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Chapman is a good gamble for the Reds

Jan 10, 2010, 4:52 PM EDT

Thumbnail image for aroldis chapman cuba.jpgJon Heyman tweets his initial reaction to the Cincinnati Reds’ unexpected signing of Aroldis Chapman:


I think the Reds are cracked giving Aroldis Chapman $30 mil. There, I said it.

I disagree. In fact, I think that reaction — and many others like it you’ll see in the next 24 hours — is borne more of shock that a small revenue team like the Reds did the deal instead of one of the usual big name free agent suspects. I’m kind of shocked myself, but just because this is unexpected doesn’t mean it’s “cracked.” Remember, Heyman is the same writer who had no problem throwing around Stephen Strasburg’s alleged $50 million demand last summer. He never said that amount was “cracked.”

Yes, the number — $30 million — seems high, but I have a hard time seeing as a bad move.  It’s six years, with the money stretched out over an even longer period than that according to John Fay at the Cincy Enquirer. He’s young and electric. If he does half of what some people seem to think he can do, he’ll be a steal at that price. Even if he’s a spectacular bust he’ll have cost the Reds $16 million less than Francisco Cordero, $6.5 million less than Aaron Harang and only a tad more than Brandon Phillips. Ed Wade has spent $25 million on Brandon Lyon, Brett Myers and Pedro Feliz this winter. How is this so bad?

I think there are two basic things to keep in mind with this deal: (1) Compared to most other deals in even today’s relatively conservative free agent market, this one has way more upside and a more or less survivable downside; and (2) this transaction means way more to the Reds and their fans than, say, the Angels or Red Sox or even the Blue Jays signing Chapman would. Cincinnati is a great baseball town that risks losing its religion if the team doesn’t do something to give the fans hope, and a potential 2011 rotation of Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Homer Baily and Aroldis Chapman gives fans a lot of reason to hope.

Good move by the Reds. 

  1. Bret - Jan 10, 2010 at 5:22 PM

    It may or may not turn out to be a good move but I’m not sure they are getting market value on the price. You are basically paying 5 mill a year for a guy that may or may not be good. Compare that to someone like Brian Matusz who signed a 4 year, 3.45 million dollar contract. Matusz has 4 great pitches including a devastating change up, was successful in college, doesn’t have to acclimate to a new country and has great control. Chapman has a 96 MPH fastball but not much else according to scouts and is a bit of a headcase. Prospects don’t make it as starters with one or two pitches unless they have great control or a great out pitch regardless of velocity. And if he ends up in the bullpen you are paying big money to a left handed specialist. I would rather build through the draft.

  2. Phil - Jan 10, 2010 at 5:46 PM

    Craig,
    As a long-time Reds fan – from FRobby’s rookie season – I agree. Sure, he’s 22, raw with one really good pitch and he could wash out. But at $5M/year, he’s average closer/3-4 starter money. And the upside is huge.
    I’d rather see the Reds spend money like this than spend it nailing down the age 37 season of a 3B in decline with little power who goes on the DL an average of 3 times per season. Or spend 4/$46M on an elite closer at a time in their success cycle when they can’t give him a lead often enough to justify his salary.
    It’s not only a message to the fans but to the young guys on their roster like Votto, Bruce, Stubbs et al that they may get to play some meaningful games in September and ever October while they’re in Cincy. Right now, this is good.
    Bret, here’s Keith law’s take:
    “When Chapman is on, he’ll show No. 1 starter stuff, with a fastball in the mid-90s (and yes, as high as 101 mph) with good tail and a mid-80s slider that will show plus with legitimate tilt, although the latter pitch isn’t consistent. He does have a soft changeup, but he lacks feel for it and pushes it out of his hand rather than selling it with good arm speed. His command isn’t good, and he’s more thrower than pitcher, with a very loose arm that makes the velocity come out easily. Since defecting, he has worked on his body, and scouts who’ve seen him recently say he’s stronger and in better overall shape. He might be a No. 1 starter; he might be an ace closer; he might be a mountain of frustration.”
    That sounds like he’s got more than one pitch and he needs to learn to control his repertoire. He’s 22 (I hope ;-)). If the above still applies when he’s 26, it’s a problem.
    Yes he’s a risk, but every time you give a guy a contract you run the risk that he “may or may not be good”. I love how fans of other teams who were rumored to be in on Aroldis have done nothing but talk up his upside for the last few days and now that the Reds have signed him he’s turned into a pumpkin.

