He hasn't thrown a game pitch for the KC Royals yet, and won't be in a position to do so until the club opens its Cactus League schedule Friday. But one thing is already safe to say about Aroldis Chapman.
He won't be a Royal when the season ends in early October. A long-term stay in Kansas City just isn't in the cards for the 13-year major league veteran.
The club surprisingly signed Chapman last month. Driving the surprise, other than Chapman's choice to play on a non-contender for the first time in many seasons, were three primary factors: his status as an established closer when KC already has Scott Barlow; last season, which was probably the worst full campaign of his career (4-4, 4.46 ERA with nine saves); and his past, including a 30-day suspension he drew after MLB investigated allegations that he choked his girlfriend and shot at his home, and his omission from the Yankees' 2022 postseason roster after he missed a workout.
That the historically cautious Royals brought Chapman aboard signals they're confident any transgressions are resolved and behind him. Barring any reoccurrence of such issues, only other factors will end his Kansas City tenure.
And those factors exist.
What will keep Aroldis Chapman from finishing the season with the KC Royals?
Scott Barlow is one reason Kansas City won't keep Chapman. Because Chapman turns 35 next week and is much closer to the end of his career than its beginning, he won't displace Barlow, who's under team control through the 2024 campaign and only 30. Only consistently substandard pitching by Barlow will compel manager Matt Quatraro to try Chapman in the closer's slot.
And even if Barlow, clearly KC's closer despite the presence and challenge of Chapman and his 315 career saves, is pitching well at the trade deadline and promises to net a nice return of prospects if dealt, the Royals won't turn the closer's role over to Chapman. They have too many younger and developing pitchers who should get a shot. And if the club decides to expand their roles late in the season, Chapman could become the odd man out with a DFA in his near future.
But the trade deadline should impact Chapman in a more direct way. Whether Barlow is on the block or not, Chapman will be unless he's having a disastrous year, in which event the Royals will almost assuredly have let him go. Chapman's first Kansas City season is also his contract campaign and, because he's working on only a $3.75 million deal (with some incentive bonuses), he'll attract a lot of attention at or near the deadline if he's performing. Look for the Royals to find a trade partner and deal Chapman.
What if the deadline passes and Chapman is still a Royal? Being on Kansas City's roster after the smoke clears means he's probably not pitched well enough to secure a suitable return in a deadline deal; chances are good the club goes ahead and cuts him loose.
So, all things considered, expect Chapman to be pitching somewhere else when the season ends.