If the rumors are accurate and Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman(notes) has, in fact, received multiple offers in the neighborhood of $21 million, then it's not difficult to determine how various major league teams arrived at that figure.
The math is straightforward: They give you $1 million simply for being a left-handed human (see "Shouse, Brian"), and anyone with triple-digit velocity can expect to earn roughly $20 million every four years, regardless of the on-field results (see "Farnsworth, Kyle").
Chapman, of course, is both a lefty and a flamethrower. He's also the most intriguing MLB free agent currently available, though he's expected to sign a deal soon, perhaps within the week. We've only caught glimpses of his repertoire during international competition, so he's tricky to project. The stats haven't been jaw-dropping, but specific moments – like when he hit 100 mph on the radar gun during the '09 World Baseball Classic – have enhanced his reputation in no small way.
At age 22, Chapman clearly hasn't reached his ceiling. But there are no reasonable comps, because he's hit a velocity plateau that lefties rarely visit. Control is the biggest concern, as Chapman has routinely finished among the leaders in walks and wild pitches in the Cuban Serie Nacional. He was also frustrated by Japan's disciplined lineup in a WBC loss, allowing three runs, three hits and three walks over 2.1 innings.
And still there's no shortage of suitors. We consulted an American League scout regarding Chapman, and the recurring theme was inconsistency. Chapman's fastball will range from the low-90s to 100, his command is unsteady, and his best secondary pitches (slider and curve), while not without promise, aren't ready for the big stage.
Despite the evident upside, the scout's take was that Chapman could – and perhaps should – begin in the low minors. There's clearly work to be done. On the plus side, Chapman is an outstanding athlete and he's hardly a mess mechanically. There are valid reasons to believe he can eventually become a strike-thrower with a repeatable delivery. But is he there yet? No.
Does he belong in the discussion with Stephen Strasburg(notes), the top overall pick in the 2009 draft? No, not right now. Those two are at different points in the development arc. You'll note that many of the offers for Chapman – like the reported $15.5 million deal from the Red Sox – are ostensibly similar to the contract signed by Strasburg, a player who was only eligible to negotiate with one team.
Chapman will generate ongoing buzz because his backstory is compelling and his fastball is, at times, almost impossibly fast. But don't expect a useful major league contribution this season. Fantasy-wise, he's just a trade chip and/or a decoration for a dynasty roster.
Update, Jan. 11: Apparently we have a winner in the Chapman bidding. The Reds have reportedly offered $25 million over five years, with an option for a sixth season that could boost the value of the deal to $30 million. Please enjoy Chapman responsibly, Mr. Baker.
Photo via AP Images