The Pirates are in agreement with Aroldis Chapman, as first reported by Francys Romero (X link). It’s a one-year, $10.5MM guarantee, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post (on X). Chapman is a Wasserman client. The deal is pending a physical; Pittsburgh will need to make a corresponding 40-man roster move once the contract is finalized.
Chapman, who turns 36 next month, lands a one-year free agent deal for the second straight offseason. Limited to a fairly modest $3.75MM guarantee from the Royals a year ago, he lands a raise on the heels of an impressive season that culminated in his second World Series win. Chapman turned in a 3.09 ERA over 58 1/3 innings, striking out a laughable 41.4% of opposing hitters. Among relievers with 50+ innings, only Orioles star closer Félix Bautista punched hitters out more frequently.
The lefty split his year between two teams. He turned in dominant results for three months in Kansas City. Over 29 2/3 frames with the Royals, he pitched to a 2.45 ERA with a 43.4% strikeout rate. That production and his affordable salary made Chapman arguably the top rental reliever on the trade market. K.C. moved early, sending him to the Rangers in a one-for-one deal for former first-round pick Cole Ragans at the end of June.
It’s the kind of result that rebuilding teams envision when signing a veteran to a one-year deal. Ragans had an excellent 12-start run to close the year and looks like a potential mid-rotation or better pitcher whom Kansas City controls for five more seasons. Texas knew they were getting a short-term acquisition, but Chapman provided them a much needed high-leverage bullpen arm.
Over 29 regular season innings in Arlington, he posted a 3.72 ERA while fanning nearly 40% of batters faced. Chapman saved four games and picked up six holds in front of nominal closer José Leclerc. He continued to pitch in meaningful games during the Rangers’ run to the first title in franchise history. He picked up six more holds in nine playoff appearances, totaling eight innings of two-run ball. That came with only six strikeouts and five walks, but Chapman wiggled out of trouble more often than not in October.
It was frequently an adventure when Chapman took the mound. While he has never had great command, his control has reached particularly worrisome levels over the last three years. He walked 14.5% of batters faced last year, the fifth-highest rate among pitchers to log at least 50 innings. That was nevertheless the southpaw’s lowest walk percentage since 2020.
While Chapman is going to hand out his share of free baserunners, he remains one of the sport’s toughest pitchers to hit when he’s around the strike zone. His four-seam fastball averaged 99 MPH last year, while his sinker sat above 101 MPH. That’s above the 97.5 MPH he averaged on the four-seam during his final season with the Yankees. His slider, which had averaged between 85-86 MPH for the previous few years, jumped to 88.1 MPH. That high-octane arsenal translated to plenty of whiffs. Only Robert Stephenson and Bautista had a lower opponents’ contact rate. Hitters put the bat on the ball on only three-fifths of their swings against Chapman.
The Bucs will live with the free passes to add that kind of swing-and-miss potential to the back of their bullpen. David Bednar is entrenched in the ninth inning. Chapman will work in a setup capacity with the ability to step into the ninth should Bednar suffer an injury. He joins Ryan Borucki as left-handed bullpen options for skipper Derek Shelton. Colin Holderman projects as Pittsburgh’s top righty setup arm.
MLBTR predicted Chapman to receive a two-year, $24MM pact. He’ll instead settle for one season. The $10.5MM salary makes him the highest-paid player on the Pittsburgh roster this year (after accounting for cash considerations from the Mariners and Braves paying down Marco Gonzales’ $12MM deal). He’s the fourth player to ink a one-year free agent deal with the Pirates this winter, joining Martín Pérez, Andrew McCutchen and Rowdy Tellez.
The deal brings Pittsburgh’s projected player payroll around $79MM, as calculated by Roster Resource. The low-payroll club opened last season with roughly $73MM in commitments, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. They’re now set to raise spending this year, as GM Ben Cherington suggested at the beginning of the offseason, although it remains to be seen if the front office has any more room at its disposal. Pittsburgh could still seek rotation help and potentially a veteran option at second base, where they have a handful of young players (e.g. Liover Peguero, Nick Gonzales, Ji Hwan Bae) set to compete for at-bats.
Owner Bob Nutting suggested over the weekend he anticipated the team staying in the playoff mix for the entire season. Pittsburgh hasn’t reached the postseason since 2015 and hasn’t advanced to the Division Series in a decade. If that doesn’t materialize, Chapman could find himself on the rental trade market for a second straight summer.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.