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CINCINNATI -- Until he pitches in a big league game, Aroldis Chapman and his potential will carry some degree of mystery. But as bids were being entered for his services, the Reds simply knew they had to have the flame-throwing left-handed pitcher.
Several clubs were mentioned in media reports during the process, but when it was over, it was the Reds that surprised everyone when they successfully signed the 21-year-old defector from Cuba.
"When you look at the size of the market where we are in Cincinnati, we have to take some bold moves from time to time to try and improve this franchise and make it better," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said during a news conference on Monday at Great American Ball Park.
How's this for bold? The unproven Chapman will receive $30.25 million over the next six years, plus incentives. He was given a $16.25 million signing bonus. Much of the money will be spread out over 10 years.
In comparison, fellow Cuban defector Jose Contreras received a $32 million contract with a reported $6 million bonus when he signed with the Yankees in December 2002. Recent overall No. 1 Draft pick Stephen Strasburg's total signing package from the Nationals was worth $15 million with a $7.5 million bonus. The 2001 Draft's No. 2 pick, pitcher Mark Prior, received $10.5 million as a bonus from the Cubs.
Chapman's agent, Randy Hendricks, said that the Reds beat out the A's to get the pitcher. There was an unnamed third-place team that Hendricks would not reveal, only that it was also a team with a sub .500 record in 2009. Other clubs believed to have been in the hunt were the Nationals, Blue Jays, Marlins, Angels and Red Sox.
The Red Sox were the first to bid with an initial $15.5 million offer in early December. Toronto reportedly offered $23 million. The Marlins also reportedly offered a deal in the $16 million range.
"The Reds were persistent all the way through," Hendricks said. "They were one of several teams that were very much in the mix all the way."
Chapman, who will turn 22 in February, pitched in a workout for scouts on Dec. 15 in Houston and impressed, as he threw what was termed by Hendricks at 85 percent. The final pitch of the workout was clocked at 97 mph.
"Hopefully he is one of our top five starters when we break camp. We'll have him go down and work on what he needs to work on."
-- Reds GM Walt Jocketty,|
on Aroldis Chapman
Cincinnati was not mentioned as a suitor in media reports until this past weekend. News broke of an agreement on Sunday.
"We stayed in touch all through the holidays and after the first of the year," Jocketty said. "The last four or five days, it really started to heat up. That's the way I like to do it from time to time -- stay under the radar. It worked, I think, because there wasn't a lot of attention to it."
Because of payroll inflexibility, the Reds had barely registered a heartbeat this Hot Stove season. Most of Chapman's money won't immediately impact the Major League payroll, however, but rather the amateur-signing-bonus budget.
"We had to creatively put this package together," Jocketty said.
There have been reports that Chapman had previously touched 102 mph on the radar. Because he pitched his entire career in the isolated Communist nation of Cuba, few have seen him pitch. He made two starts for his country in the 2009 World Baseball Classic last spring.
The biggest question to come out of Monday's news conference was how long Chapman will take to reach the Majors. All expectations are that Minor League seasoning will be needed, since Chapman still lacks a quality changeup and command of all of his pitches.
The plan is to send Chapman to the team's complex in Goodyear, Ariz., to work with pitching coach Bryan Price and special assistant to the GM Mario Soto. It is Soto who will help develop Chapman's changeup. Chapman will also head home to Florida and get acquainted with catcher and Miami resident Ramon Hernandez.
"Our [scouts] feel he could possibly move very quickly, but it's too early to tell," Jocketty said. "We need to get him into our program and our camp. Hopefully he is one of our top five starters when we break camp. We'll have him go down and work on what he needs to work on."
In July, Chapman defected from Cuba before an international tournament in the Netherlands. With the help of his former agent, Edwin Mejia, Chapman established residency in the small European nation of Andorra. Chapman later fired Mejia as his agent and signed with the Hendricks brothers.
Chapman was not as openly concerned about Major League expectations. In Cincinnati, where he saw snow for the first time in his life, he will get acclimated to a place where the spotlight shines softer than in places such as New York or Boston.
"At first I would like to learn about the way of living here in the United States," Chapman said through his interpreter. "I will get used to the new culture of life I will be living. I'd like to work very hard, recognize my shortcomings and become the best player I can be and also to learn English as soon as possible."
Besides the money, Chapman had very basic reasons for wanting to come to the U.S.
"The best baseball players in the world are in the United States," he said. "Any baseball player in the world would like to play in the United States."
"Every time I read the reports, I get more excited," Jocketty said. "This is a talent that doesn't come along very often. For the Cincinnati Reds to be able to step up and make this move is very important and significant."