  3. Bret - Jan 10, 2010 at 5:56 PM

    Trying to justify this contract by using Cordero isn’t really my point. If you are saying this is a better signing than some of the others they have made I completely agree. However, I don’t think it is a smart use of funds for a small revenue team. They are going to pay Chapman more over the next 6 years than the Orioles are going to pay Matt Wieters including bonus and Wieters signed a huge bonus. If you get a guy under team control through the draft then you have almost 3 years before the arb clock starts ticking. I just don’t think they are getting market price, if he turns out to be great it won’t matter but I think there is at least a 50/50 chance he doesn’t end up in a major league rotation. Everyone in the show can hit heat to quote Crash Davis.

  4. ssl - Jan 10, 2010 at 6:30 PM

    The difference between Wieters and chapman is that Capman is a FREE AGENT. You would think he would get more $

  5. Bret - Jan 10, 2010 at 8:26 PM

    Right, but he is a free agent who is younger and less proven than either Wieters, Matusz, Pedro Alvarez or any number of other high draft picks who signed huge bonuses which is why I don’t like the odds. There is a great chance we are looking at a guy who is in the bullpen or worse. 5 million to a left handed specialist is not a prudent move for any team and when you factor in the cultural barriers, maturity etc. it is risky to say the least. Most of the guys who came in internationally and did well were much older and proven with much more of a foundation (Ichiro, Matsui, Dice K, El Duque etc.). I’m not saying it can’t work, I’m just saying it isn’t the best idea to get in a bidding war over an unproven kid. And the Reds can’t afford for this guy to be Kei Igawa or they are done for years to come – they don’t have the payroll to absorb it like the Yankees.

  6. Phil - Jan 10, 2010 at 9:38 PM

    Bret,
    You keep using examples that are subject to the US amateur draft and the slotting mechanism. It’s apples and oranges.
    Furthermore, college and HS drafts picks are also unproven. I’m sure you’ve seen the attempts at translation of their stats to even minor league EQs and recognize it’s a highly inexact attempt at science. Before we anoint Wieters, Matusz or Alvarez or any other “prospect” as a better selection, can we wait and see if they can even forge a big league career?
    I’m a Reds fan, not a fanboy. I see the risk and understand the downside. Still, I find it both a defensible and encouraging move. What exactly would you have a “small revenue team” spend their dollars on?
    You dismiss my comparisons to the Cordero and Rolen deals as not the point yet you say this isn’t a wise expenditure of supposedly limited funds. It’s a given they can’t afford the high-priced FAs. It’s also a given that they can’t play Scott Boras games with the top draft picks. So where should they spend their dollars that’s a better shot than Chapman? C’mon GM Bret, enlighten me.

  7. alexperez84 - Jan 11, 2010 at 12:32 AM

    To compare Chapman to Weiters is irrespnsible, there i said it. Follow my keystrokes, Chapman was a FREE AGENT, meaning he could and he did go to the highest bid. Just because he didnt go to your team doesnt make him anymore a better or worse gamble. Im a mets fan but i applaud the Reds for this move. It shows the city of cincinnati that they do want to put a contender or the field and will go about it different ways be it the draft free agency or the international free agent market

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  9. Moses Green - Jan 11, 2010 at 8:31 AM

    I betting the don’t pass line on this one.

  10. Bret - Jan 11, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    It isn’t really apples and oranges. It is whether you go to an apple tree or an orange tree, the Reds have that choice and I think they are going to the wrong tree. I’m not saying Wieters or Matusz or Alvarez were proven but they were more proven than Chapman – they were also all American citizens with less to adapt to. They are all also much cheaper over the next 6 years.
    The Cordero and Rolen deals were also horrible but if you are trying to build a team by saying this deal isn’t as bad as others we have done you aren’t going to win. I hope it works out for you and I’m not saying it can’t but they aren’t getting good odds on the deal in my opinion.

