KANSAS CITY -- The Royals entered the offseason looking to deepen and lengthen their bullpen -- they needed more options, and they needed help locking down leads late in games.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed by the club, but sources told MLB.com the deal is worth $3.75 million with performance bonuses up to $5 million based on the number of games he pitches and the number of games finished.
Kansas City will be banking on a turnaround from Chapman, who was known for his consistent triple-digit velocity earlier in his career.
“A seven-time All-Star, World Series champion, somebody that’s climbing up the all-time ranks of great closers in the game,” Royals executive vice president/general manager J.J. Picollo said. “It was clear to us that this is somebody we needed to pursue and do some work on.
“Just in our discussions with Aroldis and his agent, he was looking for an opportunity to rebound.”
The 2022 season was a miserable one for Chapman, who will be 35 on Opening Day. He recorded some of the worst stats of his 13-year career and was blemished by multiple stints on the injured list as well as questions regarding his willingness to be a team player.
Although Chapman began the year with 12 scoreless appearances, that was followed by a stretch in May in which he allowed at least one run in six consecutive games. Chapman was placed on the 15-day IL with left Achilles tendinitis on May 24 and missed the next six weeks, effectively losing his role as the Yanks’ closer to 2022 All-Star Clay Holmes.
Chapman made another trip to the IL in August due to an infection stemming from a tattoo.
He returned from that three-week absence to finish the regular season well, but he was held off the team’s ALDS roster after missing a mandatory team workout without an acceptable excuse.
“We did a lot of work on Aroldis and his background, his character,” Picollo said. “We have a pretty clear understanding of what happened at the end of the year. It’s unfortunate, but those things happen in sports. In talking to Aroldis, he’s as disappointed with how the year ended as the Yankees were, and he’s really just looking to put that behind him.”
Chapman also comes with history off the field. He was suspended 30 games in 2016 under Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy after allegedly choking his then 22-year-old girlfriend and firing eight gunshots in the garage of his Florida home. No charges were filed, and he has pitched for the Yankees and the Cubs since then.
The Royals did a thorough investigation into Chapman’s history. Executives talked with his former teammates and coaches and spent time with Chapman and his wife, Cristina.
“Clearly, that’s something that’s important to us, to do that background,” Picollo said. “… We felt very comfortable with what had happened in the past and what we uncovered, which I’m not at liberty to discuss. We were concerned with figuring it out, but unconcerned moving forward. What I would like to say about that, too, is that there are many players that we’ve done the same type of work on in the past that we came to the conclusion that they don’t fit our culture. And that was not the case for Aroldis. We feel like we’ve done the proper work. That was seven years ago. There were no prior incidents. There were no incidents after that. There is a little bit of speculation of what may or may not have happened, but we feel like we’ve got the facts and feel like we can be comfortable with Aroldis on our team and in our community.”
When the Royals visited Chapman in Miami -- where he often works out with Royals catcher Salvador Perez -- they got a first-hand look at what he was doing to get himself back on track. Chapman’s average four-seam fastball velocity dipped to a career-low 97.5 mph last season, and that contributed to his worst marks in strikeout rate (26.9%) and swinging-strike rate (12.7%). His 17.5% walk rate was the second highest of his career, while his 4.46 ERA was his worst by nearly a full run.
“A lot of what it came down to was simply getting out of his delivery,” Picollo said. “As simple as that sounds, he’s a big man and it’s easy to get out of your sequencing.”
Chapman finished the season with nine saves, his fewest during a full season since 2011. His 315 career saves rank 24th in AL/NL history and are the third most among active pitchers, trailing Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel.
Chapman still drew interest from a few clubs around the league, including the Royals, Padres and Marlins. Kansas City targeted bullpen help this offseason after the unit ranked fourth worst in the Majors in ERA (4.66) last season and last in WHIP (1.48).
What Chapman was looking for was an opportunity to rebound, and the Royals will give him innings if he does prove to be back on track. He also gives the Royals a potential midseason trade candidate if he returns to form.
Picollo emphasized that Scott Barlow will still be the Royals’ closer, but they’re hoping Chapman can take some of the workload off Barlow and help in high-leverage situations.
“We haven’t assured him anything,” Picollo said. “He’s going to have to bounce back and mainly be in the strike zone. … Scott’s our closer. Aroldis is going to have an opportunity to pitch and pitch well, and if he’s pitching well, I think we all know what he’s capable of doing.”