I meant to post this sooner, but I got swept up in the McGwire tide this afternoon doing FanHouse roundtables and such (Let’s just never talk about him ever again. Can everyone here deal with that?). Regardless, I’d like to talk a bit about the aftermath of this Chapman signing.
My initial reaction to hearing the Reds were the team that managed to sign Chapman was something along the lines of, “Hey! Good for them! Always nice to see a smallmarket team bag a big free agent.” I mean that, too. The leap from that to, “Well, hey, why weren’t the Pirate interested? We’ve got the money, we’re interested in building Latin American connections, and hell, who couldn’t use a 22-year old lefty that can hit 100 mph on the gun?”
The details of the contract, though, are remarkable. There’s not really any sort of safe comparison for Chapman. He can’t be compared to other Latin American prospects because he’s much older. He can’t be compared to draft picks because he’s a free agent. He can’t be compared to Japanese players because scouts have seen relatively little of him in competitive action. The most common comparison is Strasburg because they’re similar ages and they throw exceptionally hard, with some people claiming that Chapman’s deal (six years and $30 million) is what Strasburg would’ve gotten on the open market. That’s probably fair, though I’d guess someone might’ve been willing to pay Strasburg more since his NCAA career gives us considerably more to work with than Chapman’s work with the Cuban national team.
So the question that arises for me is what price is a reasonable one to acquire young talent? Chapman is obviously an exceptional talent and I’m not doubting that, but he carries a ton of inherent risk. Maybe no more risk than the first overall pick in the draft, but the Reds are paying a huge premium to find out. Of course, that’s what small-market teams have to do to find talent. The Pirates took a risk doling out huge amounts of bonus money to high school pitchers in the draft. The Twins took a risk signing an unproven sixteen (probably) year-old Miguel Sano to a seven-figure bonus. For these teams the money is always going to be better spent in places like this than on free agency because the money is usually less and the long-term gamble is lower.
Giving this much money to Chapman over a long period of time really cuts that philosophy to the quick, though. With that sort of money, the Reds could fund three big drafts or sign a lot of Latin American prospects. That’s a whole lot of unknown players without Chapman’s pedigree, but because Chapman’s not without his own risks I’m far from sure Huntington did the wrong thing by staying out of the bidding war here (and that’s not me saying the Reds did the wrong thing either; what Jocketty did takes some brass and Chapman could end up paying huge, huge dividends for his team). There’s something to be said for casting a wide net when you’re in the Pirates’ position, and that’s what’s been done so far. Now we get to spend a few years sorting through the net to see if we’ve caught anything.