Aroldis Chapman: Worth the Effort?

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, January 11, 2010 | , | 6 comments »

The Cincinnati Reds outbid several major league baseball teams (including the Washington Nationals, apparently) for the services of Cuban left-handed pitcher Aroldis Chapman.  Reds' GM Walt Jocketty shelled out $30 million (spread out over ten years, according to reports) for the hard-throwing, but untested, 22-year old.

Chapman is said to have "a plus-plus fastball that sits in the mid-90s and has touched 101 (legitimately); the fastball has good tailing life, and he flashes a plus slider with good tilt," according to ESPN.com's Keith Law.  That type of talent, paired with the Nats No. 1 overall pick from last summer's draft, Stephen Strasburg, had Nats execs drooling of a potentially lethal 1-2 punch.

But in the same article about Chapman, Law explains:
His changeup remains a work in progress, although he probably hasn't had to use it much given the competition he's faced.

On the downside, his command isn't great. Although his arm is loose and his velocity comes easily, he's still raw as a pitcher and has a fair amount of development ahead of him in the short term.
Chapman is a work in progress, and the Reds just doled out twice as much money, guaranteed, than the Nats paid Strasburg last season.

It's interesting to see that the final players in the Chapman sweepstakes were Cincinnati, Oakland, and Washington--teams that typically are known for being tight with their money.  Where were the big market teams driving up the asking price?  Where were teams with playoff aspirations?  Where were the Yankees?

Law again provides some insight: 
There's also some economic logic behind the greater interest from low-revenue teams in these top amateur players. An impact player, even if he's still merely a potential one such as Chapman, is worth more to a team like Cincinnati or Oakland than he is to a New York or a Boston because those latter teams are already looking at 90-plus-win seasons.
Still, was Chapman worth this risk?  He had been competing with the Cuban National team before defection, but his level of competition was nothing compared to even that of Strasburg, whose only knock on him coming out of college was the fact that he played in the Mountain West Conference.  Chapman has been pitching against teenagers and other undeveloped competition in Cuba.

I'm not saying that the Reds, or the Nats, were wrong in going after Chapman and paying for his potential.  It just strikes me strange that the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and other big market teams seemed to be not more involved in the process.

As far as the Nats involvement, it's just good to know that they had a ceiling in the negotiations.  From Nationals Journal, quoting Stan Kasten: 
"There's a limit to what you can spend for an unproven pitcher."
Especially one that is as unproven and untested as Chapman.

6 comments

  1. EdDC // January 11, 2010 at 2:27 PM  

    The Reds' payroll last year was 17 percent higher than the Nats' payroll, which was one of the lowest in all of baseball. With Nick, Dmitri, and Kearns clearing the books, there was room to sign this guy (even considering the offsetting additions to payroll), if he looks as good as the scouts seem to think. Naturally, Chapman is not a risk-free gamble.

    It's better to have the money than the pitcher, so long as you use the money saved on the club and not on the bottom line. Can you use the money better on some other young pitcher--maybe some other guy with a 100 MPH arm?

    This is a true fan's site, composed of positive thinkers who applaud the Nats' frugality. So most people cheer when you can sign a guy for under-slot who has a chance to be better than the over-slot players in the draft. Maybe Storen (under slot) will be better than Crow (over slot). Maybe Detwiler (slot) will be better than Porcello (over slot).

    Maybe the two free agents who make big money at $15 and $20 million (Marquis and Dunn, the only big money guys signed by the Nats under the Lerners) will prove to be better than the truly big $100 million-plus guys? Dunn is already showing that he is, defense aside.

    And the Nats have never under the Lerners traded for a player who makes average MLB salary. Josh Willingham was close but he was still under the MLB average. So there have been no higher-than-average salary guys signed in the history of the Lerners. These guys could be turned into prospects down the road.

    But maybe you don't need to have a top-ranked minor league organization? If you stay in the 20's in organizational ranking, maybe you can still achieve respectability some day?

  2. Dave Nichols // January 11, 2010 at 3:04 PM  

    Ed, thanks for the comment.

    You bring up some intersting points about the type of player the Nats have acquired thus far in the Lerner regime.

    I contend that the Chapman pursuit was in good faith, that the Nats made an honest and legitimate offer, and they were just trumped by someone making an "above-slot" bid, as you say.

    I do think--as Mike Rizzo has professed--that it's important to have a strong minor league system, and the Nats have made strides to improve the farm, after years of neglect from major league baseball and years of ineptitude from Jim Bowden.

  3. EdDC // January 11, 2010 at 4:27 PM  

    Thanks for your comment. This is a favorite site, a wealth of great information, and a terrific addition to the baseball scene around here.

    I will agree with you about efforts to build up the minor league system when I see more willingness to go above slot in the draft. (You can't really count Stasburg, as the Nats had to sign him.) Also when they land some international prospects of significance, not just get close. Also when they take on salary in trades, and turn the acquired guys into prospects down the road. Also when they sign an average number of market-rate free agents (not just over-the-hill guys), and turn those guys into prospects in June (or when their contracts run out and provide draft picks as compensation). All of these areas are lacking, as far as I am concerned.

    As long as the Nats are much more frugal than just about any other club (outside of the Pirates and Pads), I think I'll hold my applause for their "sincere efforts."

    JimBo had to deal with ridiculous budgets too, you know. We can only guess what he could have done with average budgets, for a region like ours that is way about average in size and affluence. given average budgets, JimBp would have done much better--but we will never know.

  4. Dave Nichols // January 11, 2010 at 5:01 PM  

    Ed, i think the willingness to go over slot in the draft is really only applicable to the first round. and while it's true they did not sign Aaron Crow (and Kasten has publicly said it was his call), the Nats did sign two first round picks last year, the first under Rizzo's watch.

    granted, Storen was a bit of a signability pick, but he showed in his meteoric rise through the system last summer that he had the talent to be considered at that spot.

    personally, i don't have much problem with the Nats not going overboard on free agnet signings thus far. i think the Marquis signing will give them a 200-inning starter. not a huge fan of the Pudge signing (or Bruney trade, for that matter), as i've stated before.

    still think they would like to address the middle infield and grab another starter. interesting that they are putting this much effort into the major league club. maybe they've realized that folks still have to pay to watch the team play on a nightly basis--not just wait for the prosepects to show "someday".

  5. Dave Nichols // January 11, 2010 at 5:02 PM  

    oh, and thanks for the kind words.

  6. EdDC // January 12, 2010 at 10:22 AM  

    Dave,

    You wrote:

    "Ed, i think the willingness to go over slot in the draft is really only applicable to the first round."

    In the last draft, the Nats shocked the baseball world by signing a pitcher in the third round, with very average tools and college record, for under-slot money. Most projected the guy to go a lot lower, like in the 9th or 10th round.

    Are these baseball decisions or money decisions? I've always thought that the draft was the worst place to save money.

    I would rather save money in free agency, if the Nats must be so frugal, and then pour money into the draft and for kids like Chapman.

    The Nats should also acquire players in trades who have value (even if it means taking on salary temporarily). By so doing, the acquired players can be traded for prospects down the road, and the Nats could build up their farm system that way too--supplementing their draft efforts. The bargains are good (like Morgan), but it is too limiting for them to only go after the bargains.