We thought that the reliever market might finally pick up steam once Josh Hader finally found a home, and sure enough, it appears that’s the case. Around 72 hours after the Angels landed former Rays setup man Robert Stephenson, another top name is off the market: According to multiple reports, the Pirates have agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million deal with veteran lefty Aroldis Chapman.
Chapman is no longer the 104-throwing destroyer of worlds he was at his peak, and his penchant for losing the strike zone means that he can be a bit of a roller-coaster ride. To wit: After coming over to the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline last year, he posted a 3.72 ERA — including a 6.23 mark over his final 14 regular-season appearances. And while he pitched to a 2.57 ERA over seven postseason innings, he allowed 12 baserunners in that span (including five walks) and nearly gave the Dallas-Fort Worth area several heart attacks.
Still, while the command concerns make him streakier than you’d like, the lefty remains a legit high-leverage weapon when he’s right. Chapman was dominant over the first half of 2023, with a 2.45 ERA and 53 strikeouts over his first 29.1 innings with the Royals. He regained some of the fastball velocity he’d lost in recent years, and while he’s about to turn 36, it seems as though there’s still plenty left in the tank here — and as long as Chapman is still clearing 100 on a regular basis, he’ll be a very valuable addition.
Given that upside, this move is something of a no-brainer for Pittsburgh. The Pirates already have an All-Star closer in David Bednar, and Chapman almost certainly won’t supplant him in the ninth inning. What he will do, however, is lengthen the bullpen of a team that just graduated several of its top prospects and appears to be taking baby steps toward respectability after a long rebuild. The team had plenty of money to spend, and with the starting pitching market so uneven right now, makes sense to spend it on a proven late-inning commodity — one who, if he gets hot the way he did early last year, will likely fetch a nice return at the trade deadline. Just ask Kansas City, who scored a promising young starter in Cole Ragans in the trade that sent Chapman to Texas.