Cuban defector Chapman remains a mystery -- and a risk (cont.)
Over the summer, Clay Davenport of the baseball think tank Baseball Prospectus employed mathematical formulas to try to translate Chapman's statistics into numbers that might indicate how he'd do in the majors. Davenport's results projected that Chapman's would compile a 10-23 record with 303 strikeouts in 292 2/3 innings and an ERA of 6.66. Davenport's analysis concluded that the left-hander's translated stats correlated most closely at the same age with those of prospects Adam Bostick (currently in the New York Mets' system), Ted Langdon (formerly in the Cincinnati Reds' organization) and Joe Young (formerly in the Toronto Blue Jays' system), none of whom advanced beyond Triple-A. Bostick and Langdon converted to relief while Young remained a starter. Fourth on that list of comparable pitchers was Los Angeles Angels closer Brian Fuentes.
These statistics reinforced a concern of several executives who spoke to SI.com. "His secondary pitches are just not that good," says one high-ranking NL team official. Chapman, however, feels that he has command of his complementary pitches, which include a sinking fastball, curveball, slider, changeup and forkball. "My [secondary] pitches, I don't think I have a problem," he says. "The fastball is the one I have a harder time controlling because it moves on me a lot. With my other pitches, it's not a problem."
Chapman expresses reluctance to move to the bullpen, though he worked as a closer for part of the 2006-07 National Series season. "It went OK, but I like being a starter better," he says. "The difference in starting the game is that you can impact the game greatly. You can pitch a lot of innings. As a closer, you only get one or two innings. You pitch more frequently, but I don't have a lot of interest in being a closer."
Another area of concern, which no analyst's formulas can predict and no scouts' radar guns can measure, is maturity. Bjarkman, the Cuban baseball scholar, publicly called Chapman "uncoachable" while some scouts took note of how he grimaced and writhed at an uncomfortable strike zone at the WBC. Chapman explains it more as a cultural difference rather than a personal shortcoming. "In Cuba, the athletes fight a lot with the umpires. They're always arguing with the umpires," he told SI.com. "Here, that's rare."
Questions about his makeup resurfaced last month when Chapman orchestrated a defection of a different sort, abruptly ditching Mejia, his agent, in the middle of contract negotiations and signing with the Hendricks brothers, who boast a client list of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and, most recently, fellow Cuban defector Kendry Morales, with whom Chapman had spoken during the 2009 playoffs. One NL executive who has followed Chapman says that fellow Cuban players acquainted with him have described the pitcher as temperamental and crazy.
That same executive has a much more fundamental concern: He hasn't seen enough of Chapman. There have been no open showcases for him, usually a requirement for high-profile international free agents. "If he's that good, why aren't you showing him off?" the executive asks. "Why not throw him in the Dominican Winter League and let him tear up the competition and drive up his price?"
Figures as high as $60 million over six years have been floated around baseball circles, with the Yankees and Red Sox frequently mentioned as suitors. In recent days, however, Chapman's rumored price tag has shifted from Daisuke Matsuzaka money ($52 million over six years) to the more realistic Stephen Strasburg range ($15.1 million over four years). SI.com sources place at least one big-market club's offer at $12 million over three years. Even Chapman's hallmark velocity is being called into question, however: One source told SI.com that the left-hander's fastball did not exceed 92 mph during a private workout last month.
One of the NL executives who has followed Chapman says that money is just one issue. "The real story with Chapman is to come back three years from now and see where he is," the exec says. In that time, his contract will be signed and his talent a known commodity. And his daughter, whom Aroldis has not seen, will have long since spoken her first words and stumbled through her first steps. Then, and only then, will everyone be able to answer: What's it worth?
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