by Thomas Wayne
Sources at Sports Illustrated are confirming that Cuban defector/big name free agent Aroldis Chapman has agreed to sign a five-year, $30 million dollar deal with the Cincinnati Reds. The contract includes a player option for 2015 and should Mr. Chapman choose to opt out at the end of the deal he would be arbitration-eligible rather than directly enter free agency.
For those who don't know, Mr. Chapman captured many a scouts imagination at the 2009 World Baseball Classic, where he hit triple-digits on the radar gun multiple times. However, like most young fire-ballers, his incendiary fastball comes with a curse: lack of overall command. His 379 strikeouts in 341 2/3 innings during his days in Cuba's National Series are jaw-dropping until you note the 210 bases on balls during the same time frame.
His signing ends weeks, if not months, of speculation on who might land the highly coveted 22 year old left handed phenom. What does not end, at least in my mind, is how and why Chapman arrived at this point, and by this point I mean ending up in Cincy?
According to the SI.com article confirming the signing there was a handful of teams jockeying for position for a shot at Chapman going down the stretch of this signing; in the National League we had Florida, Washington and Los Angeles and in the American League we had Boston, Oakland and Toronto.
Does anyone else find it a little surprising that the Red Sox, and to a smaller extent, the Dodgers, are the only teams on this very short list truly worthy of the monicker ???contender'? Where are the Yankees? Where are the Mets? Where are any number of teams from the AL Central that could use a damn good arm to put them over-the-top in that anyone-can-win-it-division? Where are the Cubs? It strikes me as incredibley odd that a young hurler....strike that....a young LEFT HANDED hurler...strike two...a young LEFT HANDED hurler who can be acquired for a reasonable yearly sum who presumably throws in the extremely high 90's to low 100's only had a handful of suitors, most of which are playing catch up at best. Hell, the Red Sox paid $50 million a few years back just for the right to talk with Matsusaka, then had to sell Mrs. Yawkey's best jewelry just to pay his contract after that.
So where are the other teams? I find it amazing that so few of the big dogs took their sniff of him. It would seem to me that $6 million a year for a guy like this is fairly cheap in the economics of baseball (It certainly shows how Boston SERIOUSLY overpaid for Matsusaka). In lieu of what the Nationals gave Stephen Strasburg last summer as the number one pick, or better still, step back and remember what the Yankees paid a 68-year-old Jose Contreras when he made it to the Majors in 2003 (I believe it was around $7.5 to $8 million per) and this Chapman kid seems like a bargain. Could it be that his lack of command stands out to scouts more than his disintegrates-upon-re-entry-fastball?
Or perhaps there's something else. Maybe like Contreras before him, Chapman is an ???OLDER' than advertised player. It's nothing new to find a Latin or Spanish born player to fudge on their age. It's not their doing most of the time, the agents use whatever tool's in their belts to get their player a better contract (READ: the agents lie to get more money...big surprise there).
The Reds think they are getting a 22-year-old who will hopefully dominate until he is 27. But what if he's 27 right now? Or even 24 or 25? Would this knowledge have changed the Reds viewpoint or offer? Is there that big of a difference from a final year contract player at age 27 than there is for a player at 30?
Again, I am just speculating. If Chapman and his people say he's 22, then he's 22. If they say he constantly hits the low 100's on the gun, he constantly hits the low 100's. But keep this in mind when you think of the last couple of questions. During his first workout for many MLB execs and scouts Chapman threw 45 pitches, topping out at 97 mph. His handler's told the on-lookers that he was only throwing at 80%. If you are Cuban defector looking for a huge contract on the MLB level to secure your new life in the land of the fre and the home of the brave wouldn't you go out and throw at 100%?
Again, it all seems very strange to me. Very odd. Can't quite put my finger on it but there is something there that isn't right.
Hopefully Cincy got their man and got him at a bargain rate. Walt Jockety is one of the best GM's in the game, and if I was a Reds fan I would trust his judgement.
It's the oddities surrounding the lack of interest in Chapman that I have a problem with.