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Let the Aroldis Chapman bidding war begin.

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The other day I profiled 2010’s top free agent starting pitchers.

I purposely left the biggest question mark of them all out of the discussion: Aroldis Chapman.

Aroldis Chapman: 2010's biggest free agent?Chapman is a 6’4″ lefty out of Cuba. Chapman’s fastball hits 100 miles per hour on the gun, actually clocking at 102 in a Cuban game, but usually sits around 96 when he doesn’t rear back. His two-seam fastball hovers at 91-92 and his slider is thrown in the low-80’s with a hard, glove side break. He doesn’t have a true changeup.

Chapman also has youth on his side. According to unverified documents, he’s just 21 years old.

His tantalizing natural stuff and still-moldable skill set seems to peg him as a future number one starter.

This past weekend, Chapman and his agent, Edwin Mejia, met with several teams in New York City. On his itinerary was the usual suspects, the New York Yankees and Mets and the Boston Red Sox, but also several other surprising teams: the two Chicago clubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, and Baltimore Orioles.

The Oakland Athletics, despite their small payroll and generally lackadaisical attitude towards high profile free agents, have also recently disclosed serious interest in Chapman. The St. Louis Cardinals have also since thrown their hat into the ring.

According to a New York Post contributor, Chapman’s asking price (suspected to be upwards of $60 million) may price him out of some markets.

It is suspected that Chapman will command $30-60 million, a figure between the initial contracts of fellow Cuban defector Jose Contreras and Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka. In 2003, Contreras signed a 4-year, $32 million contract with the New York Yankees. In 2006, Matsuzaka signed a 6-year, $52 million dollar contract, not including a posting fee of $51.1 million.

Chapman is just the most recent example of Major League Baseball teams’ willingness to throw big money at an unproven commodity.

Chapman, however, could also be the best case for overspending.

Contreras was already in his early 30’s when he signed with New York. He never had triple-digit stuff, but by the time he reached American soil, he was a right-handed veteran with a mid-90’s four-seam fastball, an able sinker and slider, a curve and a developed changeup. He was MLB-ready and after getting knocked around for a year, became a good major league starter.

Much like Chapman’s 100 mile per hour fastball in 2009, Daisuke Matsuzaka’s gyroball was the focus of everyone’s attention in 2006. The 26-year-old (at the time) Japanese pitcher was believed to throw eight different pitches and was expected to be an ace from the day of his signing. In the three seasons since arriving in America, Matsuzaka is 37-21 with a 4.00 ERA. His problems with American physical conditioning, which he views as a reason for his struggles in 2009, are well-documented.

Chapman is much younger than Contreras or Matsuzaka were when they made the transition. Major League pitching coaches still have time to standardize his mechanics and to work with him on his varying release points. If there’s any gripe with Chapman, it’s his underdeveloped control.

During his time with the Holguín club in 2006, Chapman ranked first in strikeouts, but also sixth in walks. Through the 2008 season, he led the Serie Nacional with 130 strikeouts in 118.1 innings pitched. He was also fifth in walks and first in wild pitches, allowing 62 and 14, respectively.

From video, it’s clear that Chapman lacks confidence in his breaking stuff, starting batters off almost-exclusively with a hard fastball.

Chapman will either be a pitching coach’s dream, or his worst nightmare. His delivery doesn’t have too many moving parts, like other hard-throwing lefty Dontrelle Willis, but it might not be a quick-and-easy fix either. Early in his career, Chapman worked almost exclusively from a three-quarter slot, slinging the ball to home plate. Over the years, however, his release has gotten gradually higher, wreaking havoc on his fastball control.

Chapman’s inability to throw from a consistent slot had compounded his control problems. When he’s throwing overhead, fastballs consistently run in on the feet of righties and outside on lefties. And according to the U.S.S. Mariner’s observations, his curveball is best from three-quarters.

Pitching coaches will most likely recognize his natural three-quarters delivery and relegate him to that slot.

Chapman’s physique is also a huge plus. On paper, his height (6’4″) isn’t too intimidating, but when one sees him rise from his thick, stilt-like legs from the mound, he becomes an ominous presence.

Aroldis Chapman is a true rarity, a developed physique with tremendously overpowering, raw stuff from the left-hand side. He’s been pegged as the “#1 prospect in the world,” but his future in Major League Baseball remains to be seen.

At just 21-years-old, Aroldis Chapman could be this offseason’s best excuse to spend big money.

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  1. […] is 21 and comes with a 100mph fastball and the type of price tag that those traits typically warrant. He could find himself getting a Daisuke Matsuzaka type deal. […]


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