Chapman to prepare himself to be either a starter or a reliever. He just told him to stay in shape and do his running.

"In Cuba, [baseball] was almost all year round," Baker said. "It was only two weeks off, and that's what you have to deal with once you come to the States. You have this free time to yourself that he didn't have to himself."

In other topics, Baker realizes that the Reds aren't likely to make a big move or splash during the Meetings. And if that remains the case come Thursday, he is OK with that.

"Certainly you want to improve your team, but you don't just make moves to make moves, either," Baker said. "You know, you've got to make moves, try to strengthen yourself. ... We are not the kind of team or market that probably has the finances to participate and heavily bid in the free-agent market in the first place. So we have to stay on the path we are chosen to do as much as you could."

Baker would also like to see the Reds improve next season against some of the league's better clubs and contenders that they didn't beat last season.

"We really did well against teams that were below .500, beat the teams that we felt we should beat," he said. "But we didn't fare very well against San Diego, Atlanta, St. Louis, some of the teams in baseball that had winning records, especially with better pitching staffs."

Baker has long been tagged with a stigma that he didn't like managing young players and favored veterans. But that stereotype didn't hold up in 2010 as the Reds relied on multiple young players.

Despite some slumps, Baker stuck with Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs, and both outfielders became very productive down the stretch. The rotation included rookies like Mike Leake and Travis Wood.

"I enjoyed that a lot," Baker said of the young players. "That's something I've been yearning for for a long time. I have got 16 nieces and nephews, man. I'm Uncle Dusty -- cool Uncle Dusty to some of them. I like being around young people. They keep you up on what's up, and I can give them wisdom and knowledge on how to play the game. I mean, it's a pleasure to be around.

"It was a pleasure to teach them and see the progress. You see Bruce come through the second half and you see Stubbs come through in the second half and you see[Paul] Janish get better and you see [Ryan] Hanigan get better and the young pitchers, [Johnny] Cueto, and all of these guys get better, yeah, it was fun for me. I mean, sometimes it gets a little frustrating. Sometimes you're like, 'No, I don't believe I just saw what I saw.' But on the other hand, when you see them the next time and the next time, it's very gratifying that you teach them."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.