Chapman signing contributes to Pirates' deep bullpen

February 7th, 2024

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For many years, watched the Pirates from afar. He began his career with the Reds for six seasons, and his rate of 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings put the baseball world on notice if they weren’t already.

Then he moved to the Cubs the next season after a midseason trade from the Yankees and won his first of two World Series titles, with the other coming last year with the Rangers after another midseason trade, this time by the Royals.

Those years in the National League Central allowed Chapman to visit PNC Park a lot, and now, he is thrilled to call it home.

“I’ve always liked playing here in Pittsburgh,” Chapman said via an interpreter. “I think it’s a great fanbase, and the ballpark is beautiful. It’s one of the best, one of the prettiest in the league -- at least I think so. I’m very excited to be here.”

Chapman’s signing was a bit out of the blue, considering the Pirates’ biggest area of need this offseason was the starting rotation. The need is so big that the Bucs signed two veteran players to one-year deals, yet they’re still in the market for another starter.

But there’s more than one way to cover innings, and another method is to have a bullpen so deep that starters don’t have to labor to try to go deep with leads intact. Chapman certainly stretches out the reliever group, and with a 2.53 ERA, he has the track record to prove he can still be one of the best at what he does.

Chapman also feels he’s at his best when a team is going for it. With the development of players like Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz, Jack Suwinski and David Bednar among others during general manager Ben Cherington’s regime, on top of the short-term MLB additions like Rowdy Tellez, Marco Gonzales, Martín Pérez and Chapman, the Pirates are hoping they can weather some key injuries to reach .500 for the first time since 2018.

And with no team that looks like it will run away with the NL Central, the Pirates aren’t out of the conversation for the division title and a berth to the postseason for the first time since 2015.

“I think the first goal you set in your mind is you want to win that division,” Chapman said. “So I think it's a group of young guys that really go out there and give it their all and try to win a lot of games. I feel excitement in being a part of that.

“I'm an athlete who likes to compete, so being here with a team who really wants to get in this division race and start winning was good for me.”

While Chapman has been a longtime closer, he also understands where he’s at in his career and how his performance might move him from that role. Over the past four seasons, he’s recorded a 3.49 ERA with some command issues, while Bednar has a 2.25 ERA in 172 games for the Pirates and posted 39 saves last season -- one more than Chapman has ever produced in a single season.

Chapman is a team player. He just wants to win.

"I'll just stress that there is a very good closer, so I am very flexible and I just want to help the team out,” Chapman said. “So wherever they see fit to put me, I'm willing to help out."