  11. Phil - Jan 11, 2010 at 10:04 AM

    Bret,
    You still don’t offer an option in the current market because all your examples are off the board. You seem to be saying draft well and I agree (and the Reds’ record is spotty at best). But this isn’t about the draft. As many have pointed out, Chapman was a free agent. What are your suggestions for wise expenditures by the Reds in the free agent market internationally and at home? You seem to be saying that they should stay out and plead poverty.
    But that’s folly. They can’t ignore the international market. John Fay is reporting that the deal is for $25M over five years with an option for a sixth that will kick it up to $30M. Furthermore, the big money doesn’t kick in until after the Harang, Arroyo and Cordero contracts are off the books. Yes, if he’s a complete bust it will still be bad. But it’s a relatively inexpensive gamble for a potentially high reward.
    The Reds can and should afford this. This is one of two ways that they can get young players with high upside into the system and control their early careers to their advantage, both financially and competitively.
    So I’m not saying this deal isn’t as bad as the others and is therefore good. I’m saying that this is the kind of thing they should have been doing all along instead of Milton, Cordero, extending Arroyo after a good half-season without waiting to see if he would come back to earth, trading for Rolen, Willie ‘Effin Tavaras, Corey ‘Effin Patterson, the Toothpick etc. I’m saying I like this deal (and what it potentially indicates) on its own merits. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but it shows that at least someone in that halfway house for the Three Stooges we call a front office is thinking outside the box.
    And I can’t see that your examples are more proven. Success in college with aluminum bats doesn’t trump by a large margin success in the WBC. Both cases have risk attached and I can’t see that there’s even an order of magnitude of difference. The American citizen thing is a non-starter in today’s MLB unless, of course, it’s personally important to you for non-baseball reasons.
    Just out of curiosity, you team couldn’t have been in the Chapman hunt, could they? ;-)

  12. bud - Jan 11, 2010 at 11:04 AM

    Why the writer thinks it wouldn’t be an important signing for the Blue Jays, I don’t understand. The fact that they were in the race to sign him, was a big deal to jays fans. It showed that their team was willing to go and pay big bucks for a young, possibly great player.
    Congrats to Red fans. Great signing, and if he turns out to be an end of rotation guy, that is still cheap. But if he turns out to be a star, all these negative writers will be the same ones, asking why Boston or the Yankees didn’t sign him.

  13. Bret - Jan 11, 2010 at 11:06 AM

    I think unless he is at minimum a league average starting pitcher for the Reds then it isn’t a good deal. However, since the money is extremely backloaded it isn’t as bad as I originally thought.
    My team is the O’s and I did not want them in on Chapman for the reasons I explained. The O’s only got better when they stopped going after free agents and focused on the draft (Matusz, Wieters) and smart trades for young talent (Jones, Tillman, Josh Bell) etc. If you are a small market team, free agency should be used very rarely – if you make one mistake it can cost you for years as the O’s learned with Albert Belle – I don’t like having my franchise tied to one or two guys.

  14. Phil - Jan 11, 2010 at 11:27 AM

    Bret,
    Yes, he needs to be a least a No 3 starter, prime set-up guy or above average closer to justify, although the latter are fungible commodities that could (and should) be gotten through more creative, cheaper routs. But since no other teams follow that route consistently to fill those roles, I can hardly expect a dysfunctional organization like the Reds to do so.
    I agree that FA should be used sparingly for teams like yours and mine. But I think international FA market and deals like the Chapman contract are exactly where these teams need to focus their efforts. The biggest traps that teams like the Reds and Os fall into are the “one player away” trap and the “we need to show the fans” trap, which they decide they can remedy on the big league FA market or by making a trade for a name that doesn’t fit with where they are on the success cycle.
    Craig has characterized this as something the fans need and he’s right. The way this differs from “Hey look, we went out and got you Scott Rolen” or “Hey, we went and got you a premium closer” is rather than a knee-jerk reaction to talk radio, it appears that someone thought this through, weighed risk vs reward, and pulled the trigger with an eye to the future. For this front office, that’s huge.

  15. ecp - Jan 11, 2010 at 11:33 AM

    Maybe it’s a bad signing, maybe it’s not – but either way, there’s absolutely zero chance this guy is in the Reds major league rotation in 2011. He’s way way too raw.

  16. Phil - Jan 11, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    You could be right, but maybe Brian Price and Mario Soto will have something to say about that. That’s why teams hire pitching coaches.
    If I were to write that Aroldis Chapman will absolutely be the Reds opening day starter in 2011 that assertion would have the same credibility as your “there’s absolutely zero chance” statement. I don’t know and neither do you. That’s why we’ll both have to wait and see how things develop.
    But, hey, the Internet makes experts out of all of us.

  17. Buckfan69 - Jan 11, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    As a Reds fan for 50+ years (not quite Robby’s rookie season but his 3rd) I applaud this move. Nobody knows how this kid will pan out, but he’s got a 100mph fastball; something nobody can teach. Everything else he needs to pitch at the major league level can be taught, but he’s the one bringing the heater. This is the most excitement I’ve had over a Reds acquisition since Joe Morgan. We can only hope it reaps the same benefits in 2-3 years.

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