The curious winter of the KC Royals continues.
Only a day after rumors began spreading across baseball media suggesting the Royals had interest in the free agent reliever, reports sprang up Thursday afternoon that Kansas City has agreed to terms with Aroldis Chapman for one year. Per MLB.com's Mark Feinsand (Twitter link), his contract calls for a base salary of $3.75 million and incentives.
It seems an odd move even for a club that has so far this offseason signed Mike Mayers and Jordan Lyles, a pair of veteran pitchers who share career 5.10 ERAs, and also Matt Beaty and Kohl Stewart, two players whose recent injury histories cast their signings with at least some uncertainty, and have yet to bring new offensive punch aboard, but at the same time finally, and somewhat surprisingly, moved Ryan O'Hearn.
But while the unexpected acquisition of Chapman may be consistent with some of the Royals' previous moves, it still seems like a strange thing to do.
Do the KC Royals really have a place for reliever Aroldis Chapman?
Kansas City is a franchise known not for recklessness, but instead for its deliberate approach to personnel moves; these Royals will never be accused of spending haphazardly on free agents and always seem to proceed with a plan for players they want.
But other than using him out of the bullpen (there isn't a start among Chapman's 667 career appearances), what their more specific plan for Chapman is remains to be seen. The club has a capable and established starter in Scott Barlow, who's coming off a career-best season and should only get better, so unless general manager J.J. Picollo plans to deal Barlow away, which he likely doesn't, Chapman won't be the closer he's been for most of his 13-year major league career.
Will Chapman become KC's setup man? Could be, although the Royals have Dylan Coleman, Josh Staumont and Taylor Clarke, all of whom are well-suited for setting Barlow up, and offseason signee Nick Wittgren might be a candidate for the job. On the other hand, Kansas City isn't bringing a pitcher of Chapman's caliber in to serve in a mop-up role. Look, then, for manager Matt Quatraro to deploy Chapman in setup and occasional save situations, which will require changing the roles of others, especially Staumont. Or trading someone.
And therein lies one of the rubs of the Chapman situation. Signing him, even for just a season, muddles the picture of the club's already shaky bullpen. As we pointed out only hours before news of the Kansas City-Chapman agreement broke, last season wasn't good for Chapman: he put up career-worst numbers in six categories, including ERA and WAR, and missed almost two months with health issues. So he adds considerable uncertainty to a bullpen already loaded with it at the same time he blocks a younger hurler's development.
The Royals will likely reveal soon what motivated this signing and what role they contemplate Chapman filling. Until then, fans will wonder.
It seems Aroldis Chapman is about to become a Royal.