The Cincinnati Reds stunned Baseball writers on Sunday with the surprise signing of Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman. They weren’t mentioned among the favorites to land the highly touted left-hander in the last couple of weeks. But on Monday they were the team to introduce him in Cincinnati. The 21-year-old receives a six-year-contract with an amount of $30.25 million total plus incentives, including a $16.25 million signing bonus. However much of the money will be paid deferred over the next ten years. He will make $1 million in 2010 and the Reds don’t have to deliver a hefty paycheck until 2014.
“At first I would like to learn about the way of living here in the United States,” Chapman said through his interpreter. “I will get used to the new culture of life I will be living. I’d like to work very hard, recognize my shortcomings and become the best player I can be and also to learn English as soon as possible.”
Besides the money, Chapman had very basic reasons for wanting to come to the U.S.
“The best baseball players in the world are in the United States,” he said. “Any baseball player in the world would like to play in the United States.”
Chapman defected hours before the start of the 2009 World Port Tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands last July. Afterward he worked out in Spain, before establishing residency in Andorra to become a free agent, so he wouldn’t be part of the amateur draft. During the fall he changed agents from Edwin Mejia to the Arn Tellem group and now is represented by the Hendricks brothers. The southpaw visited the United States for the first time in October, meeting with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, which were considered as favorites to sign him.
But his market developed slowly. So on December 15 Chapman worked out in front of scouts from 15 MLB teams in Houston, Texas and impressed with an easy delivery and pitches clocked up to 97 MPH, even though he threw only at 85 percent according to his agents. He also made an impression in the meetings with the clubs after the work-out, erasing any concerns about his character. The Red Sox ($15.5 million), Toronto Blue Jays ($23 million) and Florida Marlins ($16 million) made him offers, which were known through the media. The Los Angeles Angels and Washington Nationals also were right in the middle of the bidding war. In the end the Oakland Athletics and an unknown third-place team competed with the Reds for Chapman’s services.
Chapman, who has reached 102 MPH on the radar gun in the past and who also features a slider and a change-up in his repertoire, will be send to the newly built Spring Training complex of the Reds in Goodyear, Arizona to work with pitching coach Bryan Price and special assistant to the GM Mario Soto. Chapman, who now lives in Florida, will also meet with catcher and Miami resident Ramon Hernandez to get to know each other. Cincinnati’s GM Walt Jocketty speculates that Chapman might be able to reach the big leagues by opening day, but this is too early to tell.
“Our [scouts] feel he could possibly move very quickly, but it’s too early to tell,” Jocketty said. “We need to get him into our program and our camp. Hopefully he is one of our top five starters when we break camp. We’ll have him go down and work on what he needs to work on.”