Chapman Reportedly Leaves Cuban Team
Posted Jul. 2, 2009 11:40 am by John Manuel
Filed under: International
Lefthanded pitcher Aroldis Chapman, the hardest thrower for Cuba and its de facto No. 1 starter during the 2009 World Baseball Classic, reportedly has left the Cuban national team in the Netherlands. One veteran international scout has confirmed to BA that Chapman has left the team and is seeking to defect.
Cuba sent a club to participate in the World Port tournament, with Chapman on the roster as something of a surprise. Chapman has been considered a fairly significant defection risk in recent years, to the point where he was left off the 2008 Olympic roster. He did pitch in the WBC this spring, though, hitting 100 mph on the radar gun and averaging 93 mph in a 44-pitch outing against Japan. He also pitched against Australia in Mexico City, where a scout we talked to this spring saw him and was impressed.
"He was unreal in Mexico City and just OK in San Diego," the scout said. "There were rumors heading into Mexico that he wouldn’t be there because they were afraid he would defect, but he was there and was lights out. If you are looking for more than that in a pitcher, you’ll be searching your whole life. He was so much fun to watch. If he’s 21 like he’s listed, the sky’s the limit. You’ve got honestly just one or two tweaks that could be made but he could go straight to the top of a big league rotation. He’s got a great body, definitely has high pockets, absolutely. He’s on top of the hitter, his release has extension, he’s got the ball coming out of there at 100 mph. He’s absolutely electric."
If Chapman defects, it should take several months for him to establish residency in another country to become a free agent (the Netherlands makes sense), and then to go through the "unblocking" process that all Cubans have to go through with the U.S. government.
When Chapman becomes a free agent, what kind of deal will he receive? The standards to compare him are Jose Contreras, another Cuban who signed in 2002 with the Yankees for a four-year, $32 million deal (including a $6 million bonus), and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who received a $2 million bonus and a six-year, $52 million deal. Both of those pitchers were older and more established in their respective leagues than Chapman, and both had premium stuff. But neither was lefthanded and neither had Chapman’s pure velocity.
The reputation of Cuban pitchers has taken a hit over the years—Orlando Hernandez remains the most accomplished Cuban defector of the last 15 years, and even Contreras, the ace of the ‘05 World Series champion White Sox, has been a bit disappointing over the breadth of his career. Still, Chapman likely would command a contract in the range of what Contreras got nearly seven years ago, if not more.