Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Should the Nationals Try to Sign Aroldis Chapman?

Update (12/16): As it turns out, GM Mike Rizzo attended Chapman's workout yesterday. No one knows for sure what Rizzo came away with after seeing Chapman throw, but the question needs to be asked again, should the Nationals try to sign Aroldis Chapman? I say yes.

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With roughly $20 million dollars to spend this winter, the Washington Nationals are a team with options. On one hand, they can play it safe and opt not to go after any of the major free agents this winter. GM Mike Rizzo could wait until the conditions are more favorable for the Nationals and let his young players develop at the major league level at their own pace.

But on the other hand, Rizzo has the chance to do something. Sure the Nationals aren't going to be competitive in 2010 and might not field a winning club for another couple years at least, but there is opportunity present for the Nationals to make at acquiring assets via the free agent market.

The one player in particular that sticks out in my mind for the Nationals is Aroldis Chapman. The 21 year old Cuban is regarded as one of the top free agents on the market because of his electric stuff and ace potential. As Keith Law wrote about Chapman on November 21st:
Chapman is the wild card of the free-agent market, as his track record is largely unknown, he has barely thrown for clubs since defecting and he is represented by agents who haven't handled a free agent of this magnitude before. 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 might be a No. 1 starter; he might be an ace closer; he might be a mountain of frustration. Is that worth $60 million? Or the fourth- or fifth-biggest contract of the offseason? Not to me, but he's worth some eight-figure amount because of the almost limitless upside.
Only a few weeks later, the entire landscape of the Chapman sweepstakes have changed. Teams are no longer pondering whether Chapman will get a $50-$60 million dollar contract and the general consensus is that Chapman will command a deal similar to that signed by Stephen Strasburg this summer (4 years/$15 million). Also, Chapman decided to switch agents and is now represented by the Hendricks brothers, who are two of the top agents in baseball.

Here's why the Nationals make sense for Chapman: if they going to go after free agents this winter, they should look for guys who can help the franchise build a winner in the future. No free agent has the upside of Aroldis Chapman. And if his price tag truly does come down to around $15-$20 million dollars total, then he could be a real steal for the Nationals, should they decide to commit to him.

But think about this possibility: the Nationals could have Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper (1st pick in 2010 draft?), and Aroldis Chapman. Now that's what I call a high upside nucleus that the front office can build around and the fans in Washington can be excited about. Even if it takes Chapman some time to get to the major leagues, the focus for the Nationals needs to remain on the future, which for their sake, hopefully Chapman would be a big part of.

A $15-$20 million dollar commitment to Chapman would represent yet another major gamble by the Nationals with a high upside, young pitcher. There's no doubt that committing $30 million (roughly) to two pitchers who have never thrown a pitch in the major leagues is a significant risk, but the possible reward is simply too high for the Nationals to ignore.

At the same time, there are some severe problems with the Chapman to the Nationals scenario. For starters, the Nationals would likely have to compete economically with the Red Sox and Yankees, who have far superior resources and money to throw at Chapman. Also, the Nationals and the Hendricks brothers might not have the best relationship after the 2008 Aaron Crow negotiations broke down even though Mike Rizzo is now the general manager.

Nevertheless, it'd be encouraging to see the Nationals make a play for Chapman given his vast upside and his rapidly dropping price tag.

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