Cuban defection stories tend to have an element of drama to them – a rickety boat ride across the strait of Florida, a politically fueled case over the custody of a 7-year old or a Bond-like evasion of guards at a hotel. Aroldis Chapman’s story, however, has none of the drama we associate with defection. While at the World Port Tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands, with the Cuban national baseball team, Chapman simply left his room, walked out through the main doors, hopped in a car and drove away.
To say that Chapman hasn’t struggled with the move would be disingenuous, however. In choosing to defect and carve out his baseball career, Chapman, like the vast majority of Cuban defectors, left behind his family, his previous career and everything that constituted his entire life. He defected despite the knowledge that his girlfriend was far along in a pregnancy, perhaps hoping to establish a living in America that would never be possible in Cuba, in hopes of maybe bringing them to the States in the future. Since he defected, Chapman’s girlfriend gave birth and he has still yet to see his infant daughter.
Despite the personal torment associated with his defection, Chapman has managed to push on, making every team in baseball aware of him. Chapman is the severely overlooked story of Major League Baseball’s offseason. After defecting, Chapman established residency in Andorra, earning himself free passage into MLB’s free agent market this winter. Chapman has the talent to be the best Cuban player the world has ever seen, and his paycheck upon signing will most certainly demonstrate his potential. He has already visited with the Yankees and Red Sox, and the modern Cold War between the two should drive his price tag to astronomical levels. Despite having never played professionally outside of Cuba, Chapman and his agent are expecting to sign a deal worth at least $50 million.
For most players, this price would be absurd. $50 million for an unproven commodity, who could very easily be the next failed import – a potential Hideki Irabu? But Chapman isn’t most players. At the World Baseball Classic early in 2009, Chapman wowed the scouts by putting triple digits on the radar gun – he threw a 100 mph fastball in the first inning, and later in the game, hit 102 mph. Oh, and did I mention that he’s left-handed? Jackpot.
That’s not to say that Chapman will immediately slot in and be, say, the Opening Day starter for the Yankees… at least in 2010. Despite possessing one of the most electric fastballs in the world, his secondary pitches are widely considered to be just average. Additionally, in the aforementioned World Baseball Classic, Chapman posted a 5.68 ERA in 6 1/3 innings. In the 2008 National Series season, the top baseball league in Cuba, he put up a 4.03 ERA in 118 1/3 innings.
Now, with the negatives addressed, we can again get to the positives. Left-handed, throws 102 mph, 21-years old. Chapman will be entering the free agent market in an obscenely weak year, and will almost certainly command the biggest salary among all free agent pitchers this winter. The top teams in baseball are always looking to add to their rotation, and in Chapman’s case, only one destination really makes sense: The 2009 World Champions, the New York Yankees (wow, that felt incredible to write).
The Yankees got through the post-season this year with just three starting pitchers, and by the time the World Series came around, it was clear that CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett were beginning to lose it. New York desperately needs another starter in the rotation, they need to get younger, and as always, have a ridiculously large bank account that they seem intent on driving to zero. The Yankees also have a history with Cuban players, as they were the first teams of both Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez, and they have shown a willingness to take a substantial risk on players from the island. Chapman, a man with a lot of charisma, or so his interviews have suggested, is absolutely the perfect fit for the Yankees’ organization. They need him, they want him, and when the Yankees both need and want a player, they get him. Every single time. At this time next year, the Yankees will be celebrating their 28th World Series title, and it will be because of a stellar post-season from their July call-up, Aroldis Chapman, the new hero of the Bronx.