So Aroldis Chapman has defected from Cuba. With all the hype around Chapman during the WBC, I thought a defection was inevitable, but I didn’t see it happening this year. It will take Chapman a little time to apply for asylum and set up a domicile somewhere, but we should see a bidding war emerge over the next couple months.
Prior to the WBC, I would have said that if Chapman were to defect this year, his contract offers would have exceeded the four-year, $32m deal that Jose Contreras got from the Yankees back in 2002. But now that we’ve seen him look mortal against Japan’s WBC lineup of contact hitters, learned that Cuban League numbers aren’t that great, and found out that he might be five years older than previously believed, I have my doubts. Chapman’s first MLB contract will make him a richer man than I’ll ever be, but I think his first MLB deal will make him only about $20m richer than me.
For another dose of reality on Chapman, I turn to Cuban baseball expert Peter Bjarkman, who wrote bearish article about Chapman after he defected:
Chapman definitely has his negatives, foremost among them a demonstrated lack of strike-zone control, a one-pitch arsenal, and an inconsistent Cuban League performance over four National Series campaigns. Hurling for a Holguín club that made this year’s post-season and has been largely a middle-of-the-pack outfit during Chapman’s tenure, the southpaw flame thrower has won only slightly more than half his decisions (24-21), though he did enjoy his best season (11-4 and a league-best 130 Ks in 118 innings) this past winter. He has twice topped the 100 K mark but never approached Maels’s record-setting standards. Chapman is definitely more a raw “thrower” than a savvy “pitcher” and numerous questions surround his abilities to master the finer details of his craft.
One of the things that makes this situation unique is that it’s happening post Information Revolution. Thanks to the Internet and WBC, we, as consumers, have learned more about Chapman than perhaps any other hyped Cuban defector. Will that help his market value? There’s no way we can really know for sure. I think we’ll see that the Internet hype will have the biggest impact on the fans’ expectations of him.
I’ve occasionally wondered why Japanese clubs don’t make more of a play for top Cuban talent. In theory, NPB teams should be able to go after Cuban players without them having to defect. Katsuya Nomura joked about this during the WBC: “we probably can’t get him (Chapman). Would it be okay to ask Castro?”.
Joking aside, Nomura actually has brought Cuban players to Japan: national team stars Antonio Pacheco and Orestes Kindelan played for him in the early 00’s on the Shidax Industrial League team. During the same period, Omar Linares played for Chunichi at the NPB level. The difference, of course, is that Chapman is young and entering his prime, which Pacheco, Kindelan and Linares were all winding down their careers. But still, none of the three had to denounce their Cuban citizenship and all were able to return to Cuba after playing in Japan.
So maybe this means we’ll get to see Pedro Lazo or Yulieski Gourriel in Japan at some point. I hope so, because it doesn’t seem like either one will ever defect, and I’d love to see what they can do at a higher level of competition.